Sowing Confusion and Doubt, Trump Attempts Climate Policy Rollbacks

by Robert Verchick

March 28, 2017

Donald Trump has been in office only 68 days, and already I've passed the threshold from shock to boredom. His order to erase climate change from federal policy, preceded by a speech before captive members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only seals the deal. I served at the EPA during President Obama's first term, helping that agency and others prepare for the hazards of climate change. That work is serious and complicated and subtle. Trump, of course, is anything but. The man is as formulaic as a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. 

First there's the over-the-top infliction of trauma with blindness to reason. He'll launch an executive order rescinding climate change policy! Forget the decades of studies and empirical data confirming an era of rising seas, heavier rains, and stronger storms. Science is for nerds with thick glasses. Only a "loser" would stop an expensive project just because there was a risk of climate-based harm. So license that nuclear reactor in a flood plain. Unroll that highway on the sinking shore. And forget the curlicue of regulations meant to catapult communities toward the job-creating industries of wind and solar, and that cut pollution, too. Real air is the kind you taste when you inhale. 

The second part of the formula is to hide your laziness in something like a hopped-up executive order with lots of bark and limited bite. Executive orders, which can be issued by the president unilaterally with little review, are helpful in organizing activities and signaling priorities, but they rarely do much on their own. Trump can order the EPA to reverse its clean power regulations. He can order the Department of Energy to ignore sea level rise when it sites a nuclear facility. But EPA's rules will take years of process and litigation to undo, if they can be legally undone at all. And federal courts are already insisting that federal agencies account for climate change in their environmental reviews. "So let it be written, so let it be done," only works in the movies. Sad! 

What Trump's order does do, at least in the short term, is sow confusion and doubt. So what else is new? 

The last piece of the Trump formula involves the strategic use of humiliation and shame. To the hundreds of dedicated staffers at the EPA who work every day to make sure our air and water are clean and that our children will lead long and healthy lives, Trump made them feel small. That's shameful – and, at this point, so pathetically predictable. I know my friends at EPA can withstand the banality. They are professionals. They are proud that the policies they have designed and enforced have saved tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. They are serious people of substance. And their work is the opposite of boring.

Be the first to comment on this entry.
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us (info@progressivereform.org) and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Robert Verchick

Robert R.M. Verchick holds the Gauthier ~ St. Martin Eminent Scholar Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University, New Orleans, is the Faculty Director of the Center for Environmental Law at Loyola, and is a Senior Fellow in Disaster Resilience Leadership, Tulane University. He is the President of the Center for Progressive Reform.

For 2017: Grit, Hope, and Cher's Feathers

Verchick | Dec 31, 2016 | Good Government

Cuba Libre: The Link Between Freedom and Environmental Health

Verchick | Mar 23, 2016 | Environmental Policy

Justice Scalia and the American Eco-Kulturkampf

Verchick | Feb 22, 2016 | Environmental Policy

Support CPR on Giving Tuesday

Verchick | Dec 01, 2015 | Chesapeake Bay
Recommended Resources:
Climate Change
Time for Real Action on Global Warming

The Center for Progressive Reform

455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150-513
Washington, DC 20001
info@progressivereform.org
202.747.0698

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015