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High noon for the environment? Environmentalists vs. Trump

Kurt Wechsler holds an image of the earth during a rally by scientists in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting last month in San Francisco. The rally was to call attention to what scientists believe is unwarranted attacks by the incoming Trump administration against scientists advocating for the issue of climate change and its impact.
Kurt Wechsler holds an image of the earth during a rally by scientists in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting last month in San Francisco. The rally was to call attention to what scientists believe is unwarranted attacks by the incoming Trump administration against scientists advocating for the issue of climate change and its impact. AP

Environmental groups are on edge.

They are wary of what the presidency of Donald Trump will do once it controls the bureaucratic levers of power over the rules and regulations intended to protect the environment.

They fear bedrock laws over clean air and water, as well as energy production, global warming and federal stewardship of public lands could be targets of an administration likely populated by former industry executives and climate change deniers.

“The policies that President-elect Trump outlined involve undoing U.S. climate policy; then a series of appointments that are almost without exception, hard-right ideologues or people connected inextricably to the oil and gas industry,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental policy advocacy group .

Environmental groups are strategizing among themselves and with allies in the Senate ahead of the confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominees to run the key federal agencies that oversee the environment: the Departments of Energy and the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the nominees, like Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, tapped to lead the EPA, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who would oversee the Energy Department if confirmed, are outspoken opponents of climate change. Critics say Pruitt, Perry and other Trump Cabinet picks who would be involved in shaping environment policy are too industry-friendly.

“Frankly, our science community has been quite alarmed and even surprised by these nominations and the direction they seem to be going,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. “There was nothing in the campaign that would have suggested such an effort to put people in charge of offices who fundamentally don’t agree with the agencies’ missions.”

A spokesperson for the incoming Trump administration could not be reached for comment.

Most polls show a majority of the public is concerned about the environment, thinks global warming is real and is happening, and that politicians who defend their refusal to say whether or not it’s real are guilty of a “cop-out.”

The environmental community is focused on several concerns:

▪ Climate change. Trump has said “nobody really knows” if climate change is real. He said he is “studying” whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris agreement to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which nearly 200 nations have signed. He wants to expand fossil fuel production, and has promised to restore lost jobs in the coal industry.

“Trump has communicated quite clearly that he has no intention to follow what the science has to say on this issue,” said Michael Mann, a leading advocate of the science behind global warming, and professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. “Given that Trump has turned his administration over to the corporate lobbyists, we can assume the same of any issue where the findings of science prove inconvenient to powerful special interests.”

▪ Public lands. Trump’s nominee for Interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., appears to support federal protection of public lands. But most House Republicans back local control and are wasting no time. On Tuesday, the first day of the new Congress, they made it easier for lawmakers to turn federal lands over to the states, opening up the possibility that sections could be sold off to developers.

▪ Emissions. Trump has pledged to send the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to the trash heap. The plan, embroiled in a court battle that could go on for a while, would require utilities to reduce their carbon emissions. It’s key element of the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord.

Kimmell of the Union of Concerned Scientists said the environmental community was caught up short by Trump’s victory. Groups have had to rally quickly to raise alarms.

“I do think we were all surprised by the outcome of the election,” he said. “I would say we’ve kicked off the dust and are very rapidly pivoting into a new reality.”

David Goldstein: 202-383-6105, @GoldsteinDavidJ

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