Donald Trump's Environmental Record

Donald Trump
 Chip Somodevilla / Staff / Getty Images 

As President of the United States, Donald Trump has unique opportunities to shape policy for important environmental issues, including climate change. Here we will keep an ongoing record of his environmental decisions.

Easing Pipeline Approvals

A few days after his confirmation, President Trump signed an executive order paving the way for the completion of two controversial pipelines: the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL. The Dakota Access pipeline would connect the Bakken shale oil region in North Dakota to refineries south and east, but considerable opposition due to environmental and cultural reasons had prompted the Obama administration to block the project until an alternative route for the pipe was found. The Keystone XL project would allow the distribution of oil from Canada’s tar sands south through Oklahoma than Texas. The project had also been suspended by President Obama.

The effects of Trump’s executive order have yet to be determined, as it is limited to language requesting that all environmental reviews be expedited. However, the intent of the order was clearly explained by the White House as a way to force completion of these projects.

An Explicit Energy Plan Statement

The revamped White House website provides a general articulation of the President’s energy plan, which includes expanding drilling for oil and gas on federal lands. Shale oil and gas is specifically mentioned, indicating support for hydrofracking. In an expressed desire to cut back on “burdensome regulations”, the statement announces a commitment to striking down the Clean Power Plan.

Relationship with Natural Resources Agencies

Shortly after the inauguration in January 2017, the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the EPA were all ordered to stop all public communications. EPA administrators were ordered to remove from their website the pages on climate change, but the order was rescinded a day later. Similarly, the agency was briefly ordered to freeze $3.9 billion in grants.

During an interview with a National Public Review reporter, a member of the Trump transition team stated that EPA research results will have to be reviewed by the administration before they can be made public, an unusual measure that could risk suppressing or altering important scientific findings.  

Cabinet Picks

The choices made by Trump to fill his cabinet are important signals which may be used to infer probable positions on some very specific environmental issues.

  • Scott Pruitt, nominated as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). About climate change, Mr. Pruitt wrote “That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mr. Pruitt joined other states in suing the EPA to block the Clean Power Plan and to suspend the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The fossil fuel energy sector has been an enthusiastic backer of Scott Pruitt’s attorney general election campaigns.
  • Ryan Zinke, nominated as Secretary of the Interior. It would be difficult to overstate the role the U.S. Department of the Interior plays in managing our natural resources. The federal agencies overseen by the Secretary of the Department include the Department of Agriculture (which itself holds the U.S. Forest Service), the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Office of Wildland Fire, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Geological Survey. Vast swaths of the country are federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior, so the policies established by the Secretary can affect a lot of stakeholders. Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke, a U.S. Representative from Montana, has a degree in geology, and his voting record shows general support for the fossil fuel energy industry, including coal and gas. However, as a Montana state senator, he has encouraged the development of clean energy solutions to curb climate change. Zinke is a hunter and angler and expressed clear support for keeping public lands under federal control. The transfer of public lands to states has been much discussed recently, especially after the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.
  • Rick Perry was nominated as Secretary of Energy. During his confirmation hearing, he stated that some portion of climate change was due to human activity, but would not discuss how much it contributes. Instead, he couched the issue as one of finding the right balance between addressing climate change while not compromising economic growth, energy affordability, or jobs. He has a record as Texas governor of pursuing both fossil fuel and renewable energy projects, and he is familiar with carbon capture and storage efforts in his home state. During his hearing, he stated that he plans on dealing with the issue of high-level nuclear waste storage.

Positions During the Campaign

Trump was essentially silent on environmental issues during the race for Republican Party leadership and during the presidential campaign. His campaign website had little information on significant environmental issues. In addition, as the presidency is his first elected position, Trump has no voting record that can be examined for indications of his environmental stance.

Trump claims his real estate projects and his several golf courses were developed with respect for the environment – a claim difficult to believe since by nature golf courses are rarely green. Over the years, scattered comments suggest that he believes “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese,” and some statements he made about cold snaps suggest he is confused about the difference between weather and climate. Before he was elected Trump had stated that he would approve the Keystone XL project, adding that it would have no effects on the environment.

Perhaps the best way to summarize Donald Trump’s position on the environment is a statement he made during an interview on Fox News Sunday. When discussing why he wanted to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, he stated: “We’ll be fine with the environment, we can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”