BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
As far as cabinet picks go, future-President Donald Trump deserves the award for most awkward choices in recent memory.
In a recent post, Senator Bernie Sanders effectively summed those choices up by saying, “Donald Trump has nominated an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head who does not believe in environmental protection, a Labor Secretary who is opposed to organized labor and a Secretary of Education who wants to do away with public education.”
Sanders’ statement is a call to action against the team of generals and business execs that will soon make up the Trump Administration. One of the more worrying appointments, former Oklahoma Senator Scott Pruitt as Director of the EPA, is a reflection of the fears many in the scientific community had during the campaign. The fear that Donald Trump actually means what he tweets when he claims that climate change is a hoax dreamt up by the Chinese.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
“It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile E.P.A. administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history,” Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington environmental advocacy group, told The New York Times.
The appointment has scientists and academics scrambling to preserve information they believe is at risk of being destroyed under a Trump Administration. With the help of volunteers at the University of Toronto, over 3,000 URLs have been manually cataloged on a website known as the Internet Archive.
The effort is part of a larger project launched by Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and founder of the Internet Archive. The archive is an ambitious project that aims to digitally catalog every book ever written.
“Throughout history, libraries have fought against terrible violations of privacy—where people have been rounded up simply for what they read.” Brewster wrote of his online library, “At the Internet Archive, we are fighting to protect our readers’ privacy in the digital world.”
With the election of Donald Trump, Brewster launched an initiative to create a Canadian version of the archive to protect it from a digital book burning.
“On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change. It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change.” He wrote in a statement after Election Day.
But do we really need to worry about a frightful 1984 scenario when Trump finally enters the Oval Office? A purge of scientific data that validates claims that the Donald is Hitler 2.0. After all, he recently appointed Elon Musk, America’s premier solar energy billionaire, as a “strategic adviser”.
The answer, as always, is complicated, but it helps to look at what the new Director of the EPA believes his Agency ought to be doing.
“[G]lobal warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time.” Pruitt once wrote in the National Review. “That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
Pruitt seems to look at environmental issues from an economic perspective. A point of view which prioritizes the cost of energy and the well-being of the fossil fuel industry over the well-being of the environment. In other words, he doesn’t deny that man-made climate change exists, he just doesn’t think it’s a problem worth addressing.
With the help of government initiatives, renewable energy is quickly surpassing the fossil fuel industry, but with an EPA Director who doesn’t believe in his own agency, and has had close ties to the oil industry, that progress could be reversed.
Pruitt has a long history of challenging the EPA’s initiatives in court as Attorney General for Oklahoma. His most recent challenge targeted the EPA’s 2014 Clean Power Plan which promotes clean energy sources and establishes the first ever federal regulations for fossil-fuel power plants.
In this case, Pruitt successfully blocked the CPP from being enforced and since the case is still held up in Pruitt’s lawsuit, the Trump administration could scrap the program altogether.
But it’s not all bad news for environmentalists.
According to Professor Jody Freeman, the Founding Director of the Environmental Law Program at Harvard Law School, there are a heap of restrictions on what Trump can do without the approval of Congress.
While the EPA was created by the stroke of President Nixon’s pen, abolishing the Agency altogether would not be as easy. In nearly 50 years since it was created, the EPA has sewn legal roots through regulations that would require Donald Trump to either break some laws or void those regulations in order to completely erase the progress that has been made in environmental policy.
Removing certain regulations, in addition to being a bureaucratic nightmare, also requires a period in which the public is able to comment on potential changes. This is one area in which Bernie’s call to action would come into play.
But Trump will still be President, and could make things really difficult for the EPA by refusing to enforce the recent climate agreement made in Paris, deciding which programs to fund, and halting new programs like the CPP.
This is where the Canadian effort to protect the data collected thus far would come in.
“Defunding those programs will mean losing a lot of data because it requires a lot of resources to maintain and curate the data to make it publically accessible,” Patrick Keilty, Professor at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto told CTV.
It’s quite strange to think that a future President has scientists so paranoid that they are scrambling to hide information from him. But if Trump truly tells it like it is and means what he says, a bit of caution might be necessary.