By Danny Mejia ’18
President Obama is attempting to end his term by establishing an environmental legacy that can’t be easily reversed by President-elect Donald Trump. On December 20 he announced what he said would be a “permanent” ban on offshore oil and gas drilling alongside areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Seaboard, as stated in the New York Times article “Obama Bans Drilling in Parts of the Atlantic and the Arctic” published the same day of the announcement.
It is here that an estimated 100 billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lie, according to the article “Exploration for Fossil Fuels in the Arctic: Is It Worth the Risks?” published by the University of Virginia and written by Professor Stephen Macko, and it is where it should stay.
Obama helped prevent oil spills and other industrial pollution that would’ve destroyed the almost 120 million acres of sensitive ecological marine environment already dealing the impacts of climate change which has caused the Arctic ice to melt.
However, this ban could be one of many environmental legislation Trump wants to pull back from with the help of his far-right conservative cabinet members, many of whom have vested interests in the fossil fuel industry. With a Republican controlled Congress and his rich cabinet, Trump may very well succeed in doing so even though it may spell doom for our planet.
Trump has already made it clear that he does not believe in climate change. He tweeted back in 2012 about how he believed climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. While he did say he would keep an “open mind” on the issue during an interview last November with the New York Times, Trump’s top cabinet choices don’t seem to have an open mind.
For starters, Trump has appointed climate change skeptic and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency he has sued several times. According to The Guardian’s article “Scott Pruitt’s EPA: A Dream for Oil and Gas Firms is Nightmare for Environment” Pruitt has sued the EPA over strict regulations on air pollution, leaks of mercury, arsenic, and methane and reducing carbon emissions from power plants or drilling.
It makes sense that Pruitt would want to weaken these regulations given his strong ties to the fossil fuel industry. In fact, according to USA Today, he has received over $300,000 in campaign contributions since 2002 from the industry.
Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy has also expressed skepticism of climate change. Former Texas governor Rick Perry has shown to have close ties to the fossil fuel industry like Pruitt. According to WBC News, he currently sits on the board of a few oil companies, including Energy Transfer Partners, the firm who pushed for the Dakota Access Pipeline over at Lake Oahe.
Trump has also nominated Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil, which Forbes Magazine has named the largest oil company in the world as of 2016. According to Desmogblog, the company has spent over $33 million funding climate-denying groups and politicians. Groups such as The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Frontiers of Freedom and Congress of Racial Equality. The politicians who are funded by the company include Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma Senator, and Roger Wicker, Mississippi Senator. As Secretary of State he is responsible for negotiating international treaties and will represent the US in climate talks such as the Paris Agreement in 2015. Don’t expect him to take the role our current Secretary of State John Kerry has taken to combat climate change.
However, before anyone of these people get their respective job, the Senate is tasked with vetting and interviewing the nominees. It is up to them to decide if Trump’s choices have conflict of interests or other ethical concerns that could impact their responsibilities as a cabinet member. The process of confirmation isn’t simple but the last step involves a Senate vote, where a majority vote is needed to officially confirm a nominee. However, with a Republican majority in the Senate of 52-48 and with Vice President elect Mike Pence acting as the tiebreaker, the odds that these people will be denied are not in the Democrats favor.
However, even if all of Trump’s choices are denied, the push for reversing climate change regulations won’t stop. Trump has openly stated that he wants to pull away from the 2015 Paris Agreement.
He claims on bringing back jobs to the fossil fuel industry by allowing for more fossil fuel production within the nation and its waters.
Now look, I understand how power plant workers and those who have lost their jobs over the years can see this as a good thing for them and even the economy. However, weighing the pros and cons of fossil fuels, the future of our planet and the health of future generations should mean more than people’s jobs,
and it would be smart for the US to stop being so reliant on finite resources.
After eight years of environment-friendly “business killing” regulations the fossil fuel industry may once again thrive like never before. Though the industry is still worth billions of dollars, it has felt the push for more cleaner, renewable energy, particularly the oil industry which in 2015 lost $67 billion, according to The Guardian’s article “Donald Trump Presidency a ‘disaster for the planet’, Warn Climate Scientists” published November 11, 2015.
With a potential cabinet filled with climate change deniers, many of whom have direct or indirect ties to the fossil fuel industry, the moneymakers in one of the most powerful and influential industries in the world can relax and rest knowing that over the next four years their voices will be the one heard over ours.