“I want crystal clean water and air.”
That’s what Donald Trump said in the first chaotic presidential debate with Joe Biden. But there is scant evidence of that desire in the actions of his administration, which has spent nearly four years systematically dismantling core environmental protections, some of which stretch back decades.
Experts agree that the climate crisis’s most destructive manifestations, on display in a particularly difficult year for the US, barely scratch the surface of the catastrophes to come. Yet the president appears unmoved by the enormous wildfires, devastating hurricanes, widespread water problems and persistent air pollution that disproportionately blights black and Latino communities. His administration has scrapped climate regulations, rolled back clean water rules and loosened pollution standards. Protections for public land and threatened species have been shrunk while new oil pipelines and coal mining have been encouraged.
The legacy of these changes will stretch well beyond Trump’s presidency. Here is a list of some of the key rollbacks of the Trump era.
This list was adapted from the Harvard Law School’s Regulatory Rollback Tracker.
This fine particulate pollution decreased under Barack Obama, but has seen a steady uptick since Trump took office.The Trump administration has also declined to strengthen the Obama rules for ozone, also known as smog, which regularly covers cities like Los Angeles. Ozone forms when pollution – from power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and cars – reacts to sunlight.
Despite those emissions reductions, the US is far off the path of what scientists say is necessary for the nation and the world to avoid catastrophic climate change. Trump has nixed climate rules that would have brought the US closer to what is needed. If the US had continued to lead on climate, global efforts would be in a stronger position.
Arctic national wildlife refuge Alaska Guardian graphic. Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service
The Clean Power Plan was the Obama administration’s signature climate rule. The rule – finalized in 2015 – directed states to reduce their electricity sector emissions. It aimed to slash carbon pollution from power plants 32% by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels within the electricity sector.
Even though the supreme court halted the rule in 2016, and states were never required to comply, carbon dioxide emissions from the US power sector have still fallen more than the rule’s goal – by at least one-third. Cheaper natural gas and renewable power, as well as local policies to move away from fossil fuels, sped the shift.