Environment Under Attack as Trump Addresses Congress

Manatee Springs State Park, Florida
Credit: Michael Warren/iStock

The president has launched a senseless assault on decades of hard-won protections for our water, air, and health.

In his 1970 State of the Union Address, President Richard Nixon called the nation to an historic reckoning with the excesses of its industrial past through a united mission to set partisanship aside and create a more hopeful future.

“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions,” Nixon said. “It has become a common cause of all the people of this country.”

On the strength of that unity, Congress passed, by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, the foundational laws that protect our waters and air, defend our wildlife and natural habitat, and guarantee the constitutional right of every citizen to speak out and be heard on the impact major projects and policies have on their communities, environment, and health. And Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency to stand sentry against practices that threaten our country with toxic pollution and environmental ruin.

In the decades since, those visionary actions have paid rich dividends to the lives of all Americans, even as our economy has grown an inflation-adjusted 360 percent, defying industry claims that responsible stewardship would somehow tank growth and stifle jobs. But now, as President Trump prepares to deliver his own address to Congress and the nation on Tuesday, those hard-won gains are under threat.

Trotting out the same discredited argument industry made in the past to falsely pit jobs against effective public oversight, Trump has launched an all-out attack on the commonsense safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health. He’s reportedly poised to hammer the EPA with budget cuts that would cripple the agency’s ability to stand up to industrial polluters and fulfill its mission to protect our environment and health. And he’s shutting out the voice of the people in actions that directly impact our values and lives.

Americans don’t support this reckless assault. A recent Reuters poll found 61 percent of respondents saying the EPA should be strengthened or maintained as it is, while just 19 percent say it should be weakened or eliminated.

Richard Nixon’s January 1970 State of the Union Address
Credit: U.S. Presidential History

Unless the public stands up to Trump’s radical agenda, though, he could undo decades of bipartisan progress with direct impacts on our environment and health. In fact, he’s already begun. Aided and abetted by his Republican allies in Congress, Trump killed a rule, seven years in the making, to protect coal communities and ancient mountain streams. Scrapping the rule will free mining companies to keep polluting mountain waters, killing fish and wildlife and leaving the people who live there to pay the price. He’s swept aside the voice of the Standing Rock Sioux and promised to rubber stamp approval for the Dakota Access pipeline, which threatens their drinking water and sacred lands. And he’s rescinded a requirement that U.S. companies publicly report money paid to grease the rails for overseas mining and drilling projects. Now these companies are free to pay the secret bribes that undermine good governance and contribute to corruption in struggling nations worldwide.

He’s frozen new regulations―putting the brakes on our ability to confront emerging threats in a complex and changing world. And he’s told federal agencies that, for every new rule that is eventually implemented, two existing rules must be scrapped, regardless of the benefits they provide.

Clean air rules, for example, avert some 230,000 preventable deaths, 86,000 emergency room visits, and 16 million lost days of work or school―every year―saving the country up to $2 trillion annually, or 30 times the amount invested to keep our air clean. Which of those benefits would Trump suggest we abandon through his help-one, harm-two approach? Old threats don’t magically disappear as we work to address new ones, any more than finding a cure for one disease means we can stop fighting the others.

Any day now, Trump is expected to direct the EPA to gut the Clean Water Rule, which provides needed protections for the wetlands and streams that feed drinking water sources for 117 million Americans. He’s reportedly poised to lift the moratorium on new leases for coal mining on public lands. And he’s expected to order the evisceration of the single most important measure we’ve taken to date to protect future generations from the growing dangers of climate change: the Clean Power Plan to cut climate-disrupting carbon pollution from the dirty power plants that account for 40 percent of the nation’s carbon footprint.

Trump has chosen to head the EPA a man who has built a career trying to block the agency from doing its job. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt sided with industrial polluters to take the EPA to court 14 separate times in an attempt to overturn, nullify, or otherwise block standards and rules that protect clean air and water.

Nobody voted in November for dirty water, polluted air, and climate chaos. All of us, though, will pay the price if we allow Trump to turn back the clock on two generations of progress.

That’s why protecting a healthy environment shouldn’t divide us along political lines. It’s a common cause of the American people, as much today as when Nixon first rallied us to action long decades ago. We’ll stand up for the values that unite us still. We’ll stand up to this senseless assault. We’ll stand up for our children’s future.