Earth Day 2016 marked major progress on the issue of climate change. In an April 22nd New York ceremony, representatives of several countries signed the Paris Agreement to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions under the auspices of the United Nations. To date, the agreement has been signed by 194 nations. Just when the United States government started showing leadership and progress on environmental issues, the new presidential administration has proposed gutted funding for numerous departments charged with researching and improving environmental conditions including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This week the Trump administration meets to debate pulling out of the Paris accord.
The debate comes at a time when public sentiment heavily supports more environmentally friendly public policy as shown by a recent Yale University Program on Climate Communication study. Not surprisingly, residents in regions experiencing the biggest changes are most concerned. Floridians reflect the average national rate of 70 percent, however, those who live closer to the coast are more likely to be aware of and concerned about climate change than those living inland. Traditionally a partisan issue with Democrats more worried than Republicans, Florida residents buck this trend with Republican strongholds near southern coastline expressing concern well above the national average. One issue that transcends the partisan divide is the funding of renewable fuel resources – in toss-up state, Florida, 82 percent of residents favor renewable research funding while Republican stronghold states like Nebraska and South Dakota poll at 81 percent and 82 percent respectively.
Feelings around climate change vary in Colorado. In heavily Democrat Congressional District 1 which includes Denver, 74 percent of residents show concern over climate change while in Republican District 4 which includes rural areas in northeast Colorado, residents polled at 66 percent. As in Florida, some areas of Colorado that are tourist dependent, like ski and biking areas, are more likely to express concern. Glenwood Springs showed 74 percent of residents are concerned about climate change while Steamboat polled at 71 percent, Breckenridge at 77 percent, and Edwards at 76 percent, all well above the national average. Overall, 83 percent of Colorado residents favor renewable energy research funding, 74 percent want carbon dioxide regulated and 67 percent want utilities to be required to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.
The proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency involve more than just climate change issues. Water system monitoring is scheduled to be cut by more than a third, including programs that are supposed to prevent issues like undrinkable water in Flint, Michigan. Also on the chopping block are programs to enforce environmental violators and to monitor vehicle efficiency programs, clean up of Superfund sites, and radiation response programs.
Colorado environmental activists balk at any cuts. Denver environmental consultant, Kendra Sandoval remarked, “I find it very interesting that we are at a time in history when an overwhelming majority of the Earth Science community has clearly tested, proved and accepted that Climate Change is happening and in fact at a faster rate than previously understood, and at the same time the current leaders of the United States are looking at cutting budgets to the EPA which has historically been a watchdog providing security and a first line mechanism of defense against threats to our planetary health starting with our own country! The EPA was designed to protect us from ourselves, so that the United States would not mindlessly devour all of our own open space, imbalance the natural flow of water systems and keep our families and animals safe from unseen threats that come in the form of poisons, noxious chemicals and toxic soils. What is absolutely shocking at this point in history is for the United States leaders to think that pulling out more carbon resources from the Earth to use for fuel is actually an economic solution for growth. The lack of consideration within the context of green house gas emissions and the detriment that these have on human, animal and plant health for future generations is bewildering.”
At the David Skaggs Research Center along the Flatirons in Boulder, NOAA laboratories study weather, solar and atmospheric impacts. Along with the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Agency (NOAA) which is housed under the Department of Commerce will experience substantial cuts to its research and monitoring programs, many of which inform scientists above rising ocean levels and fluctuations in temperature. NOAA is seen as crucial for extreme weather preparation, and agriculture, fishing and energy industries.
Sandoval continues, “Budget cuts will impact programming in Climate Change in a variety of ways. Of course there will be fewer people doing research on global climate temperatures from our own ice cores, species adaptation and extinction, rising water trends and warming temperatures - these are the direct implications of budget cuts - these are the surface components that make us cringe for we know that without preemptive measures and emergency preparedness we will be caught without a plan and potentially find ourselves in extreme situations with no idea of how to recover. But what is really terrible about the budget cuts is the breaking down of infrastructure that has taken over 50 years to build a reputation of trust and dependability around the health and well being of our planet.”
Just across town from NOAA, Dan Grossman leads the Environmental Defense Fund’s Oil and Gas Program working to protect the environment from the impacts of oil and gas development. New administration policy will hamper his efforts. According to Grossman, “The Trump administration’s efforts to unravel the Clean Power Plan threatens important progress made under the Obama administration in reducing greenhouse gasses from the power sector and will hinder efforts to meet our obligations under the Paris climate agreement. The Clean Power Plan is a critical and very popular effort to clean up pollution from power plants across the country, but the Trump administration is siding with the coal industry to try to undo it. Further, President Trump’s proposed cuts to the EPA will gut critical programs that protect American families from toxic air and water pollution and hamstring states that rely on grants from EPA to enforce their programs. The budget proposal is short-sided and absolutely wrong-headed.”
Environmental activists across the country share the concern about rollbacks in US environmental leadership. Jon Goldin-DuBois heads an organization called Western Resource Advocates working on issues of clean energy, healthy rivers and Western lands, all of which could be adversely affected by the new Trump budget. “Climate change due to carbon pollution is causing rising temperatures, more heat waves and droughts, worsening smog (ground-level ozone pollution), increased intensity and duration of wildfires, intensity of extreme weather events, and expanding the range of ticks and mosquitoes, which can spread harmful diseases. Children, older adults, people with heart or lung disease, and those living in poverty are at higher risk from the negative effects of fossil fuel pollution and climate change.” Goldin-DuBois continues, “The Trump Administration cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and rollbacks of clean air and water protections are out of step with Western values. There is strong support among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters alike for clean water and clean air. Westerners believe pollution of rivers, lakes and streams is a serious problem and huge majorities of people in the West prefer solar and wind power over other energy sources.”