August 20, 2019
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Earth Day 2018, a somber event

NASA | GSFC | MCT
NASA | GSFC | MCT
Satellite image of Earth.

On Earth Day in years past, we celebrated the progress that had been made cleaning up our waters and clearing our air. This year is different. A cloud of uncertainty continues to hang over the country’s environmental policies.

President Donald Trump, through his rhetoric and executive orders, has made it clear he favors the interests of those who pollute over the interests of those who have to live with the consequences of air pollution and climate change. He appointed an ethically challenged fighter against rules to protect the environment and combat climate change to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He has signed numerous executive orders to roll back rules to protect human health and the environment.

There is cause for alarm, not celebration, this Earth Day.

Early in his administration, Trump signed an executive order seeking to undo many of the Obama administration’s policies to reduce pollution and address climate change, especially the Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. It could take years — and the ability to turn back court challenges expected from environmental groups — to actually change laws. So the most significant and immediate impact of Trump’s order is the message it sends to the rest of the world: that the United States doesn’t care about climate change and its impacts.

That message was reiterated when the president said the U.S. would end its involvement in global climate change efforts.

More recently, the administration has said it will abandon high vehicle fuel economy standards meant to reduce pollution and save consumers money. Trump ended an Obama-era stream protection rule, allowing mining waste to be dumped into waterways.

His administration has twice tried to slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and the many federal government programs that research and plan for climate change. These efforts have largely been turned back by Congress, which has maintained the funding.

The Trump administration has removed references to climate change from many departments’ websites and materials. Yet, the Pentagon warns that the changing climate will displace millions of people, worsening global conflicts. It calls climate change one of the most pressing issues facing the planet.

Although he largely left Maine’s new national monument alone, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke called for, and Trump authorized, shrinking several national monuments and opening others to oil and gas drilling. Zinke is also pushing for a major expansion of oil and gas drilling in American oceans, although most East Coast states have asked for exemptions. Maine may be exempted, Zinke has said, even though Gov. Paul LePage supports drilling off the state’s coast.

Steps backward are occuring in Maine as well. With the failure of the Legislature to override a LePage veto, Maine became the first state in the country to require solar power generators to pay a fee to utility companies for energy that never leaves their home or business. Rates will increase for all Maine utility customers to pay for the equipment needed to assess this new fee.

LePage also continues his campaign against land preservation, wrongly blaming land trusts for rising property taxes.

There are successes to celebrate: the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which has drawn visitors from across the country, will celebrate its second anniversary this summer. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a northeast market-based effort to reduce carbon emissions, has saved consumers money, reduced fossil fuel imports to the region and created jobs. Local communities are taking action by banning plastic bags and single-use foam containers.

With the federal government abdicating its mission to protect our environment and human health, these local efforts are increasingly important and necessary.

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