The tasks that need doing require money, resolve, and ingenuity--and they are too big to be done by government alone. They call for fundamentally new philosophies of land, air and water use, for stricter regulation, for expanded government action, for greater citizen involvement, and for new programs to ensure that government, industry, and individuals all are called on to do their share of the job and to pay their share of the cost.
-- Richard M. Nixon[i]
Long promised, the Trump administration has now issued its final revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA or Act). The changes are among the most aggressive and widespread deregulatory actions taken to date by an administration that has already moved to rescind or substantially revise 100 environmental regulations.
Signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, NEPA is a cornerstone of the nation’s environmental protection framework. The Act requires the government to assess in varying degrees of detail major federal agency actions that potentially impact the environment and provides for public involvement in the regulatory process.
The Act has proven particularly vexing to a president who has set his sights on rolling back the nation’s environmental framework to a time before the Nixon administration. The new rule is an attempt at reducing the number of projects requiring an environmental review, speeding through projects before their potential impacts are known, and curbing the public’s involvement in the NEPA process.
Should Joe Biden win in November, he will be returning to reign over a federal government he may not recognize. A government that could be hard-pressed to put his climate policies and programs into operation. For that--he’ll have Donald Trump to thank.
Trump has never hidden his disdain for the Capitol City crowd that includes the 300,000 or so individuals who work directly for the federal government in the Washington metro area. That is to say nothing of the tens of thousands of support contractors who augment the work of the agencies and thousands of lobbyists who daily swarm Capitol Hill and agency headquarters wanting to make sure that budgets and regulations have something in them for their clients. As George Packer writes in The Atlantic:
To Trump and his supporters, the swamp was full of scheming conspirators in drab DC office wear, coup plotters hidden-in plain sight at desks, in lunchrooms, and on jogging paths around the federal capital: the deep state.
In this episode of Zero Net Fifty, Jennifer Delony and Joel Stronberg look at new climate proposals currently being considered by Congress and lawmakers in Vermont.
In Vermont, a new policy for action on global warming is making its way through the legis-lature. The proposed law comes complete with the rules needed to hold the state accountable should it fail to meet the aggressive emissions reduction goals established by the Act.
At the federal level, we saw the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis release its proposed pathway to a net zero emissions target by 2050. The Select Committee’s report is dubbed the “Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient and Just America.”
While the release of pathway document presents a good opportunity to see what Democrats on the Committee are thinking, the thoughts of its Republican members were left out. Surprisingly, the Republicans’ response was not as negative as one might expect. Does it point to an interest on the part of Republicans to open a dialogue that could result in forward progress on climate policies? Possibly—but only time will tell.
Further action by the Democrats in Congress came wrapped in the packaging of an infrastructure bill complete with plenty of green provisions, along with a proposed on energy efficiency. Like all legislation coming out of the U.S. House these days, sweeping legislation other than on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 or and needed appropriations for the coming fiscal year that starts on October 1, 2020 has little chance of passage.
The big picture priorities, specific to how the U.S. thinks about climate change and how it will address it, are changing. Among those changes is the prominence of environmental justice in the minds of Democratic politicians.
Energy and climate are front and center in the national debate that will continue until the polls open on November 3rd, when America votes. The next watershed moments for the debate, however, will as both parties hold their nominating conventions later next month.
Click the link below for the podcast:
Lead image courtesy of David Clode on Unsplash
Winning the election may be the easiest task Joe Biden and the Democratic Party have to accomplish over the next several years. Governing, however, is another matter. In both cases, climate policy has a prominent role to play. Will a President Biden be able to do what Obama didn’t—put the nation on a path to sustainability?
It’s hardly a revelation to say that the outcome of the 2020 elections—for the presidency and Congress—are of historical importance in the nation’s fight against Earth’s warming and the transition to a sustainable economy.
The election of Donald Trump has been an unmitigated disaster for the environment. If his administration’s assault on 100 environmental regulations were not bad enough, there is the time lost in moving to slow the rate of Earth’s temperature rise and helping cities and farm communities adapt to the changes wrought by it.
Climate-related issues in previous presidential election years would rank high on voter priority lists at the beginning of each cycle only to be overshadowed by issues or circumstances thought more pressing. IT WAS THE ECONOMY STUPID—for the last three election cycles.
If it wasn’t the economy, then it could have been healthcare or terrorism or almost anything but the environment. In 2016, the environment barely earned a mention by either candidate during the campaign.
The coronavirus pandemic is a constant reminder that facts matter
and that objective reality cannot be wished away.
— Jennifer Rubin/The Washington Post
There are significant parallels between the response to the COVID-19 contagion and what the nation must do to combat and adapt to Earth’s warming. In both cases, national science-based policies must be put in place to address the considerable threats posed by each. Legislation alone, however, is unlikely to prove an adequate response in either case.
Changes in the pace and magnitude necessary to defeat the current contagion or effectuate the transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy have a strong cultural element that cannot be ignored. Millennial activism, for example, has led to a growing investor and consumer preference for companies with high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scores. Even though those types of companies may be less profitable in terms of their bottom-lines than other investments, they are credited for being beneficial to society. Although laws can be passed to encourage such investments, e.g., a lower tax on gains, a cultural disposition to such investments multiplies their impact and acts to stabilize them should the incentives be removed.
Cultural preference—whether of a corporation or a nation—has much to do with the values and character of its leaders. The current debate over mask-wearing has taken on tribal traits, i.e., cultural. President Trump’s personal stance on these issues, as well as more traditional partisan differences in the way Republicans and Democrats view science and scientists overshadow the scientific evidence that suggests mask-wearing is a critical part of the solution to the unchecked spread of COVID-19.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.