Last week, the hot debate in progressive circles was how a carbon tax should be properly constructed. No more.
Donald Trump is planning a massive assault on President Obama’s climate protection legacy. He as tapped climate science denier Myron Ebell to head the EPA transition, and he may well become the EPA’s Administrator.
Unless the private sector can miraculously overcome deliberately debilitating public policy, and the rest of the world can somehow compensate for America’s failing, the climate is sure to get worse over the next four years, and time to prevent irreversible damage was already short.
What can climate hawks do? We can’t stop all the damage. But we can prevent Trump and the congressional Republicans from eradicating the pillars of U.S. climate policy. And so long as those are still standing, the next president may still be able get us back on course.
What horrors are in store?
Trump wants to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, although that is something else that is harder than it may seem. Reuters reports:
Trump’s advisers are considering ways to bypass a theoretical four-year procedure for leaving the accord … The accord says in its Article 28 that any country wanting to pull out after signing on has to wait four years. In theory, the earliest date for withdrawal would be Nov. 4, 2020 …
…[A Trump transition team] source said the future Trump administration is weighing alternatives to accelerate the pull-out: sending a letter withdrawing from the 1992 international framework accord that is the parent treaty of the Paris Agreement; voiding U.S. involvement in both in a year’s time; or issuing a presidential order simply deleting the U.S. signature from the Paris accord.
Withdrawing from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would be controversial, partly because it was signed by former Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and approved by the U.S. Senate. The action also could antagonize many other countries.
What does “antagonize many other countries” mean in practical terms? ThinkProgress’ Joe Romm explains how it could affect the average American’s wallet:
On Sunday, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–2012) said Europe should “adopt a carbon tax at the borders of Europe, a tax of 1 to 3 percent for all products that come from the United States.” The center-right Sarkozy, who is running to get his old job back, explained, “We cannot find ourselves in a situation where our businesses have [environmental] obligations but where we continue to import products from countries that meet none of those obligations.”
If that happened, it’s not too hard to imagine the response of the president-elect — who has already threatened to put tariffs on a great many foreign countries … we become a global pariah, we get the trade war Trump campaigned on…
So the pressure to prevent Trump from undermining Paris will largely come from other nations, though the stronger the international climate movement is, the more likely other countries will apply positive pressure instead of allowing Paris to collapse.
Trump also wants to junk the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s strategy to cut power plant emissions and the centerpiece of his climate protection efforts. It’s currently before the D.C. Circuit Court of the Appeals and possibly headed to the Supreme Court, though Trump’s Justice Department would surely change sides and argue against the government’s own plan. (Even though Trump will get to name the 9th justice, note that swing vote Anthony Kennedy voted with the liberal justices to declare the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas pollution, so a green win at the Supreme Court is still possible.)
Trump can’t simply erase the plan on Day One, though he has plenty of opportunity to stifle it. Politico reports:
Legal experts from both sides agree that the Trump administration could ask the D.C. Circuit to send the climate rule back to EPA for reconsideration, assuming judges have not yet ruled by Jan. 20. It’s unclear whether the court would approve such a request, and environmentalists and other groups supporting the rule would fight it fiercely.
To reverse any Obama rules already in place, Trump would have to direct his administration to go through a whole new notice-and-comment rulemaking process explaining how the new version fixes flaws in the old, and environmentalists would be able to challenge any of those new rules in court.
Trump has also vowed to review EPA’s scientific conclusion in 2009 that greenhouse gases threaten public health, the underlying basis of all its Obama-era climate rules. Even if Trump leaves that finding in place, it could in theory be satisfied with rules that require relatively minimal efforts to reduce emissions from coal plants by boosting efficiency.
The New York Times adds:
Mr. Trump could target the rules by appointing an industry-friendly justice to the Supreme Court and then refusing to defend the plan when it goes before the court.
He could also direct the E.P.A. to reissue the plan to be extremely friendly to industry. Such a move would also be subject to lawsuits by environmental advocates, which would further drag out the process. And in concert with congressional Republicans, he could decimate the E.P.A.’s budget, crippling its rule-making capacity … Even if Mr. Trump ultimately fails to gut Mr. Obama’s climate change rules, he could ensure that their enforcement is delayed through his term, as lawsuits wind their way through the courts.
Much of the fight to save the Clean Power Plan would be a legal one. But the battle could still move to Congress.
Over at Vox, David Roberts and Brad Plumer offer a comprehensive list of all the avenues Trump and his wrecking crew can pursue. It is daunting and demoralizing.
But one possibility they suggest is if Republicans are having a hard time undoing Obama’s regulations administratively and judicially, they would try to wipe out climate rules legislatively:
The simplest way for the GOP to destroy the [Clean Power Plan] would be to take away the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases at all. It’s a simple bill: “The Clean Air Act shall not apply to greenhouse gases.” The CPP would be nuked, and no president could ever again try to do what Obama did…
[Regarding future regulations,] the REINS Act (Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) … would mandate that every “economically significant” federal regulation — any rule that has an annual impact of $100 million or more — be affirmatively approved by the House and Senate and be signed by the president … This law would radically constrain EPA’s ability to issue new environmental regulations as situations and science evolved … It would be a fundamental change in the administrative state and a radical increase in Congress’s power relative to the president.
Stopping such bills will only be possible with a Senate Democratic filibuster (and the filibuster will only survive with at least three Senate Republicans refusing to change the rules that allow for legislative filibusters.) And keep in mind that several Senate Democrats — some whom will be up for re-election in 2018 — represent red states and fossil-fuel producing states. A unified Democratic front is no sure thing.
That is why rallying public opinion is so important. Remember, in 2005, Democrats and liberal activists locked arms to stop President George W. Bush from privatizing Social Security months after his resounding electoral victory. They made a case to the public, and the public responded loud and clear, drubbing Bush’s plan in the polls. The proposal never made it to the congressional floor.
Nothing in Trump’s Electoral College victory and popular vote loss suggests support for abandoning the climate fight. And previous polls show strong support for the Clean Power Plan, even in red states.
If Trump follows through on his pledge to fry the climate, the backlash could be fierce. It is the job of the climate hawk to make it so.