Resisting Trump’s Attacks on the Environment during August Recess

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The core of Indivisible resistance to Trump’s agenda is getting Congress to listen to its constituents. Unfortunately, most of Trump’s attacks against the environment originate within federal agencies, rather than from bills proposed by Congress. This leaves Indivisible with fewer tools to use in the fight—Members of Congress (MoCs) avoid accountability for new policies when they don’t have to vote for them.

That said, there are some critical battles to be waged to protect the environment that will require Congress. Trump can propose ending programs that fight climate change, protect drinking water, or cleanup contamination—but Congress gets to decide whether to keep funding those essential protections. Key pieces of the Trump agenda, such as the infrastructure bill, are likely to come with nefarious riders that gut environmental safeguards. And Indivisible groups can and should continue to push for local actions to ensure the U.S. does its part to protect the climate and uphold the Paris Agreement.

This recess toolkit maps out where MoCs will play a key role to either fight for or against environmental protection, so Indivisible groups can be more effective.

A Quick Explainer: Why Can Trump Rollback Environmental Protections Without Congress?

Environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, require the Executive branch to put in place regulations that limit pollution, maintain public lands, and protect wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many other agencies (Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, etc.) are responsible for updating environmental regulations.

Under the Obama Administration, EPA took big strides toward strengthening those regulations to make sure they addressed new threats, such as carbon pollution and fracking. But Trump’s EPA can rewrite those same regulations without Congressional sign-off, to let polluters off the hook and add big loopholes. And that’s exactly what it’s doing.

The good news is that Trump’s watered-down regulations can be reversed by a future Administration—so long as Congress doesn’t change the laws themselves. But this makes it even more important that Indivisible stands strong to make sure Congress doesn’t weaken environmental laws under Trump’s watch.

Environmental Rollbacks Since Trump

There isn’t a polluter out there that Trump doesn’t love. He put foxes in charge of the hen house, appointing a head of the EPA who sued the EPA more than a dozen times and a chief of the Department of Energy who didn’t know what the agency does. Instead of scientists, countless lobbyists for polluting industries are now in charge of protecting the public.

The results have been as bad as you would expect. Hardly a day passes without a new attack on clean air and water, public lands, or other environmental protections—including pulling the U.S. out of the landmark Paris climate agreement supported by all but two countries in the rest of the world, working to undo protections for millions of acres of public land, and refusing to regulate a pesticide that harms the brains of children.

What to watch for next: Upcoming Congressional Fights

Most of the damage will continue to come from a thousand regulatory cuts by Trump agencies. We will support our partner organizations who continue to fight Trump’s administrative agenda. But our bread and butter is holding Congress accountable.

Five truly terrible environmental bills have passed the House, including one delaying life-saving pollution controls for 8 years and another to undercut science at EPA. As bad as these and other bills are, we are focused on environmental attacks that have the potential to move to the Senate floor too, and risk becoming law.

Congressional attacks on the environment will be hidden. We can be sure that future environmental attacks in Congress won’t be easy to spot. Most will not even be overtly related to the environment. They’ll lurk in spending bills, as riders on unrelated bills, and even in the upcoming infrastructure proposal. This is in addition to the standalone bills, such as the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA aka the “worst bill you never heard of”), that are threats not only to the environment, but also to public health, education, and anywhere regulatory agencies are critical to keeping communities safe and healthy.

Trump’s Dirty Budget

Trump’s proposed budget plan would cut funding for the EPA by a third, and would eliminate over 50 EPA programs, including programs to protect drinking water, fight climate change, and protect natural resources that local economies depend on, such as the Great Lakes. It would mean less testing of chemicals to make sure they are safe, and slower, less robust cleanups of contamination affecting communities around the country. The scale of these cuts threatens important federal programs that could have prevented the poisoning of drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and leaves other local communities’ water at risk.

But Congress decides what gets funded, not Donald Trump. Make sure you let your MoCs know that you expect them to fully fund the EPA and other key environmental programs. Check out our policy brief for more info.

What you can do: Use the #HandsOff toolkit to find out what’s at stake in your congressional district, and this Union of Concerned Scientists’ toolkit to protect funding of science, public health, and environmental agencies.

