How the Prospects for Environmental Justice Look Under Donald Trump

By Yessenia Funes Nov 10, 2016

In the United States, many are still coming to terms with their 45th president:  Donald Trump. Meanwhile, in Morocco, world leaders, scientists and environmentalists have come together for the 22nd Conference of the Parties to finalize the Paris Agreement on climate change—and they, too, are wrapping their heads around what the victory of someone who is a climate denier means for the planet.

“It’s clear that Donald Trump is about to be one of the most powerful people in the world, but even he does not have the power to amend and change the laws of physics, to stop the impacts of climate change,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, at a press conference Wednesday (November 9), according to The Huffington Post. “He has to acknowledge the reality of climate change. He has a responsibility as president-elect now.”

A review of his plans and ideologies, however, indicates that Trump won’t take that responsibility to heart. His stance could be especially consequential for overburdened communities of color that often become sacrifice zones for environmental damage. In addition to the ideas he expressed during the campaign, post-election he has chosen one of the most famous climate skeptics to lead his EPA transition team: Myron Ebell, who is the director of the Center for Energy and Environment. The transition could include getting rid of the EPA altogether.

Then, there’s the Paris Agreement.

Trump has repeatedly said during his campaign that he’d cancel the landmark international accord that was signed this past Earth Day. While the agreement still has a long way to go to remedy inequities of whom climate change will impact most (especially globally), it could still address many other environmental concerns—and its goals to reduce carbon emissions and increase renewable energy production, if done equitably, can be beneficial to communities of color. Thirty-seven percent of carbon dioxide emissions result from U.S. energy production, which primarily comes from fossil fuels often extracted or processed in the backyards of people of color in states like California, Texas and North Dakota.

The president-elect, however, wants to increase the country’s consumption of fossil fuels and bring back one of the dirtiest sources: coal. Joe Romm, founding editor of Climate Progress, doesn’t see it happening given that much of the coal industry’s downfall was a market response to the shifting prospects of the energy industry, including the rise of natural gas. Still, Trump does want to remove regulations like the Clean Power Plan that have helped keep coal down.

Trump also wants to revive the Keystone XL pipeline, which has the capacity to transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the tar sands in Canada to U.S. markets. This would be accomplished by reversing President Barack Obama’s veto on the bill that would have passed it. “One response to a Trump presidency will be to double down with more pipeline blockades and other efforts to ‘keep it [carbon] in the ground,’” writes environmental columnist Andrew Revkin for The New York Times.

If these actions don’t work, however, Native land and health are at risk. The pipeline was set to cross through Canadian territories, as well as through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. The National Congress of American Indians released a statement in 2011 that stated:

[T]he United States is urged to reduce its reliance on the world’s dirtiest and most environmentally destructive form of oil – the “tar sands” – that threatens Indian country in both Canada and the United States and the way of life of thousands of citizens of First Nations in Canada and American Indians in the U.S., and requests the U.S. government to take aggressive measures to work towards sustainable energy solutions that include clean alternative energy and improving energy efficiency

If Trump plans to revive the Keystone XL pipeline, he’ll likely also support the Dakota Access Pipeline. He has not made any public comments on the $3.78 billion pipeline that has brought over 200 Indigenous tribes from around the world together demanding #NoDAPL. In a statement emailed to Colorlines, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II said:

“The results of last night’s election indicate that we as a country have so much work to do. We must strengthen our resolve to protect the water, pray together for understanding, and pour our hearts and minds into the future of our children. This is what our ancestors did for us under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. And we stand strong today as Lakota and Dakota people with our allies, advocating for those not yet born, and all our relatives who have no voice.

In this time of uncertainty, President Obama still has the power to give our children hope. We believe halting the Dakota Access pipeline presents a unique opportunity for President Obama to set a lasting and true legacy and respect the sovereignty and treaty rights of Standing Rock and tribal nations across America.”

Trump also plans to use funds originally allotted to U.N. climate change programs to target domestic water and environmental infrastructure. Though he believes that climate is a hoax the Chinese created, he does, to some extent, appear to care about disasters like the lead water contamination in Flint, Michigan


(H/t The Huffington Post, NPR)