Submitted July 30, 2020 as an Op-Ed to The New York Times
The Troubling Consequences of Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks
By Kayli Ottomanelli, studying social environmental science and sustainability at the University of Mary Washington, and an intern for the Rappahannock Group of the Sierra Club.
In less than 100 days Americans will vote in the fall presidential election. This election will have a far greater impact on peoples’ lives than many voters realize. Since Donald Trump assumed the presidency in 2017, he has made it his top priority to dismantle many of the environmental protections established under the Obama administration. The New York Times (NYT) has kept a running count of every environmental law Trump has modified or reversed during his tenure (1). The count now stands at approximately 100 environmental rollbacks (1). What the article will not tell you, however, is that these rollbacks will cause over 79,700 premature deaths annually and put another 73.6 million Americans at risk of serious injury or illness (2-8, 11-16). If Trump were elected to a second term, these deaths and debilitating illnesses will continue to climb precipitously.
Many might wonder how such a shockingly large death count could have been overlooked and unreported. The answer? Until now, we have only reviewed the costs of individual environmental rollbacks, not the cumulative effects of every action combined. In some cases, the consequences of an environmental rollback have been easy to identify due to widespread coverage by the media. For example, Trump’s replacement of the Clean Power Plan made dozens of headlines when the EPA predicted the new policy would result in 1,400 premature deaths (7). It reappeared in the news when the Natural Resources Defense Council found this number to be closer to 5,200 premature deaths annually (8). Other reversals have received less attention. Case in point, the new EPA regulations on lead and copper in drinking water doubled the time allotted to replace poisonous lead pipes (3). That made fewer headlines despite increasing the risk of lead poisoning for the 18 million Americans whose water systems still contain high levels of lead (11). It can be difficult to comprehend the collective effects of 100 individual actions on our health and livelihoods. Regardless, actions do accumulate and the consequences are far worse than we ever imagined.
The death count we face now is not due to benign neglect or sheer ignorance; the Trump administration is well-aware of the costs that accompany their policy changes. Vermont Law School Professor, Patrick Parenteau, has noted that in virtually every environmental rollback, Trump’s E.P.A. has acknowledged in the fine print that their legislative changes will cause increased pollution, resulting in an enormous surge in health problems and deaths (2). Donald Trump is willfully exchanging American lives for the favor of industry leaders. The Declaration of Independence proclaims that every American has the right to the blessings of liberty: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Upon entering office, Trump took an oath promising to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the blessings of liberty and prosperity it guarantees to citizens of the United States. Despite this, Trump has taken upon himself to revoke the unalienable rights of 79,700 Americans in order to repeal “unnecessary” regulations that burden businesses (1). By “burden,” he means laws that interfere with company profits, regardless of the impact on everyday citizens. By failing to act for the American people, Trump is not performing his duties as President and should not be considered for a second term.
Trump has defended his environmental policy decisions by citing their benefits to the economy. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has boasted that the Trump Administration’s environmental rollbacks have saved American businesses $6.5 billion (10). However, a thriving economy means little if it is built upon the misfortune of those it is intended to benefit. According to Kip Viscusi, an economist at Vanderbilt University, government agencies currently value a statistical human life at $10 million (9). Using that valuation, Trump has cost the nation $797 billion from his environmental rollbacks alone. However, the death tally from our president should also include his failure to effectively address the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions sickened, nearly 150,000 dead, and the count continues to climb day-by-day. How many more Americans must sicken and die due to Trump’s environmental policies and gross mismanagement of the pandemic? If Trump remains president, he will continue to cost the nation billions with his deliberate disregard for human life.
Trump’s presidency has caused this nation irreparable damage. He has only prolonged the slow death of the oil, gas, and coal industries; while dramatically reducing the resiliency of our lands and waterways in the process. Our nation will never be great as long as we have a President that favors power and profit over human well-being. To prevent further unnecessary death and suffering, every effort must be made to defeat Trump in the upcoming presidential election. Every vote cast for Donald Trump will further endanger the lives of American citizens. This is what hangs in the balance in this November’s presidential election.
- Albeck-Ripka, Livia, Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich. “The Trump Administration Is Reversing 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List.” 15 July 2020. The New York Times. July 2020.
- Davenport, Coral and Lisa Friedman. “E.P.A. Weakens Controls on Mercury.” 16 April 2020. The New York Times. July 2020.
- Davenport, Coral. “New E.P.A. Lead Standards Would Slow Replacement of Dangerous Pipes.” 10 October 2019. The New York Times. July 2020.
- Environmental & Energy Law Program . “Petroleum Refinery Sector Rule (NESHAPs / NSPS).” 11 December 2018. Environmental & Energy Law Program . July 2020.
- Environmental Defense Fund. “National clean car standards.” n.d. Environmental Defense Fund . July 2020.
- Environmental Integrity Project. “Environmental Protections on the Chopping Block.” n.d. Environmental Integrity Project. July 2020.
- Freidman, Lisa. “Cost of New E.P.A. Coal Rules: Up to 1,400 More Deaths a Year.” 21 August 2018. The New York Times. July 2020.
- Friedman, Lisa. “E.P.A. Finalizes Its Plan to Replace Obama-Era Climate Rules.” 19 June 2019. The New York Times . July 2020.
- Gonzalez, Sarah. “How Government Agencies Determine The Dollar Value Of Human Life.” 23 April 2020. NPR. July 2020.
- Jackson, Derrick Z. “Derrick Z. Jackson: EPA’s new water rule is a mockery of science and the Clean Water Act.” 27 January 2020. Environmental Health News. July 2020.
- Layne, Rachel. “Lead in America’s water systems is a national problem.” 21 November 2018. CBS News. July 2020.
- Myers, Jessica. “Cronkite News: Plan to ‘revive’ uranium mining called unneeded, unwanted by advocates.” 09 June 2020. Cronkite News. July 2020.
- NYS Attorney General . “Attorney General James Sues Trump Admin For Gutting Safety Protections For Chemical Accidents.” 29 January 2020. NYS Attorney General . July 2020.
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration . ““Crystalline Silica Exposure” Health Hazard Information for General Industry Employees.” 2002. United States Department of Labor . July 2020.
- Storrow, Benjamin. “Trump’s EPA Made It Easier for Coal Plants to Pollute Waterways.” 24 September 2018. E&E News. July 2020.
- Walker, Joro. “Environmental Rollbacks by the Trump Administration Threaten Westerners’ Health and Way of Life.” 19 May 2020. Western Resource Advocates. July 2020.