The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 23

Scientists warn that the world is already experiencing the effects of climate change as Trump officially withdraws from the Paris Agreement.
Credit: iStock

Scientists warn that the world is already experiencing the effects of climate change as Trump officially withdraws from the Paris Agreement.

In his first seven months, President Trump has done just about everything imaginable to try to roll back, reduce, and ridicule actions to address climate change.

But reality—for a former reality TV star—bites.

This past week, two major scientific reports have sounded the warning bell with a fire and fury of urgency and facts that climate change is dramatically underway.

An international study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2016 marked the third consecutive year of record-breaking temperatures for the earth—the hottest in 137 years of recordkeeping.

Just three days earlier, on August 7, the New York Times published a draft U.S. interagency climate change report showing how dire is the threat of climate change. The report, awaiting approval by the Trump administration, notes, “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change.”

The question now is, what will Trump do? He once tweeted that climate change was a hoax cooked up by the Chinese. But how much longer can he avoid his duty to protect Americans from the the central environmental threat of our time, climate change?

Setback on HFCs

One opportunity for him to show leadership is to address heat-trapping gases called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. On August 8, a divided panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit voted 2 to 1 to toss out a 2015 Environmental Protection Agency ban on certain HFCs. The decision scrambles an array of industries’ plans to transition to climate-friendlier alternatives to HFCs in compliance with approaching deadlines. But it may not be the last word, says David Doniger, director of the Climate & Clean Air program at NRDC.

Trump’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defended the HFC rules in court, so the decision is a loss for the administration as well as for the industries investing in less-damaging chemicals—not to mention the planet. The EPA could step up and continue to defend the HFC rules by seeking a rehearing. “We’re hopeful,” Doniger says, “that EPA will do the sensible thing and fight for this important rule.”

Another Hold on CPP Case

Also on August 8, the court of appeals delayed legal action on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The court issued its second order holding litigation on the case in abeyance for 60 days. NRDC’s Doniger notes some good news in the order: Two judges on the panel wrote a concurrence that helps “underscore EPA’s legal duty to act on climate,” and the court thus far hasn’t given the EPA the indefinite abeyance it asked for.

Trump Further Isolates Himself on Climate Change

On a more discouraging note, the Trump administration gave unofficial notice to the United Nations on August 4 that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change “as soon as it is eligible to.” The notice also specified that President Trump is open to reengaging on more “favorable” terms. While no surprise, NRDC international experts note that “it reinforces how President Trump intends to walk America away from global leadership on climate change and further isolate ourselves from the international community.”

The U.S. cannot submit its formal intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement—the climate pact that virtually the entire world signed on to―until November 4, 2019. And the withdrawal won’t be effective until one year later—the day after the next presidential election.

Zinke Spares One Monument, but Many More Still Face the Ax

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on August 4 that he was sparing Arizona’s Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument from Trump’s hatchet. Trump signed an executive order earlier this year calling for review of 27 national monuments created since 1996, with an eye to downsizing or eliminating some. Zinke is under an August 24 deadline to finish his review.

This week, NRDC released a comprehensive report showing that Trump’s monuments hit list threatens jobs, local economies, and the national heritage. “These breathtaking places belong to you and me,” says Rhea Suh, NRDC president. “Millions of Americans have urged the government to protect them. They are not mere pieces of real estate the Trump administration can sacrifice to industrial ruin.”

All Hat and No Sage Grouse Guardian

On August 7, Zinke unveiled a new strategy that limits states from protecting the iconic sage grouse—whose population has plummeted—while allowing unrestrained access by logging, mining, and oil and gas industries, chiefly in the West.

“Secretary Zinke may ride a horse and wear a cowboy hat, but his sage grouse order shows he’s not acting in the best interest of western states or the rest of America,” says Rebecca Riley, senior attorney in NRDC’s Land & Wildlife program. “Secretary Zinke is selling out the sage grouse―and western states―to oil and gas developers.”

NRDC Poll: Americans Love Environment, Clean Energy, and Climate Solutions

Ahead of hard budget battles this fall, NRDC released a national poll on August 10 showing that a strong majority of Americans don’t want cuts to funding for environmental protection.

“This poll has an unmistakable warning,” says NRDC’s Suh. “Americans stand firmly against cutting protections for clean air, water, and lands or jeopardizing clean energy gains. They won’t support infrastructure plans that sell off community assets and reduce federal investment in public transit. And they reject opening public lands to oil and gas development.”

That’s this week’s Real Lowdown. NRDC has prepared a list of other far-ranging threats. And we’re vigilantly reporting on the administration’s assault on the environment through Trump Watch.

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