Trump's Infrastructure Plan 'Steamrolls' Environmental Safeguards
Infrastructure is usually a bipartisan, consensus issue, but environmental groups criticized the White House's initiative, as it involves a drastic rollback of federal environmental review to shorten the process of approving infrastructure projects.
"President Trump's infrastructure proposal is a disaster," Shelley Poticha, the managing director of the Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. "It fails to offer the investment needed to bring our country into the 21st century. Even worse, his plan includes an unacceptable corporate giveaway by truncating environmental reviews."
Regulatory oversight for infrastructure projects usually falls to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies. Instead, the White House plan calls for the creation of a "one agency, one decision" scheme, or one lead federal agency to streamline environmental review and the permitting process within 21 months.
As Trump said last month in his State of the Union address: "Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process—getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one."
• Dismantling basic environmental safeguards. The leaked version of Trump infrastructure plan would eviscerate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by collapsing time lines, freezing out experts and delegating federal authority to states and private interests. NEPA provides for the essential public review process for federal projects. Billed as "streamlining," the infrastructure proposal steamrolls over a wide array of safeguards that protect the nation's air, waters and land.
• Paying for infrastructure by selling off public lands. The White House document on infrastructure called "Funding Principles" included a section titled “Disposition of Federal Real Property." That provision would give the president authority to use executive orders for "disposal of Federal assets to improve the overall allocation of economic resources in infrastructure investment."
"With this infrastructure plan, President Trump would line the pockets of oil and gas companies while steamrolling environmental safeguards," said Drew McConville, senior managing director at The Wilderness Society, in a statement. "He is taking a bipartisan priority and turning it into a divisive scheme to reward friends in the fossil fuel sector."
The Trump administration has already targeted more than 60 environmental regulations, including an Obama-era rule that protects infrastructure projects from flooding and rising sea levels exacerbated by climate change.
"With such a public record of promoting the interests of corporate polluters over communities and the environment, no one should be fooled by Trump's infrastructure scam," the Center for American Progress noted last month. "It is little more than a Trojan horse designed to gut the environmental protections that are necessary for the clean air, clean water, wildlife and national parks that truly make America great."
Finally, as the New York Times pointed out, an infrastructure strategy led by an administration that denies climate change and has reversed critical environmental protections could mean that costly new infrastructure projects may be quickly rendered obsolete by the impacts of a warming planet.
"The impact of not considering climate change when planning infrastructure means you end up building the wrong thing, in the wrong place, to the wrong standards," Michael Kuby, a professor of geographical sciences and urban planning at Arizona State University and contributing author to the National Climate Assessment, told the publication. "That's a whole lot of waste."
'Disaster Capitalism Disguised as Progress': Critics Rip Trump Infrastructure Plan https://t.co/mQr1GIAsTp… https://t.co/e65HpFcglP— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517430443.0
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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