Much of the damage being done by the Trump Administration can be contained (thanks to the Administration’s rather awe-inspiring incompetence), or eventually repaired (when the GOP’s radical fever breaks). People will have been unnecessarily hurt in the meantime, true, but most of the harms can (and probably will) be addressed when (we can hope) cooler heads prevail.
There are only two exceptions to that comforting thought: war and environmental degradation.
If Trump becomes desperate to divert attention from his governing failures and falling poll numbers, the chances of his starting a war are not negligible. And his assault on the already inadequate measures meant to protect the planet from further environmental degradation–if at all effective–will delay efforts to mitigate climate change and result in a loss of time that we don’t have.
We have to hope that the Generals Trump so disdains can prevent him from starting a war; but Trump has already begun his environmental assault with a vengeance. As Politico reports,
In just 40 days, Trump has made it easier for coal miners to dump their waste into West Virginia streams, ordered the repeal of Clean Water Act protections for vast stretches of wetlands, proposed massive job cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency and prepared to begin revoking the Obama administration’s most ambitious climate change regulations.
Trump is also expected to overturn Barack Obama’s moratorium on new federal coal leases, and is considering automakers’ pleas for relief from a scheduled tightening of vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. Obama’s pledge to send billions of dollars to United Nations climate programs is also likely on the chopping block. And Trump hasn’t ruled out withdrawing the United States from the 200-nation Paris climate agreement, a step that could undercut the international effort to confront global warming.
The Politico article details a number of other actions Trump plans to take–including actions to roll back regulations that protect the nation’s air and water quality. He has already signed off on congressional repeals of some Obama-era regulations, including Interior Department regulations that protect rivers and streams from coal mining pollution.
And this week, he ordered EPA to begin rewriting the Obama administration’s sweeping “Waters of the U.S.” rule, a move that green groups say could leave 60 percent of U.S. stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands unprotected from development or pollution.
What makes this assault so senseless is that even people who stubbornly refuse to believe that climate change is real should want clean water and breathable air.
The only saving grace of this wholesale assault on science and common sense is that most of these orders won’t take instant effect. As the Politico article notes, it could take years for the EPA to undo the regulations, and the administration will face fierce legal challenges from environmental groups.
In the meantime…
It’s time for every lawyer who can spell “environment” to challenge the Administration’s actions. Executive Orders cannot unilaterally overrule laws that have been duly enacted. I don’t know enough about the processes of regulatory adoption to know whether such orders can revoke them without invoking substantive procedures, but it seems unlikely that rules adopted after lengthy hearings and expert testimony can be undone with the stroke of a denialist’s pen.
Of course, the President and the head of the EPA can simply decline to enforce existing laws and regulations, but that would seem to put businesses subject to the regulations in a very uncomfortable spot; they have a legal obligation to comply with existing rules, and there are probably non-EPA organizations and individuals who would have standing to sue enterprises that made a calculated decision to violate existing law.
In addition to “lawyering up,” every one of us who cares about the environment–or just wants clean air and water and a government that respects science and the rule of law–should contribute as generously as possible to environmental organizations (preferably those having a legal team).
And last but most certainly not least, every one of us has to begin now to organize for the 2018 elections. Find people to run against Trump-supporting incumbents–either rational Republicans to primary them from the left, Democrats to oppose them in the general election, or both. Register any unregistered person we can find, and make sure that person has identification sufficient to satisfy the relevant Voter ID laws. Get anyone who didn’t vote last November to the polls.
We need to change this feckless Congress as soon as humanly possible, because some kinds of damage can’t be fixed.