What Voting Republican Might Mean for the Environment

This presidential race has been laughable at best. (Honestly, some kids created a Cards-Against-Humanity spinoff to poke fun at the 2016 election.) But I cannot avoid the Donald Trump conversation any longer, as he has clinched some pretty big victories, causing Rubio to drop out of the race.The prospect of Trump becoming the next U.S. president is getting closer to reality. What seemed like a joke in the beginning has turned into a nightmare for the country… Especially for the environment.

Republican Presidential Candidates and the Environment

If Trump becomes the next U.S. president — now this is still a big “if”– he will get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and instead let individual states enact environmental protection laws on their own accord. This has the potential to be a huge problem; some environmentalists and critics argue that this may encourage states to limit the amount of environmental protection in order to attract businesses.

Despite a wealth of scientific evidence proving man-made climate change is fact, naive Trump does not believe it exists. And in fact, he has called measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions a hoax. John Kasich too has denied climate change, calling it “some theory that’s not proven”. Somehow, these Presidential candidates still deny the existence of human-caused climate change, despite the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that this exists.

Electing Trump (or any Republican for that matter) will also endanger the global climate agreement. As some of you may know, at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris last December, the world’s countries signed a historic treaty, the Paris Agreement, to limit emissions worldwide.

However, the agreement must still be ratified by each country. In the U.S., ratification before the end of President Obama’s term will definitely not happen, so the decision is up to the next US President. Although Trump has not expressed a position to veto this ratification, we can assume he might, as he has indicated his disbelief for climate change. If he were to veto it, the whole agreement may unravel. If the U.S. backs out, other large emitters (e.g., China) may also back out.

Hypothetically, if President Trump does not use his veto power on this issue, getting the US to its 26% emissions reduction commitment will still be a challenge, as Trump will decrease federal resources to do so, starting with eliminating the EPA.

But he’s not the only anti-environment Republican candidate. Before Rubio dropped out of the race, he branded the EPA as the “employment prevention agency”. Of the other candidates still in the race, Ted Cruz calls the EPA “radical” and Kasich also argued that the 2015 Clean Power Plan “must be scrapped and not replaced”.

In fact, all Republican candidates have argued the legality of the EPA’s move to limit carbon emissions from power plants. 

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Let’s Talk About the 2015 Clean Power Plan

During his two terms, President Obama worked with the EPA to enact new regulations. Obama used his executive power, and by doing so, bypassed the Republican-controlled Congress who is hostile to climate legislation. He used the EPA to put limits on power plant and vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

This action is controversial because the EPA is only mandated to deal with pollution (and not specifically carbon emissions). When it was created in 1970, the EPA’s mission was solely to enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. But, obviously, a lot has changed since then.

In 2009, the EPA labeled carbon an air pollutant to get around this problem. By doing so, the agency was able to enact the Clean Power Plan in 2015 under a provision of the Clean Air Act that allows the EPA to set emissions standards for existing “stationary sources” (i.e., power plants, as opposed to vehicles for example). The Clean Power Plan aims to limit power plant emissions mainly from coal-fired power plants.

Critics question the legality of the plan because they argue the Clean Power Plan applies to the whole electricity system rather than to individual power plants. Prior to Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month, the US Supreme Court put the federal plan on hold (a 5-4 decision) while the legal battle continues and until the high court itself heard their opponents’ case.

It is likely that this stay will continue throughout the end of Obama’s presidency, which means the next president can decide whether to keep and defend the policy or abandon it completely. If a Republican is elected – whether it be Trump, Cruz, or Kasich – it is more than likely that this plan will be scrapped.

On the other hand, voting Democrat could mean good things for the Clean Power Plan. Because Senate Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they will not confirm anyone that President Obama nominates for the Supreme Court, it is likely that the decision will fall to the next President to name the next justice. So, if the next President is a Democrat (i.e., Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton), he or she will likely choose a more liberal justice. Currently, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee- Merrick Garland, a current DC Circuit Court chief judge-  seems to be pro-environmental regulation. Sanders or Clinton will likely nominate someone with similar credentials.

In this case, if the nominee is confirmed before the Clean Power Plan decision, there is a good chance that the new justice would vote to uphold the Plan. (And if the next President is a Republican, the Supreme Court nomination doesn’t matter too much in this case because the President would more than likely scrap the plan administratively. Otherwise, the hypothetical Republican President’s conservative Supreme Court Nominee wouldn’t likely uphold the Plan.)

So, if a Democrat wins the Presidency, the opening of a new slot on the Supreme Court makes the Clean Power Plan’s survival much likelier. If a Republican wins, you can definitely say goodbye to Clean Power.

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