With Rollback of Obama Climate Regulations, Trump Declares War on Planet Earth

Posted April 5, 2017

MP3 Interview with Tim Donaghy, senior research specialist with Greenpeace USA, conducted by Scott Harris


During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump stated his belief that climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. Since taking office, the real estate billionaire and reality TV star has surrounded himself with Cabinet appointees, many of whom are climate change deniers, who directly worked for the fossil fuel industry or did the bidding of Big Oil companies as public officials. Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of the world’s largest publicly-traded oil company Exxon-Mobil, being the most prominent example.

Now with 2016 being the warmest year on record globally and scientists warning that the rapid melting of Arctic ice could potentially be irreversible and have severe implications for the Earth's ecosystem, President Trump has declared war against the planet's environment. In a series of actions, including the signing of an executive order on March 28, Trump instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to dismantle the Obama administration's most far-reaching climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan, whose goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions from operating coal and gas-fired power plants. The president also is taking aim at reversing fuel efficiency standards for cars and energy-efficient ratings for appliances, as well as defunding climate research.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Tim Donaghy, senior research specialist with Greenpeace USA. Here, he discusses his group's response to President Trump's executive orders and other actions taken to undermine environmental regulations to curb pollution and limit greenhouse gas emissions linked with climate change. [Rush transcript]

TIM DONAGHY: Donald Trump – he hasn't quite repealed them yet. It'll be a tough road for him to actually completely uproot most of President Obama's regulations. But he's going to give it a good try. And basically, what he's proposing is a centerpiece of Obama's climate plan was something called the Clean Power Plan, which basically mandated that the existing power plants and the electricity sector in general switch away from coal and other fossil fuels and move more toward renewables. This was a good first step, it wasn't adequate to the overall problem of climate change, in that it was good in that it put in place kind of a framework for doing (more) in the future. And so, President Trump and together with his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, they put forth an executive order asking the EPA to figure out a plan for revoking that particular set of regulations. And there are a number of other things that were kind of packaged together with this executive order, including removing a moratorium on coal-mining on federally owned lands. It was also another key thing that President Obama had done. And so, obviously, if Trump is successful in doing this, it will be – for anybody who likes clean air and a stable – but the fight is not over yet.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tim, when you look at what Donald Trump is doing here to eviscerate a lot of the regulations put in place during the Obama administration when it comes to the Clean Power Plan, fuel efficiency standards for automobiles as well as other associated regulations - what is the short- and long-term impact here if Trump succeeds in really gutting these regulations.

TIM DONAGHY: Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. And I think, President Trump – he's only president of the United States and there is a clean energy revolution that is moving ahead without us and without him. He can't really stop that. Renewable costs of wind and solar are dropping dramatically. Costs of batteries are also dropping dramatically. And you're starting to see massive disruptions in the fossil fuel industry because of this extra competition that's coming online. And nothing President Trump can really do can really stop that transition. It's going to happen.

I think the problem comes when you realize that time is really quite short if we're going to try to make a good effort to really meet the goals that were laid out at the Paris climate agreement. You know, we're going to limit global warming worldwide to 2 degrees Celsius. And we're going to make a really good attempt at trying to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That was what the goals of all the countries of the world came together and said that we're going to shoot for.

In order to actually hit those goals, it's going to require very rapid action and it's going to need a really strong push from policymakers to make it happen. We're at the point where change in the long-term is inevitable, but we need change in the short-term. Waiting four years while Donald Trump is president is time that we really can't afford to lose at this point for the planet and the Paris agreement.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tim, when it comes to environmental groups like yours, Greenpeace and many others and their opposition to what the Trump is doing with regards to rolling back a lot of these environmental and climate regulations. What is it that you can effectively do, given the fact that you've got the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, at this point. Is there any hope that through court challenges and the like, some of these things can stopped or at least minimized?

TIM DONAGHY: Yeah, no, I think there's lot of ways that people can get involved. I think at Greenpeace, we always start with grassroots support. It can't come from the top, it has to come up from the people who are affected by these changes. You were how talking about this is impacts their everyday life. But even in the short-term, you know – while the Republicans are in charge of Congress and Donald Trump is the White House – there are a number of places where we can put pressure on fossil fuel companies. You know, every fossil fuel project in this country is financed by banks. You know, including some banks that you may have your checking account or mortgage with. As we saw last year with the Dakota Access Pipeline, the tremendous wave of protests, protesting this terrible pipeline project. A lot of those activists targeting the banks, because it was known which banks were funding that pipeline. And that sort of pressure can be brought to bear no matter who's in the White House. We can sort of put the banks and the fossil fuel companies on notice that the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. And it's a bad investment, to invest in expensive infrastructure to extract oil, and coal and natural gas that we can't afford to burn. So that I think that message is growing stronger and stronger in the financial sector, and you're going to see that sort of activism come to the forefront.

I would also point to you that the states are obviously really fruitful ground for this type of action. For example, in New York and Massachusetts the attorney generals have opened investigations into whether the oil and gas company, Exxon Mobil, had lied to the public and to its shareholders about what it knew about climate change way back in the 1980s. This is a really interesting evolving scandal because it turns out Exxon had hired a number of world-class scientists to study climate change in the '80s and then in the 1990s, they did this about-face and suddenly all their public messaging was about climate change was uncertain and we shouldn't do anything rash like putting in place policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So there's a number of attorney generals who are looking into whether or not constitutes fraud, or whether any of their public statements were deceptive. And their attorney generals have also taken a look – and it would be great if there were more of these investigations that opened up, because there are other levers of power that can be used.

For more information about Greenpeace USA, visit greenpeace.org.

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