WASHINGTON – Maryland state officials and the Environmental Protection Agency have worked to restore the Chesapeake Bay and combat climate change over the past eight years, but uncertainty surrounds the future of these policies as a new administration enters the White House.
“The signals from the Trump administration … suggest that he is going to backtrack on climate policy on just about every front,” said Neil Leary, director of the Center for Sustainability Education at Dickinson College. “It’s looking like the U.S. is not going to be taking much action on climate change.”
President-elect Donald Trump has sent mixed signals on climate change since the election, hiring a climate science denier on his transition team but also meeting with former Vice President Al Gore, one of the nation’s most outspoken leaders on climate change. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, also has signaled her interest in the climate change issue.
But those worried about climate change were alarmed by Trump’s appointment Wednesday of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the new head of the EPA. Pruitt has been a major opponent of President Barack Obama’s climate policies and sued the government to protect coal-fired power plants.
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat and a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said “Pruitt has made a name for himself out of denying the very existence of climate change.”
“Now President-elect Trump has selected him to lead the agency charged with addressing it,” the senator said in a statement.
“Mr. Pruitt has made a career out of suing the EPA. Now he wants to run the agency,” Cardin said. “I find Mr. Pruitt’s selection for EPA Administrator troubling, both for the future of environmental justice in this country, as well as for what it signals more generally about President-elect Trump’s relationship with science and established fact.”
The effects of climate change and increased pollution have resulted in consistently rising sea levels of the Bay over the past few decades.
From November of last year to September of this year, the mean sea level of the Bay increased by nearly one-tenth of a meter, according to data gathered from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records.
“Sea level rise is going to continue, and that is going to be an issue for erosion of coastlines,” Leary said. “You’re going to have more inundation of low-lying coastal areas when there are storms and high tides with sea level rise. You’re going to have significant impacts on coastal areas, both (on) people and wetlands we rely on for a lot of different things.”
Trump has long been a detractor of climate change, famously denying its existence through social media and reinforcing this position by hiring fellow climate science denier Myron Ebell to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency transition. But recently, Trump has backed off this position and suggested a more lenient approach.
“I have a very open mind,” Trump said in an interview on Nov. 22 with the New York Times. “And I’m going to study a lot of the things that happened on it and we’re going to look at it very carefully.”
Yet, Trump still referred to climate change as is a “very complex subject” and went on to say that there is “some connectivity” between human involvement and climate change but it “depends how much.”
Ebell, director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization promoting limited government and free enterprise, has opposed climate change policy for years and asked the Senate to reject an international climate accord signed last year in Paris, according to the Washington Post.
Pruitt has been involved in more than a dozen lawsuits against the EPA, including against the Obama’s administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan, which is intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. He has no background in environmental policy.
In 2009, the Maryland General Assembly drafted a plan to reduce greenhouse gases by 25 percent, and restoring the Bay was included as a sector of this initiative. The following year, the EPA established pollution load limits to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment in its waters.
In 2014, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement which reinforced commitments toward Bay restoration while also addressing climate change and toxic contamination.
Gov. Larry Hogan has also been committed to protecting the Bay, as his Fiscal Year 2017 budget was the first in state history that does not divert funding dedicated to Bay restoration.
“For the last year and a half, Maryland’s commission on climate change has been finding common ground to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland Secretary of the Environment and Chairman of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, in a statement on Nov. 29. “The Hogan Administration is committed to bipartisan solutions that protect the environment and provide affordable, reliable and sustainable energy to Maryland citizens and communities. That commitment will continue.”
Trump and Pruitt will have to battle U.S. environmental groups in order to undo the actions of the Obama administration.
Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, denounced the Pruitt pick, saying it was “like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires,” according to the Daily Oklahoman.
The Sierra Club’s website warns readers that Trump “is poised to lead the most anti-science and retrogressive administration in history.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s website is raising money in anticipation of coming battles with this appeal: “Protect our planet. Help us gear up to defend our environment and climate from the Trump presidency.”
“You cannot run away from people,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech to the National Press Club on Nov. 21. “You have to make decisions, not based on politics, but based on what your people are demanding of you, or you will be the shortest-lived municipal servant in the history of mankind.”
McCarthy’s tenure will come to an end in January, but she said she has faith that the EPA’s focus on climate change over the last eight years will not be reversed.
“Climate change is among the most significant public health, economic and security challenges that we have ever faced as a nation or as a world,” McCarthy said. “I’m looking forward to a smooth transition and getting folks in here so they can see the breadth of the work in the agency and how well we’ve done our job.”