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In Pruitt EPA Pick, Some Fear Short Shrift For Restoration Economy

Kelli Barrett

Environmentalists across the political spectrum have exhibited everything from anger to puzzlement over US President-Elect Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Scott Pruitt to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. Some in the restoration economy, like those in renewable energies, say the move could hobble a vibrant part of the US economy.

9 December 2016 | When former US Vice President Al Gore emerged from Trump Tower on Monday, he told reporters that President-Elect Donald Trump seemed to be engaged in “a sincere search” for common ground on climate change and other environmental issues. That same day, Ecosystem Marketplace formally launched a mapping tool that showed environmental markets proliferating across said ground – a clear indication that economic growth and environmental protection can, indeed, go hand-in-hand.

Then, on Wednesday, Trump nominated as head of the Environmental Protection Agency Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt – a climate-science denier with close ties to the fossil fuel industry and a history of sparring with government over environmental regulations.

“Scott Pruitt’s public record and actions as Attorney General of Oklahoma show that he has challenged every EPA rule to protect public health,” says Gustavo Silva-Chávez, who heads the Forest Trends REDDX program (Forest Trends publishes Ecosystem Marketplace). “A person whose public career has been spent attacking environmental law is now in charge of the agency enforcing such laws.”

The move also left a few in the restoration economy scratching their heads.

“The economy can grow and the environment can be protected,” says Wayne White, a longtime participant in the mitigation banking industry and a former President of the National Mitigation Banking Association.

“They can co-exist,” he adds.

Both he and Travis Hemmen echoed sentiment expressed by diplomats and businessmen at recent climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco, expressing hope that the Trump administration would embrace the restoration industry after a crash-course in its workings, and that individual states would pick up much of the slack if he doesn’t.

“Our first step really needs to be on educating the incoming administration about our industry and the benefits we provide to the regulated market as well as to the environment,” says Hemmen who leads business and market development at Westervelt Ecological Services, a mitigation banking company headquartered in Alabama with offices in several states.

He pointed out that an administration aiming to streamline infrastructure projects may find mitigation banking a handy tool to use to comply with those existing laws relating to species or wetlands, but also conceded that louder industries are clamoring for the President-Elect’s attention.

“We’re one of many voices that will probably be talking to the new administration and staff,” he says, adding that California has shown leadership in developing progressive environmental rules and a long history of market-supported restoration.

“The state will do a good job continuing environmental stewardship and regulation if the federal government steps away,” he says.

Indeed, New York’s Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, issued a statement on Thursday vowing to use the full power of his office to enforce US environmental laws.

“Under the next administration, we will continue to defend the Clean Power Plan, fight to ensure that the US can meet our obligations under the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and hold the EPA’s feet to the fire on its fundamental responsibility to protect our environment,” he said.

White conceded that Pruitt may be able to weaken rules enforcing compensation for adverse impacts to wetlands and waterways – possibly in the belief that the burden of compensating for impacts to biodiversity is too costly for businesses. It’s a belief that White says is misguided.

“This kind of action would fail to account for the effect ecological degradation has on waterfowl, endangered species, ecosystem integrity and resilience to climate change,” he says. “And it ignores the cost to society through the reduced flood retention and water quality benefits we get from wetlands.”

Ultimately, White says, this route of environmental management refuses to recognize the numerous studies that prove environmental protection and economic growth can happen in tandem.

Broader Reactions

“The selection of Attorney General Pruitt, who has consistently questioned climate science and actively fought EPA’s ability to reduce emissions, raises deeply troubling questions. The critical issue is whether EPA will continue to play its vital role in protecting people’s health and safety in communities across the country,” said Sam Adams, Director of World Resources Institute United States.

Reiterating Adam’s comment on the announcement, BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Kim Glas said, “The nomination of Scott Pruitt, someone who has actively advocated against the EPA’s guiding principles and who challenges widely accepted climate science, places the health and safety of all Americans in jeopardy.”

“This is not the leadership America needs. Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation would ensure we are left behind as we move toward a global clean energy economy,” the President of the Environmental Defense Fund Fred Krupp said.

Path to Carbon Trading Askew

In a statement, Krupp stressed the importance of the EPA, saying since its creation in 1970, the economic benefits of cleaner water and air have outweighed the costs by as much as 30 to 1. He also noted the trend in federal government moving environmental regulations away from rigid top-down controls to flexible rules that allow businesses to implement cost-effective solutions. The market-based program the government used to reduce the acid rain crisis during the 1980s that was killing northeastern lakes and forests is one example.

Experts say the Clean Power Plan, a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s climate action that establishes the first national standards limiting emissions from the power sector, opens the door for grand scale carbon trading. The plan, which the Obama administration finalized in 2015, emphasizes interstate cooperation and creates a system where trading can take place without any special interstate agreements. However, the plan’s future is uncertain as it’s currently tied up in court, and Trump and Pruitt have been ardent critics of it. According to some legal minds considering the plan’s prospects while weighing the tools at Trump’s disposal, the future looks bleak for the Clean Power Plan.

Environmental groups fear a scraping, weakening or delaying of critical rules may be the new approach of the incoming administration.

“This nomination makes it clear that environmental protections will not be a priority for the Trump administration, and that business interests will help weaken our laws,” Silva-Chávez says.

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