In the wake of a sweeping electoral victory for President Elect Trump and the Republican Party, there’s been a range of reporting on the potential impact of a Trump presidency on the environment. Most journalism has focused on two things: parsing Trump’s campaign declarations, and the extent that the administration can undue the environmental legacy of President Obama. With the news that the President Elect’s daughter Ivanka wants to make climate change one of her signature issues, and her father’s meeting with former presidential nominee and global climate advocate Al Gore, there’s some reason for optimism. But despite the non-traditional campaign run by a non-traditional candidate, history can still be our teacher as we forecast and engage with what’s to come in the next 4 (or 8) years.
While Donald J. Trump is a unique political figure, historians have drawn comparisons to Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon, among others. Despite Nixon’s tainted legacy, President Nixon, a republican, created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He had an ambitious (if fiscally conservative) environmental agenda, and worked for clean air, clean water, protection of endangered species, and open spaces.
Ronald Reagan, a republican revered by the party to this day, had a well regarded record on environmental issues as Governor of California but a mixed record as president.
Like President Elect Trump, Reagan was not an outdoorsman or environmentalist. He famously said “trees cause more pollution than automobiles do,” and that if “you’ve seen one tree you’ve seen them all.” And like Trump is poised to do, Reagan appointed anti-environmental leaders to the Department of the Interior and the EPA. Reagan also fought congress to weaken pollution standards in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, reduced federal funding for the EPA, opened up previously protected land to mineral exploration, and cut renewable energy programs.
But Reagan’s legacy on the environment was far from black and white. Reagan advocated for and ultimately signed the Montreal Protocol, an international accord to phase out ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons. His administration also laid the groundwork for a cap and trade system to address acid rain, which was later successfully implemented by George H. Bush. He signed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, which has been critical in protecting large portions of US coastlines from harmful development by taking away all federal funding and subsidies for such projects. Similarly, the 1985 Farm Bill took away subsidies for farmers who failed to comply with numerous conservation measures. Reagan also introduced an excise tax on diesel fuel sold in marine terminals, designated over 10 million acres of wilderness, and dedicated funding to improving national park facilities and access.
Today, many moderate republicans and conservatives are supportive of similar approaches to environmental policy. Consistent among Reagan’s work on the environment was to approach environmental problems from a market driven approach, as opposed to a regulatory approach.
Under a Trump presidency, like any modern day republican, there is no hope for liberal environmental policies such as a moratorium on production of any type of energy, carbon taxs, protecting biodiversity, and any other highly regulatory approaches. But there is hope for market-driven approaches such as making zero emissions energy production tax-free, replacing and improving the nation’s electrical transmission system, investing in nuclear fusion technology, eliminating natural resource giveaways on federal lands, phasing out big agricultural subsidies, promoting the military’s use of renewable energy and biofuel, supporting national clean car standards, expanding cap and trade policies, and addressing water security through investment in emergent technologies. These approaches will create jobs and protect national security while making significant strides for the environment.
Formerly called Republicans for Environmental Protection, ConservAmerica has a mission “to educate the public and elected officials on conservative approaches to today’s environmental, energy, and conservation challenges”. They remain an influential conservative lobby group with pro-environment positions on modern day topics including the Dakota Access Pipeline. E2 is a national, nonpartisan group that advocates for policies that are good for the economy and the environment. E2 has over 850 member businesses from every state in the country, and is a partner of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the country’s most powerful environmental policy and law organizations.
Organizations including ConservAmerica, ClearPath, and E2 promote market-driven policies and approaches that environmental policy advisors like Ivanka Trump may advocate for. In contrast, most environmental organizations are gearing up for endless litigation and stonewalling while sticking to policies that have no hope of gaining traction under republican leadership. More Americans than ever believe that humans are contributing to climate change, and there’s near consensus amongst scientists that urgent action is needed. We can’t wait 4, or 8 years to get back to work. Environmental advocates need to stay at the negotiating table and recognize that action is still possible – progress is still possible. While President Obama faced consistent opposition to environmental policy, history suggests that President Elect Trump will enjoy a path of less resistance.
Also published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/optimistic-path-forward-environmental-policy-from-trump-nate-bernitz?published=t