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Rhea Suh column: Trump's actions on the environment aren't what voters asked for

Rhea Suh column: Trump's actions on the environment aren't what voters asked for

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Short of matters of war and peace, there’s little a president does that touches us more directly than protecting our environment and health.

Last week, in actions that reach deep into our lives and far into the future, President Trump abdicated that solemn duty — and left the American people to pay the price.

Trump took the top environmental steward off the beat, with proposed budget cuts to gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s capacity to defend our waters, air and lands.

He sounded a retreat from the promise of cleaner, smarter ways to power our growth, by deepening our dependence on fossil fuels and all the harm and hazard they bring.

And he waved the white flag on climate change, surrendering our kids and grandkids to the central environmental challenge of our time, by trashing measures to cut the carbon footprint of our cars and dirty power plants.

This is not tampering about at the margins. It’s a reckless assault on our future. It’s a fundamental about-face that threatens two generations of bipartisan environmental progress. It cuts against the grain of American values President Teddy Roosevelt first enshrined more than a century ago. And it needs to be defeated.

Trump abandoned all pretense of protecting our environment when he named Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt repeatedly sided with oil, coal and gas companies in lawsuits meant to keep the EPA from doing its job, even as the industry coughed up some $350,000 to fund his political career. Now Pruitt has rejected the scientific consensus that carbon pollution from burning those dirty fuels is driving global climate change. And he’s made clear his intention to protect polluter profits in ways that put the rest of us at risk.

Aiding those efforts, Trump’s budget proposal calls for cutting EPA spending by 31 percent. That means slashing the programs that protect the air we breathe, safeguard us from dangerous pesticides and toxic industrial waste and ensure the quality of our waters, from the Great Lakes and the Hudson River to the Puget Sound and the Chesapeake Bay.

And for what? EPA funding accounts for one-fifth of one penny on every dollar of federal outlays. This isn’t about trying to balance the budget. It’s about hobbling our top environmental steward to free industrial polluters to run roughshod over our basic right to a clean and healthy environment.

That’s not what the country voted for in November.

Despite Trump’s campaign to vilify the EPA, just 19 percent of Americans want the agency weakened or eliminated, a January Reuters poll found. A solid majority — 61 percent — want the EPA strengthened or maintained at its current level. Congress needs to fully fund the agency so it can do its job.

Nobody voted, either, to condemn our children to climate catastrophe. That’s exactly what Trump moved to do, however, in proposing to walk back from or defund programs to clean up our dirty power plants and get better fuel mileage in our cars.

Taken together, power plants and passenger cars — including pickup trucks, minivans and SUVs — account for 60 percent of the nation’s carbon footprint. We won’t fight climate change without addressing that pollution.

The quickest ways to cut carbon pollution from our power plants are to invest in efficiency, so we do more with less waste, and to get more clean power from the wind and sun. That’s exactly what the EPA’s Clean Power Plan helps us to do — but Trump’s budget proposal would defund the plan.

Similarly, we’re cutting carbon pollution, saving our families billions of dollars a year at the pump and reducing our reliance on oil through a set of clean car and fuel economy standards the auto industry helped craft in 2012. Under industry pressure, Trump ordered the standards reviewed, with an eye toward weakening them.

More than 3 million Americans go to work each day advancing the clean energy goals embodied in these clean car and dirty power plant standards. These are good-paying middle-class jobs that can’t be outsourced or shipped overseas.

And, by mastering the essentials of efficiency, renewable power and high-efficiency automobile design, these workers are preparing for success in a global clean energy market set to attract more than $7 trillion in investment in the years ahead. Nobody voted to sideline our workers in the economic play of our lifetime.

There’s nothing great about Trump’s reckless assault on our environment and health. It’s time we all stood up for the values that bind us, our unassailable right to clean water and air and our obligation to leave our children a livable world.

Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. She can be contacted at

Nobody voted to condemn our children to climate catastrophe.


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