The First Two Weeks of the Fight for our Environment

Donald Trump is already proving to be the most dangerous president in U.S. history for our health and environment.

The new Congress took office on January 3 and the Trump Administration began just two weeks ago. Already we have seen not only critical environmental and health safeguards under attack, but also the institutions that are the basis for our public interest protections, including the media, civil society, and separation of powers. It might feel like we are engaged in a sprint, but I have heard it better called a relay race. That means that across society, we need to share the baton and be on the same team to fight the attacks on our rights, environment and health, while finding ways to make progress.

President Trump is already proving to be the most dangerous president in American history for our health and environment. Just in his first two weeks, he has taken a number of actions to undermine environmental and health safeguards such as the new executive order requiring agencies to identify two regulations to cut when proposing a new measure. This is an arbitrary and irrational approach that threatens core protections. And his ties to the fossil fuel industry make it no surprise that his early actions include an “America First Energy Plan” that turns its back on clean energy would instead chain us to dirty energy as well as attempting to fast-track the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline—brushing aside the threats they pose to our water and climate, and concerns raised by indigenous communities and farmers. We expect the coming weeks to continue along this line as Trump has threatened to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, pull out of the Paris climate agreement and repeal the Clean Water Rule.

Our environmental and health protections are grounded in law and science and are the result of extensive public engagement. By law, they can’t be swept away simply by fiat. Furthermore, these health and environmental safeguards have saved tens of thousands of lives and reduced serious illnesses from dirty air and water for millions of Americans.

The agency most responsible for these safeguards under law is EPA, our government’s guardian of our health and environment. Trump may want to gut EPA, and has chosen the worst nominee ever to lead the agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Pruitt is uniquely unfit. He’s repeatedly sued the EPA to keep it from doing its job protecting our air, land, water and climate. He has obstructed the Senate from thoroughly reviewing his record. And he has, time and again, put polluters first, and the rest of us at risk.

Critical to defense is the growing solidarity among people from all walks of life. When Trump attacks one of us, he attacks all of us. In the Women’s March, NRDC stood shoulder-to-shoulder with women, working people, labor unions, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and so many others. This deepening of solidarity is going to continue.

The American public is fighting for our basic rights, including the right to a healthy environment. People are looking for ways to take action. They have shown up on short notice at the White House for a Keystone XL-Dakota Access pipeline rally, at airports to protest the refugee ban, and we expect people to turn out in the hundreds of thousands at the People’s Climate March on April 29—in DC and around the world. In the face of Trump, it is clear that standing together is the way to stand strong.

Together, we need to stop the false narrative of jobs versus the environment. We need to stop the false narrative of Trump versus environmentalists when all people are affected by his moves to undermine our environmental and health safeguards. Transparency and accuracy are more critical than ever in an age of “alternate facts.” The important facts are found in the stories of how dirty water, air and a worsening climate hurts families and communities across America.

In addition to public mobilization, litigation remains a critical way to counter overreach and abuse of power. Trump ordered agencies to review a broad array of rules issued by the Obama Administration including those that protect public health and the environment. This has put a number of critical protections under threat including through EPA’s withdrawal of a rule designed to protect the public from mercury. So on February 1, NRDC filed our first lawsuit against the Trump administration to fight the illegal withdrawal of this mercury rule.

Even while we defend, we need to keep pushing for the work underway across our country and around the world to continue to achieve environmental progress. States and cities are stepping up. In Illinois, Ohio and Michigan there is a clear trend: Republican governors in all three heavy manufacturing states have rolled up their sleeves to actively advance important climate and clean energy policies in recent months. Add strong efforts from New York, California, Iowa and Maryland, and the economic forces pushing clean energy, and you've got a clean energy trend that is not going to let up. 

Internationally, countries, such as India and China, remain firmly committed to climate action under the Paris agreement. A Trump withdrawal from that agreement would be at the peril of the U.S. becoming an international pariah and damaging our economic relationships.

Americans did not vote for dirty air or polluted water. Nobody voted to cede our climate leadership. We didn’t vote turn our back on the clean energy jobs that put 2.5 million Americans to work every day.  And we certainly didn’t vote to destroy our common inheritance.

NRDC and our partners are geared up for the fight. We will fight to protect our communities, our children, and our clean energy workforce. We will fight to defend our rights to breathable air, drinkable water and a livable future. We will stand up to this set of ideologues and polluter apologists and make them realize this is not what the American people want or support. And we will let them know that we need leaders who believe in innovation and creating a brighter future for all Americans.

Follow Trump Watch for regular updates on Trump’s attacks on environmental and health safeguards.