Attacking the Environment through Policy Riders

Republicans in Congress are determined to get their anti-environmental bills through, including by attaching them to other unrelated pieces of legislation. There are a number of these so-called “riders” to watch out for, including attempts to undo protections for endangered gray wolves, relax limits on asthma-causing smog, and green lighting risky, short-term storage of nuclear waste.

Tell your MoC that you do not want any policy rider that waters down environmental laws in an infrastructure bill or other must-pass legislation like the budget.

Responding to U.S. Pulling Out of Paris Agreement

On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump announced—with a televised, grand reveal in the White House Rose Garden—that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. By doing so, Trump hopes to fulfill one of his devastating campaign promises to roll back critical climate and health protections, at the expense of the American public and of generations to come. Trump announced the U.S. will withdraw from Paris despite widespread opposition to pulling out by the American public, the business community, advocates, and even political leaders from both parties.

But you can help beat Trump on your home turf, in cities and states. We can meet the targets set in Paris even as Trump tries to stand in the way. In fact, we can get 60% of the way to Paris goals without any federal policy. State and local governments must take the lead on climate action in the absence of federal leadership, and indeed, they already are. Although we normally focus on congressional advocacy, this is a case where it makes a lot of sense to fight back at lower levels of government, too.

Connect with Local Groups and Campaigns. The most important thing you can do is plug into existing campaigns, like the ones a number of national organizations are leading on the ground at the state and local level. We recommend reaching out to these groups to understand what the best approach might be in your city and state. Here are just a few suggestions of where to get started, both by getting directly connected locally or to learn more:

Find out how clean your region’s energy mix is. Contact your utility to tell them you care about clean energy. The How Clean is Your Region’s Energy Tool, developed exclusively for An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, is an easy way to find out where your energy comes from. You can quickly compare your region’s energy mix to national averages, and tell your utility you want safe, inexpensive, clean energy options.

Taking the Fight to Federal Agencies

We at Indivisible generally focus on local level, congressional advocacy. However, there is a lot that you and your group can do to defend the environment through administrative advocacy—in other words, by weighing in directly with federal agencies that are in charge of environmental issues. Here are some resources from our partners that can help you do administrative advocacy.

Protecting the EPA from its own Administrator. Several groups of former EPA employees have banded together to protect the agency; one of them, Save EPA, wrote an Indivisible-type guide: A Practical Guide For Resisting The Trump De-regulatory Agenda. You can check out how the EPA benefits your state to see how important this fight is to all of us.

Protecting the Department of the Interior from its own Secretary. Under Secretary Ryan Zinke, Trump’s Interior Department is also succeeding in undoing environmental protections. Under the guise of so-called “energy dominance,” Zinke has been expediting cheapening the process of selling off our precious natural resources to Big Oil. You can use the same guide for resisting the de-regulatory agenda for the Dept. of Interior as well.

Sample Town  Hall Questions

  1. EPA’s budget today is already 20 percent lower than it was back in 2010. The Trump Administration’s proposed budget would cut EPA funding by an additional 31% percent, leaving critical programs unfunded and putting American’s health and environment at risk. Will you promise me, your constituent, that you will refuse to vote for a budget bill unless EPA is fully funded at current budget levels?
    [Note: Consider whether there are local impacts to the budget cuts: is there a cleanup in your district? Are there fishermen that depend on a local waterbody for a livelihood? Telling personal stories of how you and your community benefit from a clean, healthy environment is very powerful.]
  2. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the wildest place left in America and needs to be protected now and for future generations. Special Interests and their anti-public land allies are mobilizing to dismantle our American system of protected public lands. Their aim is to sell off these public lands to oil, mining and logging companies. Will you commit to me, your constituent, to vote against a spending bill if it contains an attack on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
  3. [FOR LOCAL AND STATE ELECTED OFFICIALS] Donald Trump has declared that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris Agreement, abandoning our global leadership on climate change while also putting future generations at risk. The good news is that we can reach 60% of the goals of the Paris Agreement through local and state policies, like commitments to get to 100% renewable energy sources. What are you doing to make sure that we reach 100% renewable energy locally?