President Trump made profound changes to U.S. environmental policy this year while reversing Obama-era mandates. The Trump administration’s major policy shifts including withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, shifting fossil fuel policy, refocusing the EPA and scaling back public lands.
These actions were coupled with historic weather events. Hurricanes and wildfires crippled parts of the country, shedding light on emergency services, disaster preparedness and energy resilience. Here’s a look at analysis and opinions on some of the year’s biggest environmental issues
1. Leaving Paris climate agreement
Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement aimed at curbing global greenhouse gas emissions. While the U.S. remains locked into the deal until 2020, the move sent a message about the president’s “America first” environmental priorities.
Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski praised the move, noting “This agreement was a scam that ultimately hurt U.S. economy and worker productivity.” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) had a different take, calling the withdrawal shortsighted.
“Trump has often questioned the need for such an agreement, and yet he has no scientific basis to pull away from the consensus of thought of most Americans,” she wrote. Others argued the U.S. could make good on its part of the deal with or without Trump.
2. An evolving EPA
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt reshaped the agency, scaling back regulatory oversight, repealing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and instituting a “back-to-basics” agenda.
Emmett McGroarty and Erin Tuttle at American Principles Project praise Pruitt, noting he “drains the swamp like no one else in Washington.” Former EPA Assistant Administrator Win Porter argues Pruitt is “returning Reagan-era principles” to the agency.
John O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, says it’s more like sabotaging the EPA, arguing “Pruitt has muzzled science and his dissenters” at the agency.
3. Natural disasters
A series of natural disasters hit the U.S. this year, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. These storms ravaged and flooded Texas, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, while also leaving areas of Puerto Rico without power for months.
Ahead of the storm, former FEMA director Michael Brown cautioned a powerful storm during an August recess could be a recipe for disaster. Brown advised Trump, “don’t let Hurricane Harvey be your Katrina.” Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute climate science director, criticized the Trump administration for rolling back coastal flood protections just before Harvey hit.
“With hurricane season looming, Trump rescinded a life-saving Obama-era rule that required federally funded infrastructure like schools, housing, and highways to be better able to withstand flood damage,” Wolf wrote. Two months after Maria hit Puerto Rico, Inter American University of Puerto Rico law professor Andrés L. Córdova reminded those on the mainland much of the island was still without power. Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, laid much of the blame at the governor’s feet, arguing Gov. Ricardo Rossello “betrayed Puerto Ricans, clenching to power over broken energy grid.”
4. Public lands
The Trump administration has also reevaluated public lands by scaling back national monuments. Environmental groups feared iconic American landscapes would lose federal protection. Lena Moffitt, senior director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, argued “nobody looks back with regret on the decision to protect the Grand Canyon or to save the Giant Sequoias.”
Ultimate, only two monuments were singled out. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be reduced by about half and Bears Ears National Monument by about 85 percent. The review overshadowed a proposed fee hike for some of the most popular national parks. Audrey Peterman, a member of the Next 100 Coalition, argued the increase would create a “class system” among park goers. Others noted, “we’re not paying our fair share” to fund national parks.
“If our parks, forests, and wilderness areas are truly national treasures, then outdoor recreationists should have no qualms paying to enjoy — and support — them,” wrote Tate Watkins, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center.
Congress also opened public lands in Alaska to oil drilling. Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Andy Mack notes Arctic drilling can be safe, based on previous successful drilling in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) warns it could cause the destruction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“This is too important a national decision to make without offering an opportunity for a full examination of the consequences,” Lieberman wrote.