“Who would have thought….Trump is the great environmentalist.”— President Donald Trump, talking about himself, Sept. 8, 2020.
He isn’t. He never will be.
Donald Trump is, instead, a terrible environmentalist, whose administration on at least 100 different occasions tried to weaken the nation’s environmental regulations that in turn, will make the air and water dirtier and let industries — whether fossil fuel, timber, or mining — set up shop on federal land.
He is also a climate change denier who took the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate accords. Instead, America has joined the ranks of non-signers, such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Turkey.
But in two months, he will be out of office. The Biden administration has pledged to address environmental issues anew.
If you care about the environment, be glad. Socially distanced dancing in the streets seems justified.
Mitch Wagener, professor of biology and environmental science at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, said a welcome change would be to let scientists and conservationists lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior. Former energy industry lobbyists now head those agencies.
“I’m looking for people who views are not heretical to the departments they run,” Wagener said.
Rejoining the Paris accords — which Biden has promised to do as soon as he takes office — would be greatly welcome, Wagener said, because it would enable the U.S. to have greater influence over climate change policy throughout the world.
“We should be setting the example,” he said, “and we’re not.”
“We’ll be back in the international game,” said Curt Johnson, executive director of Save the Sound, the New Haven-based environmental advocacy group. “That’s vitally important.”
Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health, a non-profit advocacy group based in North Haven, said new leaders in other federal agencies — including the departments of Health and Human Services, and Energy — are also essential to reversing the course set by the Trump administration.
“They can address health and the environment again,” she said. “Wasn’t that their purpose?”
This could lead to things like finally banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos. The EPA’s own research has showed the pesticide can damage children’s brain functions.
“It’s a really dangerous one,” Alderman said.
The U.S. was set to ban chlorpyrifos. In 2019, the Trump administration was reversed that decision.
“It’s been given a second life,” she said.
Then, there’s the fate of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a 5,000-acre marine reserve southeast of Cape Cod that Barack Obama created in 2016. This past June, Trump announced his administration would allow commercial fishing across the monument’s waters.
Eric Lazo-Wasem of Redding, collections manager of invertebrate zoology at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, said the museum has a coral collected in the Canyons and Seamounts that’s unique — no other museum has another specimen like it.
Lazo-Wasem said “given the rarity and fragility of what’s there,” fishing trawlers could damage the marine species living there.
“I can’t even imagine commercial fishing would be successful there, given how deep the water is,” he said.
Johnson said the Trump administration wants to weaken the federal Endangered Species Act by adding cost-benefit analyses into regulators’ decisions.
“There’s no cost benefit to a lot of these species,” he said. “They’ll always lose.”
There’s also the Trump administration’s decision to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act — one of the foundations of the nation’s environmental regulations.
Peter Hearn, executive director of the state Council on Environmental Quality, said the changes would deprive states the right to consider the future impact a project might have, taking away consideration of the changes time might bring to a region.
It also would limit things like the time researchers need to write that report or even the number of pages in that report.
“It’s not the way science works,” Hearn said. “It’s preposterous.”
Alicia Charamut, executive director of Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, said the Trump administration also has proposed regulatory changes allowing sewer treatment plants more latitude in allowing storm water systems to run into — and out of — waste treatment plants.
“That can mean the difference of hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated water flowing into our rivers,” Charamut said.
But upgrading sewer treatment plants costs money. Johnson of Save the Sound said he thinks there will be a real change in the way the Biden administration talks about issues like infrastructure funding.
“The conversation will change,” he said. “It has to.”