President Trump‘s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement earlier this month was a clear win for conservative groups and individuals that support the weakening of environmental regulations.
So what do these politically powerful forces have next on the agenda?
The first target could be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) endangerment finding, David Stevenson, a former EPA transition team member and policy director at the libertarian think tank Caesar Rodney Institute told New Republic.
This Obama-era finding that greenhouse gas emissions endangers public health and welfare might seem wholly unremarkable. However, the endangerment finding not only cemented a consensus within the scientific community, it also legally obligates the EPA to regulate sources of that pollutant under the Clean Air Act—including power plants, cars, trucks and other sources that combust coal, oil and natural gas. By unraveling the endangerment finding, the U.S. is legally washing its hands of climate change litigation brought by environmental groups.
“As long as that’s sitting there, the potential for legal challenges just goes on and on and on, and that’s not productive for any of us,” Stevenson explained.
Undoing the 2009 finding was a major topic of discussion at a March conference hosted by the Heartland Institute, the nation’s leading climate skeptic think tank. Reuters reported that at least three conservative groups has petitioned the EPA to undo the finding. Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s EPA transition team, similarly considers it a major priority.
As it happens, current EPA administrator and former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a lawsuit in 2010 to overturn the endangerment finding, which he and his fellow litigants characterized as “arbitrary and capricious.” And let’s not forget that Pruitt, who urged Trump to exit from the Paris accord, does not even believe that carbon dioxide is a “primary contributor” to climate change.
However, there could be more sinister moves at play. For one, “undoing the endangerment finding would also empower the federal government to instantly repeal all existing regulations that reduce global warming,” New Republic’s Emily Atkin noted, such as the Clean Power Plan and Obama-era fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks—two of the Heartland Institute’s top five environmental policy priorities.
Other potential post-Paris moves include gutting the scope and powers of the EPA. Stevenson lauded Trump’s proposed EPA budget, which cuts the agency’s funds by 31 percent.
“There are about 50 small EPA programs that look like they’re ineffective,” he said. “They’re going to be cut.”
Lastly, the New Republic piece highlighted one of the most daunting post-Paris goals of all: the “intellectual validation” of climate denial.
“Now that denial is the official policy of the U.S. government, they are getting the legitimacy they desire, whether they deserve it or not,” Atkin wrote. “For an ideology based in falsehoods, that is perhaps the greatest victory they could possibly achieve under Trump.”