Trump's environmental legacy from his first term suggests more of the same

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Former President Donald Trump's administration dismantled EPA regulations, postponed meaningful progress on emissions reduction and mainstreamed climate denial.

Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that he is running for president again. His announcement comes during a week in which climate is on the world stage as leaders meet in Egypt at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27.

The former president has repeatedly made misleading claims about his administration's supposed accomplishments in addressing clean air and water issues, while ignoring its efforts to undermine international climate change agreements and to roll back environmental standards.

In 2017, Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international effort to keep global warming below a 2-degree Celsius increase from preindustrial levels, a threshold above which scientists say rising temperatures would have catastrophic consequences for the planet.

In announcing the decision, Trump made factually incorrect claims that the agreement would result in economic burdens for the United States, including potential job losses, while resulting in only marginal reductions in global temperatures.

"I promised I would exit or renegotiate any deal which fails to serve America's interests," he said at a press conference in June 2017.

The withdrawal aligned with Trump's efforts to boost the fossil fuel industry and undo much of former President Barack Obama's gains in fighting greenhouse gas emissions. These included backing the Paris Agreement, which represented the first time global leaders unanimously elected to work to reduce global carbon emissions. He is also credited with legislation forcing automakers to improve efficiency.

By 2019, U.S. oil production was at an all-time high, at over 12 million barrels a day, and as a consequence, a three year-run of declining carbon emissions ended. "We are going to turn everything around," Trump said at the time.

The decision to pull out of the Paris agreement was widely criticized by other governments at the time, who said it undermined efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses and risked ceding global leadership to other countries.

Under the leadership of Pruitt, the Guardian reported in April 2017, the EPA scrubbed its website of references to climate change and global warming.

J.P. Freire, then an associate administrator for public affairs with the agency, told the Guardian, "As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency."

The New York Times reported in January 2021 that Trump had undone more than 100 environmental rules, including those limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

Trump directed the EPA to abolish the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy that would have prevented an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions generated from power plants by 2030. The administration replaced the plan with a rule allowing states to set their own emissions standards.

He also changed the way the administration applies the Endangered Species Act, changing the rules covering the removal of species from the list, and making it more difficult to add new ones.

Another Trump presidency in 2024 could put the Biden administration's efforts to combat climate change at risk. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement and passed the most far-reaching climate legislation in U.S. history, including the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides $369 billion in funding to tackle climate change. For example, the act includes $30 billion in grants and loans for states to invest in renewable energy and tax credits over the next decade for residential solar energy systems and geothermal and heat pumps. The Environmental Defense Fund called these investments "a huge step forward."

At COP27, the Biden administration announced new initiatives that include support for countries in the Global South, which have so far been the hardest hit by climate change but contribute the least to greenhouse emissions.

"Today, finally," said the president over the weekend, "thanks to the actions we've taken, I can stand here as president of the United States of America and say with confidence, the United States of America will meet our emissions targets by 2030."

Several European nations, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Scotland, Belgium and Denmark, pledged additional financial support to countries dealing with climate-related losses and damage.

Thanu Yakupitiyage, the communications director for the environmental advocacy group 350 Action, told the American Independent Foundation that Biden's speech at COP27 was citing the Inflation Reduction Act as evidence that the country is a climate leader: "When it comes to adaptability and resilience, the U.S. needs to be able to support Global South countries that are facing the bulk of climate impact."

In April, the United Nations released an urgent warning, with Secretary-General António Guterres saying that failing to take radical action on climate change would have catastrophic consequences, including natural disasters and mass extinctions.

"We are at a crossroads," said Hoesung Lee, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. "The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.