Donald Trump is using the dying embers of his U.S. presidency to hastily drive a procession of rollbacks in environmental protection that critics say will cement his legacy as an unusually destructive force against the natural world.
Trump has yet to acknowledge his electoral defeat to President-elect Joe Biden, but his administration has been busily ending a cavalcade of regulatory moves to secure more oil and gas drilling, looser wildlife protections, and lax air pollution standards. before the Democrat enters the White House on January 20.
Trump’s interior department is hastily auctioning drilling rights to America’s last great pristine wilderness, the massive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that sits in the tundra of northern Alaska. The refuge, home to polar bears, caribou and 200 species of birds, has been off-limits to fossil fuel companies for decades, but the Trump administration is willing to grant leases to extract the billions of barrels of oil that are believes they are on the coast of the area. region.
The leases could result in the release of large amounts of carbon emissions, as well as change the lifestyle of the local Gwich’in tribe, who depend on migratory caribou for their livelihood. Several major banks, fiercely pressured by the Gwich’in and conservationists, have refused to fund drilling at the refuge, but industry groups have expressed optimism that the area will be opened.
The administration is also paving the way for drilling around the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, considered a sacred area by the Navajo and Pueblo natives who live near the New Mexico site and has targeted a fundamental environmental law, known as the Ley National Environmental Policy. , to enable further logging and road construction in national forests.
Trump has previously cut down federally protected areas as part of an “energy dominance” mantra that the president says will boost the US economy.
Meanwhile, safety rules for offshore drilling, implemented after BP’s disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, are fading. The risks of a catastrophic and rampant spill are greatest in the Arctic, where retreating sea ice is encouraging some fossil fuel companies to relocate to a region largely devoid of clean-up and rescue infrastructure.
The Trump administration is also maintaining air quality standards widely condemned by experts as insufficient to protect communities from soot pollution that comes from cars, trucks and heavy industry. Many cities in the US are plagued by environmental injustices, with the poorest communities of color routinely located near industrial plants, highways, and other sources of pollution.
Regulatory uproar extends to creatures from the skies to the grasslands to the oceans: fines for people who kill migratory birds are being revised while the US Navy has the freedom to inadvertently harass endangered whales extinction with the noise of explosions and high-speed boats during wargame exercises along the west coast.
A plan has been finalized to cut protections for grouse throughout the western US, putting at risk the habitat of the once-common bird, the size of a chicken and known for its flamboyant dances of mating. “These guys are hell-bent on turning over the last few shelters of the missing greater grouse for drilling, mining and grazing,” said Michael Saul, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is disgusting, transparent and illegal.”
The actions of the outgoing administration will have “extremely damaging environmental consequences,” said Richard Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University. “Trump’s counterproductive actions have allowed the climate crisis to escalate and put the health of many Americans at risk, especially in the most vulnerable communities, by ignoring the threats of pollution,” he added.
Trump’s scorched earth approach of recent months will further exacerbate a four-year legacy in which climate policies have been dismantled, clean air and water rules lowered and legions of demoralized federal government scientists sidelined. or they decided to quit.
“The Trump administration spent four years attacking all protections for our air, water, land, wildlife and climate,” said Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation at Earthjustice, a nonprofit legal organization.
Leah Donahey, legislative director of the Alaska Wilderness League, added: “No administration has been worse for our environment or the public health of our nation than this one.”
Biden will be able to reverse some of Trump’s actions and has vowed to limit drilling on federal land, as well as to join the Paris climate agreement, from which the incumbent has pulled the United States. Biden has called climate change an “existential threat” in the wake of a year of fierce California wildfires and a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, but his ambition to pass far-reaching climate legislation rests on a US Senate. US elections in the state of Georgia seem likely to remain under Republican control.
Any successful remediation of the setbacks will also have to survive as a wave of lawsuits, with the United States Supreme Court now decisively titled in a conservative direction. All of this will soak up time during a period when scientists say global warming emissions must be cut rapidly to avoid the worst ravages of the climate crisis. “Trump’s legacy on environmental issues will have less to do with lasting policy changes,” Revesz said, “and more to do with lost time and missed opportunities.”
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.