Clean air and water and a healthy environment shouldn’t be partisan issues, environmentalists say, but they also acknowledge that’s more a wish than reality following the election of Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump promised a raft of major environmental policy changes during his presidential campaign — abolishing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ending environmental regulation, bringing back the coal industry, selling off public lands and tearing up the Paris climate accord to name a few — and post-election indications are he’s getting ready to move aggressively on many of those.
One signal of that is Mr. Trump’s appointment of Myron Ebell, a lobbyist and vocal climate change denier, as head of the EPA transition team. Another is the report that he is considering Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor who supports drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge and the aerial hunting of wolves and bears, as Interior Department secretary.
Environmentalists are girding for a long battle on those global and national issues, with the outcomes having a ripple effect on the environments and economies of states, including Pennsylvania.
“Trump’s election will be devastating to climate change control efforts and the future of the planet,” said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director, at a Wednesday teleconference held by five environmental groups in Washington, D.C. The groups collectively spent $100 million to support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
Mr. Brune said Mr. Trump will become the only major nation head of state to reject climate change as real and man-made, a outlier position that “is already causing international blowback.”
“He said he’ll cancel Paris, but whether he can is a question,” Mr. Brune said. “Trump must chose wisely, otherwise I can guarantee him the hardest fight of his political life.”
Sky Gallegos, executive vice president of political strategy for NextGen Climate Action, called Mr. Trump’s election “a surprise and a disappointment,” and vowed a strong defense of “bedrock environmental laws.” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said he’s confident the 46 Democratic U.S. senators can “erect a firewall” against the worst of the regulatory rollbacks Mr. Trump campaigned on.
In Pennsylvania, state legislators and former regulatory officials differ in assessing the the biggest impacts of Mr. Trump’s election on the state’s air, water, land and public health, or if they’ll be good or bad.
Most say a Trump administration likely will kill the federal Clean Power Plan, which sought to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants. Federal environmental budget cuts also could end tax credits for renewable energy programs.
“I think on the federal level we’re looking at the possibility of a major reversal of environmental protections and climate initiatives, and that will be both environmentally and economically damaging to the state,” said John Quigley, who was Gov. Tom Wolf’s first DEP director in 20015-2016.
“Going back to the glory days of coal and oil is counter productive and really not achievable,” Mr. Quigley said. “Trump’s emphasis on fossil fuels misses the boat economically and environmentally.”
“Trump’s success in the election was based on playing to the fears and prejudices, both economic and otherwise,” he said. “But the world is different than what he portrayed it, and he’s eventually going to crash into that reality.”
State Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware County, said she has grave concerns about how Trump administration environmental policies will affect environmental health in Pennsylvania.
“He supports fossil fuel development, denies global warming and won’t regulate gas drilling and methane leaks which affect people like me who have asthma,” said Ms. Krueger-Braneky, who is on a PennFuture panel of present and former state officials who will discuss the impact of Trump administration environmental policies on the state next Thursday in Philadelphia.
“I hope in Pennsylvania that governor Wolf will continue to fight for common-sense environmental regulations even though he’ll be doing it without support from the federal government,” she said.
State Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Marshall and House speaker, though not available to answer questions, issued a statement predicting the new administration’s policies will benefit the state’s energy suppliers and “lead America to energy independence and a resurgence in manufacturing.”
The statement continued: “This will lead to a vibrant expansion of good family-sustaining jobs in our state. We look forward to working with the new president on a pro-energy, pro-jobs approach.”
David Hess, DEP secretary from 2001 to 2003 under Gov. Tom Ridge, said he’s taking more of a wait-and-see attitude about what Mr. Trump’s policies will mean to Pennsylvania, but the biggest impacts could come from cutbacks to the EPA’s budget in future federal budgets, which could cause a cascade effect in states that rely on that money to fund air, water, waste and mining program permitting, oversight and enforcement programs. He said the state DEP is already dealing with budget reductions that total almost 40 percent over the last 13 years, resulting in a 20 percent staffing reduction..
Although Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric has raised real concerns about the eventual direction of his environmental policies, he said, his ability to change things too much is limited by legal constraints, which should prevent him from disbanding the EPA.
But Mr. Hess said Mr. Trump’s victory, plus Republican gains in the state Senate and House, also could embolden state legislators to reduce regulations. In October, the state Senate passed legislation aimed at identifying all state environmental laws more stringent than federal regulations, with the idea to roll those back.
But the movement away from environmental regulation at the federal level may be short-lived and limited by political realities more complex than Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric and election success.
The election day surprise may have been huge, but Mr. Trump’s mandate is not, said John Hanger, who was president of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, a statewide environmental advocacy organization before becoming Department of Environmental Protection secretary from 2008 to 2011.
“If he was smart he’d be conciliatory and cautious, but initial reports are that he will be anything but that,” Mr. Hanger said. “I think he will overreach and the people around him will overreach. That might work when you win 60 percent of the popular vote but not when 53 percent of the public voted for someone else.”