Trump fiddles while Earth burns: Our view

Trump fiddles while Earth burns: Our view.

by The Editorial Board , USA TODAY
New administration disrupts programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

President Trump in Ypsilanti, Mich., on March 15, 2017.
(Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)
Seemingly every month provides alarming new evidence of human-caused climate disruption. Last month was the hottest February on record globally, shattering the previous record by a long shot, according to analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Nearly all climate scientists agree that the key ingredient for rising temperatures — on land and in the oceans — is the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

That’s why the best hope of heading off catastrophic climate change lies in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the whole basis for the 2015 Paris Agreement signed by 197 nations.

And it’s why the United States, as the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, pumping 6 billion tons into the air each year, took steps under President Obama to reduce carbon pollution through the next decade by 26% from 2005 levels.

Now, less than two months into his presidency, Donald Trump is acting to reverse America’s progress on climate change.

On Wednesday, the president told an audience at a former industrial plant near Detroit that he’d roll back tough standards aimed at nearly doubling the fuel economy average for cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Those regulations, developed in 2012, have proved in their first phase to be a good way to jump-start efficiency.

A second phase of even tougher standards, for 2022-25 car and truck models, could be a bridge too far. Those standards could unfairly drive up vehicle costs to pay for complicated technical advancements and hamstring automakers with vehicles people won’t buy, at least not until gas prices rise again. A better alternative would be a carbon tax rebated to consumers, an idea recently pushed by a slate of Republican elder statesmen.

But Trump doesn’t seem interested in alternative ways for saving the planet, only in demolishing Obama’s climate legacy. Next on the new president’s to-do list is rewriting rules mandating cleaner-operating power plants, which, along with autos, create about 60% of U.S. greenhouse-gas pollution. Meanwhile, White House advisers are debating whether the U.S. should pull out of the Paris Agreement altogether, a step that would undermine other nations’ voluntary efforts to curb carbon pollution.

There’s more. According to news reports, Trump plans to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing; dump regulations on oil industry methane pollution, a strong, if relatively short-lived greenhouse pollutant; and slash Environmental Protection Agency staffing and funding.

Trump’s EPA administrator, former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, said last week that human activity is not the primary driver of global warming, dismissing both the scientific consensus and the very premise under which EPA regulates carbon dioxide. Pruitt is an acolyte of Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a renowned global-warming skeptic; several former Inhofe aides have been transplanted to the EPA and the White House.

If there’s any good news for the planet, it’s that Trump is president and not emperor, so the public, legislators, states and environmental groups have plenty of ways to push back against his anti-environmental agenda. Redrafting both the fuel economy standards and Obama’s Clean Power Plan would require a lengthy regulatory process of public hearings followed almost certainly by legal challenges.

In the meantime, the president ought to heed the advice of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and keep “a seat at the table” for America at global climate talks. Trump would also do well to listen to Defense Secretary James Mattis, whose unpublished written testimony before Congress argued that climate change is very real and a threat to U.S. interests overseas.

Shortly after Trump was elected, the president told The New York Times reporters and editors he had an “open mind” about climate change and the role of burning fossil fuels. His actions since then, however, suggest otherwise.

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