Last Saturday marked Trump’s 100th day in office. It was also the day of the ‘People’s Climate Rally’ that took place in D.C, alongside other satellite marches taking place across the globe. Scientists, faith leaders, academics, students and concerned citizens took to the streets of the nations capital to demand action on climate change and a clean energy future.
The fact that the rally took place on Trump’s 100th day in office was no coincidence. Trump has used this time to recede Obama-era Executive Orders (EO) that promote climate resilience and climate data collection, propose a budget to Congress that significantly defunds programs supporting climate resilience, and establish a new EO in favor of continued dependence on fossil fuels (Grannis et al, 2017).
To understand the implications of Trump’s actions, it is important to first understand what Obama established with respects to climate programmes and policy during his time in office.
The Obama legacy
On June 25, 2013, when temperature in D.C. soared up to 35°C / 94°F, (NCEI, 2017) Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan with a speech at Georgetown University. Obama emphasised the importance of federal agencies partnering with state and local governments, on the front lines for preparing their communities for climate change impacts. The plan called for the provision of tools and resources to support programmes such as the Climate Data Initiative and the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit.
Some of the recommendations of Obama’s Climate Action Plan were formalised through Executive Order (EO) 13653, Preparing the US for the Impacts of Climate Change. This includes a requirement for federal agencies to update their adaptation plans, and the formation of the Interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience set up to coordinate adaptation efforts across 30 different federal agencies.
EO 13653 also created the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, composed of twenty-five governors, mayors, country officials and tribal leaders tasked with making recommendations to the federal government on how agencies could better support state and local governments to prepare for the impacts of climate change. In 2014, the Task Force sent out over one hundred recommendations to the president on how federal programs and policies could be improved to support local and regional efforts. Several agencies including Flood Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), incorporated them into their plans and policies.
In 2016, Obama updated the Center for Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidance to federal agencies on how to consider climate change in environmental review documents required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA guidance requires that federal agencies analyse the environmental impacts of proposed actions, prior to decision-making. The new guidance required federal agencies to consider both the projects impact on climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, (GHG) and the impact of climate change on the proposed project (Grannis et al. 2017).
Since his election, much of Trump’s efforts have focused on trying to undo what Obama put in place. In a March 2017 EO, promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, Trump ordered the removal of “regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation” (EO 13783). This EO rescinds Executive Order 13653 and the Presidents Climate Action Plan. The EO called on federal agencies to unwind all the policies that were put in place under Obama’s EO, and rescinded the NEPA climate guidance. Trump also released a blueprint budget for fiscal year 2018 which significantly cuts the budgets of agencies that fund state and local climate adaptation efforts including the EPA, NOAA, FEMA.
There are however several Obama-era actions that have remained untouched by Trump. It remains unclear whether Trump will let these orders stand, or whether he still intends to rescind them. These include EO 13514, that requires federal agencies to consider how climate change will affect federal agency operations, sustainability and mission plans, and EO 13690, an update for a new flood risk management standard, ensuring that new projects made with federal funds are designed to be resilient to future flood impacts, including sea level rise (ibid).
What does this mean for state and local and federal adaptation efforts?
In his 2018 budget blueprint, Trump has proposed significant cuts to the agencies that offer programmes that state and local governments depend on for resilience efforts. These include the NOAA Sea Grant, a programme that supports coastal adaptation, FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, and the EPA Climate Change Research and Partnership Program.
Also, on the chopping block was the interagency coordination effort that helps federal agencies align their adaptation efforts. Proposed budget cuts would impact the ability of these agencies to support local resilience efforts, as well as the development of climate data tools, monitoring and technical expertise to support community efforts. For example, cuts to NOAA funding could result in cuts to satellite programs, which produce climate data used in vulnerability analyses. Presently, data.gov and the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit remain operational. However, congress controls the purse strings and makes the ultimate decision on agency budgets. Therefore, the final cuts may not be as drastic as Trump has envisioned.
At the federal level, adaptation planning activities may be affected by Trump’s EO on Energy Dependence. The EO rescinds guidance that directs federal agencies to both account for GHG emissions and consider the impacts of climate change on their operations. In light of this new guidance, agencies may revoke or amend existing adaptation plans. Despite this, agencies are still obliged to manage natural resources in a sustainable manner in long-term planning, and climate change may have an impact on the sustainability of resources. Therefore, climate change may still be accounted for, if not explicitly described as such (ibid).
100 days and beyond
200,000 people marching through the streets of D.C. show that Trump’s actions will meet resistance, however few can claim to be surprised. Pre-presidency, Trump famously stated that climate change is a hoax invented by China, that climate scientists are self-motivated and misleading the public, and that the Paris Agreement is ‘ridiculous’ (Schulman, 2017). The actions witnessed in the first hundred days may be a taste of what lies ahead on Trump’s agenda – scaling back Obama-era climate initiatives and promoting fossil fuel-driven plans and policies.
Trump’s intentions are clear, and therefore state and local governments could benefit from a plan to remain on course with adaptation actions, despite limited federal backing. This poses a challenge not yet encountered since climate change was mainstreamed in the federal policy arena during Obama’s presidency. Yet, it also provides new impetus for local and state actors to partner with non-federal entities, such as the private sector, to uncover new ways of working together to tackle mounting adaptation challenges.
This article is based off a webinar presented by EcoAdapt, 100 Days of the New Administration. For a full recording of the webinar, please visit: https://vimeo.com/215057654
Grannis, J., Wentz, J., Pine, D., Gerhart, M., & Hansen, L. (2017). 100 Days of the New Administration. EcoAdapt. Retrieved from, https://vimeo.com/215057654.
Executive Order 13653– Preparing the United State for the Impacts of Climate Change. November 1, 2013. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary.
Executive Order13783 – Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. March 28, 2017. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary.
NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). 2017. Record of Climatological Observations WASHINGTON REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT, VA. Retrieved May 1 from, https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/search.
Schulman, J. (2017, April 2). A timeline of every ridiculous thing Trump has said about Climate Change. Newsweek. Retrieved from, http://www.newsweek.com/timeline-every-ridiculous-thing-trump-has-said-about-climate-change-576238.
Cover photo by Michael Vadon (CC BY-SA 4.0)