Isabelle Schindler: How to counteract Trump’s war on the environment

Sunday, March 22, 2020 - 12:37pm

Our environment is under attack by the Trump administration. Through the repeal of critical environmental regulations and the systematic actions that have been taken to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal government is failing the American people and the planet. It is more important now than ever that people raise their voices and push for environmental protection at every level of government. 

Since winning the presidency, President Donald Trump and his administration have boasted about slashing environmental regulations that they viewed as restricting the abilities of businesses to grow. 

However, many of the regulations that have been repealed were vitally important. The Trump administration ended a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions, even though methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes greatly to climate change. It has also scaled back a rule designed to limit toxic emissions from major industrial polluters and reversed a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams.

There have also been many changes to regulations specifically designed to help prevent catastrophic situations. The Trump administration repealed an Obama-Era rule that required braking system upgrades for trains hauling flammable liquids. It also scraped regulations on offshore drilling put in place after the 2010 BP oil spill. This catastrophic oil spill killed 11 people and spewed over four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Trump administration has even cut regulations that were widely accepted and agreed upon. Recently, it was announced that the administration would change the way health benefits from regulations are calculated. This step will help pave the way for power plants to release large amounts of mercury and other toxins. Even major energy companies have disagreed with this change, saying they do not want the Trump administration to change this rule, arguing that it is not necessary and will be detrimental to the environment. Despite this opposition for the groups this rule is supposed to help, the Trump administration has pushed ahead with this dangerous policy change.

In addition to cutting regulations, the Trump administration has worked to significantly curtail the power and resources of the EPA. Trump’s two EPA directors have had deep ties to energy lobbyists. Additionally, Trump has continued to chip away at the EPA’s budget, proposing a 31 percent cut in 2019.

Each of these actions taken by the president and his administration endangers the safety of all Americans and the safety of our planet. It is ludicrous that they are putting the interests of big business ahead of the interests of everyday Americans. We want clean water, we want to be safe from oil spills, we want to curtail climate change. Yet the president is ignoring all of that so he can claim a pro-business, anti-regulation approach. 

Given the federal government’s total disregard for environmental protection, it is more important than ever that we look to other levels of government to help protect our environment.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently put out a proposed 2021 budget, which calls for critical funding for environmental programs and protection. The proposal asks for $40 million for climate-resilient infrastructure grants, $4 million for legal efforts under the Attorney General to protect residents from chemical contamination of drinking water and commercial pollution and $20 million for rapid environmental contamination response.

This funding is critical to help ensure the protection of our environment and the safety of all Michiganders. The money for the rapid environmental contamination response is imperative for dangerous situations, like when earlier this year a green liquid containing cancer-causing chemicals began leaking onto I-696 in Madison Heights, MI. Climate resilience funding can help prepare cities for the impact of climate change, such as flooding, which is likely to get more severe. The money to the Attorney General’s office helps to demonstrate the state’s commitment to fighting for clean drinking water, especially following the discovery of lead that led to the Flint water crisis.

We all have the power to help promote important policies and funding, especially on the local and state level. If you are appalled by the actions of the Trump administration and are terrified of the looming threat of climate change and environmental degradation, then make your voice heard. Call your local and state legislators, advocate for policies that you believe in and vote in all elections. Through these actions, we can help hold our leaders accountable and help put our nation on a path toward greater environmental stewardship.

Isabelle Schindler can be reached at ischind@umich.edu.