In 2019, President Donald Trump stated that “right now [the United States is] at the cleanest we’ve ever been,” although that year’s State of The Air report recorded an increase of particulate pollution. In 2013, Trump tweeted that “global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax,” but in the eight years since this tweet, scientists recorded seven of our hottest years on record. Donald Trump has neglected positive climate action and repealed around 100 environmental regulations since taking office. He withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, which encourages international cooperation in reducing the global average temperature. However, environmental legislation and initiatives are imperative to protect our planet and its people. The Trump administration is now using the coronavirus to cut essential environmental legislation, which will boost the economy at the cost of exacerbating both coronavirus and climate change.

Trump’s Ties to the Fossil Fuel Industry

 Trump’s administration is full of supporters and lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry, providing an inherent bias against effective environmental policy. David Bernhardt, who formerly lobbied for oil and gas, now leads the Department of the Interior. Prior to his post as Secretary of Interior, Bernhardt fought to allow oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Rick Perry heads the Department of Energy, a department he pledged to eliminate in his 2012 presidential campaign. He formerly worked with the Dakota Access Pipeline and Sunoco. Finally, the Environmental Protection Agency is headed by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist. In addition, Trump’s inaugural fund received over $7 million from fossil fuel corporations and executives. As we face a growing climate crisis, our administration must prepare to develop policies that will address the United States’  environmental concerns while preserving its’ citizens’ interests.  The blatant conflict of interest within the very departments responsible for these policies inhibits the Trump administration’s ability to effectively address the global climate crisis. 

Trump’s Executive Order

The Trump administration is using coronavirus to roll back important environmental protections. Trump issued an executive order to “[accelerate] the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 emergency,” allowing government agencies to pass over NEPA when approving new projects. The National Environmental Protection Act ensures that the government will review the environmental impact of projects, and suggest possible ‘greener’ alternatives. This concerning executive order allows potentially harmful projects to bypass legislation like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act. 

NEPA and the Economy

Reasoning behind Trump’s latest executive order stems from economic concerns. Since COVID-19, the Dow saw the largest quarterly drop since 1987, and over 36 million people in the US have filed for unemployment. The executive order bypassing NEPA hopes to mitigate unemployment and expedite economic growth. Trump states that “the need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis,” and that NEPA created “unnecessary regulatory delays.” By discarding the environmental regulatory investigations NEPA requires for infrastructure projects, Trump’s executive order aims to stimulate the economy. But if the economy benefits by evading NEPA, how unnecessary is this act? The House Natural Resources Chairman claims that “Gutting NEPA takes away one of the few tools communities of color have to protect themselves and make their voices heard on federal decisions impacting them.”

Impact

People who live near industrial developments like highways and factories are predisposed to health conditions like asthma because these industrial developments release an enormous amount of air pollution into these communities. Individuals exposed to air pollution are at a higher risk of death from coronavirus. In addition, essential workers on new industrial projects will risk their health by no longer distancing. Without NEPA, industrial projects could injure wildlife habitats, cause excessive noise or vibrations, and release unwarranted amounts of pollution into air and water. Retracting NEPA will have a disproportionate impact on certain groups of the population, as a majority of industrial developments are placed near low-income communities and communities of color. Donald Trump’s ties to the fossil fuel industry spur legislation, which will directly harm our environment and people in exchange for profit.

Solutions

The director of Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment says that “We’re definitely headed to something much deeper than the Great Recession, and comparable to the Great Depression in depth.” So what should we do to curb this economic crisis without repealing essential environmental legislation? The Senate has passed a $2 trillion dollar relief package called the CARES Act, which funnels money to individuals, small businesses, state and local governments, public health, safety net, education, and big corporations. A large part of this bill allows some unemployed people to receive up to 100% of their prior salaries for up to four months, including those who are self-employed. Some issues with this bill are exceptions with stimulus checks, as many low-income households are not eligible due to issues with tax returns and Social Security. Some argue that this bill prioritizes large corporations over individuals, as around 560 billion dollars are allocated to large corporations. However, the stimulus bill will aid the economy until industries that are on pause due to COVID-19 can resume as normal. 

Donald Trump’s executive order bypassing NEPA will stimulate our economy at the cost of the environment, essential workers’ health, and marginalized communities’ well-being. Donald Trump’s administration is packed with former employees of the fossil fuel industry, meaning the same people tasked with protecting our environment will destroy it for profit. Under the guise of economic benefit, NEPA will no longer guard against harmful industrial development in our communities. Donald Trump’s new executive order repealed legislation that is essential to our environment and people.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and/or student and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of United 4 Social Change Inc., its board members, or officers.
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