By John Hart and Jeff Luse
As the Trump administration winds down, Donald Trump continues to be assailed as an environmental catastrophe, a one-man Exxon Valdez who essentially spilled “Big Oil” on our shores. He has been called a “threat to the planet,” the “worst President for the environment in our history” and a “worse threat to humanity than Hitler.” In September, the New York Times reported that President Trump’s 100 environmental regulatory rollbacks would “add up to a lot more planet-warming emissions.” Joe Biden even indulged in histrionics by tweeting, “If we give Donald Trump another four years in the White House, our planet may never recover.”
Yet, the facts – and science – tell a different story. Carbon emissions actually decreased during the Trump administration, which is surprising for an administration with a supposed fossil fuels fetish.
In the past four years, carbon emissions decreased by .5%, with 2019 alone having a decrease of 2.9%. This is less than the rate under President Obama, yet Obama’s (and Trump’s) successes were in large part due to the fracking revolution. Administrations tend to receive a disproportionate share of credit or blame for forces outside of their control. Yet, Obama received a lot of credit while Trump received none.
Trump made progress by doing a few things well:
Trump Embraced the Power of Markets
The most impactful thing that President Trump did for the climate may be what he didn’t do –interfere with the free-market. Trump trusted the private sector to reduce emissions and promote economic prosperity.
Since 2000, the United States has had the largest absolute decline in emissions in the world. This decline is not the result of mandates and regulation, but of innovation and market forces. The switch from coal to cleaner and cheaper natural gas and renewables “accounts for the majority of the progress the US has made in reducing emissions over the past decade” according to the Rhodium Group.
Private corporations such as Microsoft, Amazon, and General Motors have all announced sustainability initiatives and emissions reduction goals. By allowing the private sector to dictate its own environmental agenda, President Trump created a business culture that has found smart, sustainable, durable and profitable ways to care for the environment and reduce emissions.
The left will ironically say that the private sector had to engage because the government wouldn’t—that is exactly the point. The private sector can and has reduced emissions, proving that heavy handed government interference is burdensome and unnecessary.
Trump Streamlined Projects
Thanks to Trump’s executive order streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Council of Environmental Quality accelerating the process for clean technologies from 70 months to two years.
Additionally, in 2019, America experienced a 10% decline in electric power sector emissions, the biggest year-to-year drop in decades according to the Rhodium Group, while renewable energy use reached record highs. This is due in large part to the unburdening of market barriers and streamlining of projects.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the last four years, air pollution has gone down by 7%, 27 Superfund sites have been delisted, 1,200 air pollution improvement plans have been approved, and backlogs have been cut in half, due in large part to cutting red tape and streamlining projects.
Trump Reclaimed America’s Conservation Heritage
By joining the Initiative, the United States has committed to planting at least 855 million trees by 2030 that will, combined with global efforts, have the potential to sequester up to 10 years worth of emissions.
Trump also signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act. This law permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund and addresses the $12 billion maintenance backlog in America’s National Parks.
Trump Adopted an “All of the Above” Energy Approach
Trump also deserves credit for rejecting the left’s ideological and anti-science “All of the Above Except for Energy Sources Our Base Doesn’t Like (i.e. Nuclear and Fossil Fuels)” approach.
Under the Trump administration, the Department of Energy (DOE) has pursued advancements in 2nd Generation Carbon Capture Technologies and has invested $80 million into making fossil fuel plants carbon neutral.
While the Department of Energy and the Trump Administration innovated and invested into all of these technologies, the United States led the world in natural gas and petroleum production, providing energy security, economic prosperity, and providing clean and reliable energy globally. And, again, carbon emissions decreased.
Trump Said Climate Change Is “Not a Hoax” and Made it Okay for Others to Say the Same
Trump lost, in part, because he was an undisciplined communicator who lost hearts and minds faster than he won them. He gratuitously contradicted himself on climate, and everything else, but he landed at a very important place: it’s real.
As we move toward a new administration, the threat is not “climate denial” but “innovation denial” – an ideological and irrational bias against the power of markets to solve problems and allocate scarce resources more effectively and compassionately than government. Trump respected markets and allowed carbon emissions to go down as a result.
Just as progressives want conservatives to look honestly at the facts and the results of the 2020 election (yes, Trump lost), conservatives should ask progressives to look at the facts of Trump’s environmental record and tone down their anti-science and anti-fact hyperbole.
Trump was hardly the Saint Francis of animal welfare and conservation, but he also wasn’t an environmental Great Satan the cancel culture Ayatollahs make him out to be. He was just a man, who, often in spite of himself, did some good things for planet and prosperity.