Throughout his candidacy, Trump and his administration have prioritized rolling back environmental protection policies or greenhouse gas regulations. Now, with the pandemic capturing almost all headlines, not to mention the attention of the nation, the Trump administration continues to quietly roll back environmental regulations that pose serious threats to the future of our climate.
In January of 2019, Trump appointed Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It comes as no surprise that under this new leadership, the EPA has actually shifted away from protecting the environment, and toward easing environmental regulations. Most recently, the EPA weakened regulations in place that limited the amount of mercury or other toxic metals that oil and coal-fired power plants could emit. This rollback is a dangerous first step towards easing any control over our nations’ air pollution.
According to the New York Times, mercury is not the only change the EPA has made during the pandemic. Lost among the COVID-19 news, the Trump administration has also lessened regulations on automobile tailpipe emissions, opted out of strengthening regulations on industrial soot emotions and turned a blind eye to companies that have admitted to killing birds “incidentally.”
While the nation battles COVID-19, it’s obvious that the Trump administration has prioritized damaging the climate. For these reasons, we must respond by prioritizing climate protections while staying home. While this may seem daunting and constricting from within the walls of your home, Maine’s own climate activists are taking charge of demonstrating just how climate activism can still thrive during this pandemic.
Maine Strikes, Maine Youth for Climate Justice, the Sunrise Movement and independent activists have planned three days of conference calls this week in celebration of Earth Day. The three conference calls will focus on topics such as local activism, divestment strategies, letter-writing campaigns and pressuring politicians to prioritize climate policies. Digital strikes and social media campaigns are one example of how climate activists can take action while adhering to self-isolation and social distancing rules of COVID-19.
In fact, the pandemic has already demonstrated how interrupting some of the “business as usual” practices of our nation and the world has helped our environment. While we have focused on flattening the curve of COVID-19, we have also taken the first steps towards flattening the curve of climate change damages, even if it was accidental.
As roughly 2 million individuals are under some form of self-isolation or quarantine, carbon emissions from closed industries, factories, commercial buildings or parked cars, trucks and other forms of transportation have reduced and the effect on our air quality has been positive. Scott Collis, an atmospheric scientist at Argonne National Laboratory said in an interview with WTTW, a Chicago news source, that atmospheric monitors and satellite imagery have shown a 50% reduction in nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide over China, and similar reductions over New York City. Other cities, such as Los Angeles, are seeing clear skies for the first time in years, and wildlife is returning to its habitats.
The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity for the climate to demonstrate its ability to heal itself when humans take preventative and proactive climate measures. If climate change is prioritized during this pandemic, and continues to be prioritized after the pandemic clears, there could be hope for a cleaner, environmentally healthy future.
For this to happen, Americans and humans everywhere need to analyze what their “business as usual” practices are due to impact the environment. Hobbies that are developed in self-isolation that involve driving less often, such as spending more time outside or walking to locations should be extended even after any stay-at-home orders are lifted.
So while the news can be overwhelming and seem entirely negative, it is important to pay attention to any environmental regulation rollbacks when you do browse through headlines. We cannot let the Trump administration continue to use the cover of the pandemic to pass harmful or end protective policies. There is momentum forming during the pandemic. When this passes, we will be faced with the choice to take advantage of the head start the positive environmental change we were provided or to return to business as usual which could pose irreversible and deadly consequences on the future of our climate.