The current environmental state: from Trump to Biden

Verde! Voices of the Environmental Affairs Committee 

All legislature information is accorded to Jim Robbins at Yale Environment 360. 

Biden has been left with a weakened state of environmental affairs. The Trump administration focused on small, direct tactics to exploit public lands – such as selling over 1,400 gas and oil permits in New Mexico and Wyoming in just the last three months of term – making at least 125 rule changes that favor special interests on public lands and issuing over 160 executive orders aimed to deregulate environmental protections.

Some key laws affected are the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act. These benefits of  private interests on public lands boost short-term revenue for state budgets, but these policy changes also undermine the natural resources that states depend upon in the long run. 

Examples are allowing the Forest Service to bypass environmental analysis for construction requiring deforestation, as well as legalizing incidental bird deaths from environmental factors such as oil spills, powerlines and wind turbines. The Biden administration plans to counter Trump’s legislation primarily through additional executive orders.

The question at hand? If the Biden administration can overcome environmental legislation passed by Trump. 

The Trump administration’s stake in the environmental debate at the surface appears to be for economic gain. However, the public oil and gas leases sold by the Trump administration occurred at record low market values. Therefore, it could be argued that the Trump administration’s stake in deregulating protection was also to spite the Obama administration’s environmental legacy, such as targeting Sage Grouse conservation areas which Obama fought hard to protect. 

Trump’s central platform was putting America first in manufacturing, business and trade by strengthening the traditional means of economic gain for the United States – chief of which is the oil and gas industries. This revenue funnels directly into a state’s budget for schools, roads and public services. Due to this, this article explores the potential difficulty the Biden administration may face reversing Trump-era environmental legislation, should it result in a loss of revenue and jobs. 

The Biden administration’s stake in reversing Trump-era legislation in order to protect the environment stems from Biden’s platform of addressing environmental injustice, climate change and creating green jobs – promises which helped secure Biden’s win and will prove vital for the success of his economic redevelopment. 

Democrats now warn the Biden administration of the threat Trump’s supporters may pose to banning new oil and gas development. In 2016, armed far-right extremists occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, advocating for private operations in opposition to the federal control of the land, foreshadowing further armed or even violent protests to Biden’s agenda over public lands. 

Another battle the Biden administration faces is gathering judicial support for environmental protection. The Trump administration successfully elected 226 conservative judges to federal courts nationwide, 54 to federal appeals courts and three to the U.S. Supreme Court. This will prove to be a hard fight for the Biden administration, as a central belief held by conservatives like these judges is the federal decentralization of resources.

Many recommend that the Biden administration passes expansive environmental legislation that adds more land to the National Monument System. Such legislation would be a more long-term solution, being much more difficult to reverse compared to executive orders with the tradeoff of being more difficult to pass. Economically, such environmental legislation will cause a loss in revenue for oil and gas leasing and in related jobs, however effective environmental legislation will outweigh this by stimulating larger economic yield in the form of sustainable development. 

A large quantity of environmental jobs must be created that will require higher specialization and education, increasing the amount of money that circulates the domestic economy. Such legislation will also drive technological innovation away from fossil fuels to renewables which will also stimulate the economy. 

Further, passing sound environmental legislation will help in reaching equity among American communities. The populations most at-risk of environmental damage are low-income, primarily Black and Hispanic groups of people often needing the most aid to begin with. Effective legislation will reduce exposure to environmental toxins of these communities commonly living in industrial areas and provide the opportunity and education to lift them out of poverty.  

OPINION:

I recommend the Biden administration utilize Congress to pass legislation that expands environmental policy and is written with intent of making it harder to amend by future administrations. Additionally, the Biden administration should seek to increase the number of National Monuments – the most highly protected status that is almost impossible to repeal – by adding further ecologically important and sensitive habitats. 

Although these recommendations are the most effective ways to protect the environment, these recommendations are based upon my opinion alone. I believe combatting Trump-era environmental deregulations through executive orders will prove effective only in the short run, as they are vulnerable to future administrations. However, I believe the Biden administration should use executive orders for vital policy unlikely to pass through Congress and as stepping stones to develop public support for future legislative campaigns. 

By following the above recommendation, the Biden administration can ensure long-term protection for the environment. Swift and expansive policy is crucial, as further environmental damage will continue to grow as the U.S. and outside world develops. In this regard, the U.S. can curb this harm by acting as an international environmental leader. 

If these policy recommendations are followed by the Biden administration, it can and must use both executive and legislative power to build political support for environmental protection, redevelop our economy while addressing underlying inequities and ensure the health and well-being of our American communities.

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