Guest opinion: Trump’s EPA pick a danger to Colorado’s climate
January 14, 2017
"Clean air and clean water are part of the birthright of every American. The time is literally now or never. … Let us renew our commitment, let us redouble our effort. The quality of our life on this great land is a cause to unite all Americans." — President Richard Nixon to Congress on creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and his conservation agenda
When Republican President Richard Nixon created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by executive order in 1970, climate science was in its infancy. Although the mechanisms behind what would eventually become known as global warming were already well understood, the impact of our copious use of fossil fuels and the carbon emissions that result were only then beginning to be understood.
In the 1970s much of the impacts from burning fossil fuels were those that were readily seen: brown skies, smog and polluted cities. The Clean Air Act — and the EPA that Nixon created to help implement it — sought to address these. Amended through the years, notably in 1970 and again in 1990, the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to reduce harmful air pollutants from industry and other sources.
In our current age, much of the most harmful types of air pollution are not so easily seen. But the genesis of President Obama's Clean Power Plan — which seeks to reduce carbon pollution from power generation, a leading source of the greenhouse gases driving climate change — lies in this same authority.
The duty of the federal government to address carbon pollution via the Clean Air Act was affirmed by the Supreme Court in several cases that have come before it in recent years. The Clean Power Plan was the federal government's first effort to abide by its obligation to reduce the pollution driving human-caused climate change.
Colorado has a lot at risk. Climate change is likely to adversely affect our rivers, snowpack, forests and agriculture among many other things. For instance, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, runoff in our rivers by 2050 is expected to decrease by up to 20 percent. For our snowpack, climate change "has the potential to affect the quality of life in the area as well as its economic welfare …" per a research report by Michael Powers.
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Our forests are also likely to suffer severe impacts from climate change, made worse by inaction. Impacts to forests include greater susceptibility to pests, loss of tree cover and increased incidences of wildfire. Agriculture in Colorado is also affected by climate change, with adverse impacts likely to include reduced forage for livestock and increased drought that affects crops.
These risks will only worsen if we refuse to act to begin addressing our contributions to a warming planet. Luckily 2016 was a year of action, with the Clean Power Plan being finalized and more than 180 nations agreeing to reduce carbon pollution in signing the Paris Accords.
But 2017 could be a year that undoes much of the progress made. A clear and present danger to our climate comes in the form of Scott Pruitt, President-elect Trump's pick to lead the EPA. Pruitt's confirmation hearing to lead that critical agency begins this week.
In his role as Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt has championed polluters over constituents. He's denied climate science. He's repeatedly sued the EPA, opposed clean air policies like the Clean Power Plan, and has disputed the Clean Air Act's authority. He's even coordinated with polluters in a "secret alliance" to oppose climate action. Given this track record, it's no surprise that Pruitt has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from polluting industries. Pruitt's actions should disqualify him from leading an agency he has fought against.
This election was not a mandate to gut the Clean Power Plan or ignore the Clean Air Act. Coloradans, like people across America, support clean air, clean energy and climate action to protect the health of our communities. Mr. Trump's decision to nominate Pruitt is not "draining the swamp." Rather it shows the opposite, that the president-elect is willing to place dirty-energy insiders into positions of power.
Regardless of who is president, the EPA has a legal obligation to protect the public from climate pollution. Trump's selection for EPA administrator has continually fought against that obligation. Colorado deserves an EPA administrator who protects environmental laws and is guided by science in policy-making. Our leaders must demand an EPA that puts the public interest before special interests, and that acts to address climate change. Too much is at stake: For Colorado, for America, for the planet and for future generations. Scott Pruitt is unfit to lead the EPA. Colorado's senators need to vote to block his confirmation.
Pete Kolbenschlag is an environmental activist and consultant working with the Climate Action Campaign. He lives in Paonia.