Trump’s Cabinet picks mean bad news for the climate

27th Jan 2017
Trump’s Cabinet picks mean bad news for the climate

The future leader of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, claims that climate change is still up for debate (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

People around the world with values that extend beyond their business interests are more than a little concerned about Donald Trump’s presidency. Environmentalists are especially worried about climate legislation and what he may overturn in favour of exploiting more dirty energy. His picks for top positions include climate change deniers, those on the far right, and former corporate lobbyists.

Trump had campaigned on a message of ‘draining the swamp,’ referring to the revolving door of lobbyists and policymakers, but his choices display otherwise. He has expressed a desire to undo a lot of President Obama’s policies, including the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to shut down coal-fired power plants and keep new ones from being built, and the Affordable Care Act, which has given millions of Americans health insurance for the first time.

The future leader of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has tried to sue the agency multiple times “for their leadership’s activist agenda,” claims that climate change is still up for debate, and has been in the pockets of energy lobbyists for years. Both Trump and Pruitt want to dismantle the agency, which they see as a hindrance to business and job growth.

Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, the body responsible for negotiating international treaties, including the Paris Climate Agreement, is the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson. He has a cosy relationship with Russian President Vladamir Putin and had lost multiple drilling contracts due to sanctions against the nation. Exxon was also sued over knowing about climate change in the 1970s and keeping the information from the public. Trump has expressed that he would like to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which would be a major blow to the treaty, as the US is one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, and a contributes billions in funding to implement the accord.

Ryan Zinke, who has a mixed history when it comes to his viewpoints on climate and other important issues, will lead the Department of the Interior, responsible for protecting federal lands. A minority within the Republican Party due to his desire to keep federal lands under federal control (Republicans are avid supporters of state laws overriding federal ones), he once claimed that climate change was a threat to national security, and then called the science of climate change “not proven” when he ran for Congress in 2014. Trump has stated that he will lift the moratorium on oil and gas exploration on public lands.

Former Texas Governor and Republican presidential contender, Rick Perry, has been chosen to lead the Department of Energy, a department he vowed to dismantle had he been elected. The agency is responsible for managing nuclear and radioactive waste, running science labs, and safeguarding and testing the US’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The two former heads of the agencies were renowned physicists. Perry has long been a climate denier; his administration in Texas went so far as to censor a report of sea-level rise. He has long been on the payroll of dirty energy interests and even sits on the board of the company building the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Few believe Perry will fully understand the scope and scientific nature of the job.

When a Republican enters the White House, environmentalists know that they will have to do a fair bit of work to protect the planet. Laws mean little without enforcement and defunding the agencies that enforce such laws could mean that air, soil, and water quality could all be significantly diminished. Those on the right have always framed the pro-climate protection argument as anti-business, due to regulations businesses are lawfully mandated to comply with. What is often overlooked are the public health benefits of regulating things like toxic emissions that make people, especially children and the elderly, sick. Americans fear that jobs are going overseas due to such regulations, when, in reality, machines have taken many jobs, and the cost of living and subsequent wages in America are higher than many other nations with strong manufacturing sectors. America should be proud of its protection of workers and the environment, for that is part of what makes it such an attractive place to the rest of the world.

If Trump wants to deregulate everything in favour of business at the expense of the environment, he may see a domino effect in terms of public health and tourism. Both of those things will cost people jobs and money.

*Leading scientists have asked Prime Minister, Theresa May, to urge US President-elect Donald Trump to acknowledge the risks of climate change and declare his support for international efforts to combat global warming.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Science & Policy

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