Environmental Symbolism and Environmental Reality
Because the Trump administration enters the lame duck phase of the tip of its term, politicos on the EPA are racing to finalize their anti-regulatory agenda as environmentalists worry that one way or the other these last-ditch efforts can have an enduring impact on our environmental well-being. As Rebecca Beitsch observed in The Hill last week:
“The Trump administration is scrambling to wrap up a slew of environmental rollbacks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in lower than 70 days. The administration has yet to get a few of its most prized proposals across the finish line: finalizing the prep work to enable drilling within the Arctic and off the coasts; limiting protections for endangered species and migratory birds; and restricting what forms of studies inform the federal government’s policy selections. Those efforts are raising concerns amongst environmentalists who’ve spent the past 4 years battling.”
While there are many reasons to be concerned in regards to the damage that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and his crew might accomplish over the following several months, it’s time to move beyond these back-and-forth battles and concentrate on a constructive consensus-building agenda for the following 4 years. Actually, the Biden EPA must undo the damage of the past 4 years, but that must be a quiet effort of reconstruction that ought to avoid efforts to “spike the ball in the long run zone” each time a terrible environmental rollback is undone.
Too often, environmental politics descends into symbolic battles that appear designed to define issues to generate opposition. We remain in a toxic political environment that continues to be reinforced as President Trump and his Republican enablers refuse to concede the election. Right wing social media disinformation continues to query the fairness of the election and the legitimacy of the result. Conservatives appropriately note that many progressives questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election. Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton immediately conceded, and Obama quickly congratulated the president-elect. What we’re seeing today is a more intense version of the politics of obstruction that President Obama faced during his time in office. The Republican right and Mitch McConnell were clear from the beginning that their only goal was to make sure that President Obama didn’t succeed. The Waxman-Markey cap and trade climate bill and Reasonably priced Care Act were efforts by the Obama administration to border climate and health policies that may satisfy conservative preferences for market-based program designs. Some argue that these accommodations were a mistake, but I take the alternative view. Cap and trade was as close as we ever got here to national climate policy and ‘Obamacare’ has brought in regards to the imperfect start of national health care.
The Biden team must focus environmental policy on practical efforts that generate outcomes slightly than symbolic political conflict. Let’s do not forget that a number of people on either side of the political divide make their living off of heightened political divisions. That’s actually Trump’s post-election marketing strategy. He fully intends to monetize the political division he continues to stoke. Advocates of environmental protection and climate policy must avoid playing his game since he’ll all the time have the house court advantage.
To scale back greenhouse gasses, step one is to revive key elements of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s belated response to the 2007 decision of the Supreme Court in Massachusetts vs. the U.S. EPA during which the court, in essence, decided that greenhouse gasses were pollutants that needed to be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Power Plan faced court challenges and in the long run, Trump’s EPA pulled the plan and gutted it. A latest plan must be developed requiring states to discover practical paths to decarbonization. This regulation have to be promulgated as quickly as possible because it is probably going the one national climate policy that we’re prone to see in 2021.
With a national climate policy in place, the federal government should begin a multi-pronged strategy to scale back greenhouse gasses. Infrastructure authorized under a recession-fighting stimulus could allocate billions of dollars to modernize our electric grid. A Twenty first-century grid would utilize growing amounts of renewable energy and would use microgrid and smart grid technology to scale back vulnerability and increase efficiency and reliability. Extreme weather events now cause periodic power outages throughout America and a more resilient electrical system is a goal that many would support.
As well as, the vast size of federal procurement must be leveraged to maneuver America to renewable energy. Based on the Government Accountability Office:
“From health care to helicopters, the federal government spends about 40% of its discretionary spending on contracts for goods and services. In FY 2019, the federal government spent greater than $586 billion on these contracts, a rise of over $20 billion from FY 2018. This increase is basically driven by spending on services for national defense.”
About $230 billion of those procurement dollars were for products, the rest for services. A lot of those billions of dollars bought motorcars and latest buildings. To the extent feasible, those funds must be spent in ways in which can construct the private marketplace for renewable energy and electric vehicles. Apart from vehicles needed for combat or air transport, all other vehicles purchased by the federal government must be electric. A tax credit for electric cars must be proposed as well. Tax incentives must be provided for homeowners implementing household energy efficiency measures and installing renewable energy equipment. Moderately than raising the prices of fossil fuels we should always lower the prices of renewable energy. Government service contractors must also be required to show the steps they’re taking to make their operations more environmentally sustainable.
While a few of these steps may increase short-term expenses, most will provide cost reductions in the long term. It’s true that companies generally concentrate on short-term results, but government is in a position to take a longer-term perspective and where needed, subsidize short-term costs to generate long-term savings. The federal government should examine all of its spending and financial decisions for methods that embed environmental sustainability in America’s businesses and institutions.
One other critical task for the Biden team is to steer our national labs and government research funding back to understanding environmental conditions and developing the technology needed to treatment environmental problems. More efficient and fewer toxic solar cells and energy storage technologies are also high priorities for basic research funding. So too is improved weather forecasting and climate modeling. The National Science Foundation, NOAA, EPA, the Department of Energy and other federal agencies must be encouraged to fund environmental research — particularly research on understanding, mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Conservative interest groups will raise funds to fight “government over-reach” and can attempt to paint federal environmental policy as “job-killing regulation.” Meanwhile, some environmental interest groups will raise funds to fight the risks posed by right-wing threats to environmental quality. These are battles to be avoided if in any respect possible. Let’s communicate the harm that environmental pollution poses to human health. Our health and the health of our families require a clean environment. Just because the pandemic’s impact on rural America is finally and sadly driving home the facts of medical science, floods, forest fires, lead in water and toxics within the air are visible impacts of environmental degradation. Americans understand the importance of environmental quality, even when there may be a partisan divide on the problem. Based on Pew’s Cary Funk and Brian Kennedy:
“Compared with a decade ago, more Americans say protecting the environment and coping with global climate change must be top priorities for the president and Congress. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (64%) say protecting the environment must be a top priority for the president and Congress, while about half (52%) say the identical about coping with global climate change, in accordance with a January 2020 survey. These shares have grown considerably since 2011.Partisanship stays a significant factor in these priorities. More Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (85%) think protecting the environment must be a top priority for the president and Congress than do Republicans and GOP leaners (39%). A lot of the increase within the share of people that prioritize climate change has come amongst Democrats, not Republicans.”
Funk and Kennedy also report that younger Republicans and younger Democrats are more concerned in regards to the environment than their elders. This finding is consistent in lots of surveys of American public opinion. Young people see projections about sea level rise in 2050 and realize they could be the victims of a hotter world. While Americans understand the threat to environmental quality, the Biden team must take seriously the partisan split. Despite Trump and McConnell’s efforts to advertise polarization, efforts to search out common ground remain essential. A practical, operational concentrate on outcomes is a greater approach than an effort to realize symbolic victories that appeal to ideologically oriented partisans. As I often say when discussing air pollution: everyone likes to breathe—we sort of get used to it… An easy environmental reality value remembering.