Blair Horner: An Environmental Year In Review

Dec 31, 2018

In a year of unrelenting drama out of Washington, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the big changes being advanced by the Trump Administration, most notably its determined push to eviscerate programs that combat global warming.

There is no dispute that the Earth is heating up and the overwhelming scientific consensus is that the warming is due primarily to human activities. In fact, scientists are now arguing that unless significant steps are taken now, the planet is nearing the point of no return; a point at which it will be nearly impossible to avert a worldwide environmental catastrophe.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is hell-bent on ignoring science and pushing the planet over the cliff toward a world in which hundreds of millions – if not billions – of people will suffer the consequences.

During 2018, the Trump Administration has:

  • Lifted restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants., the dirtiest of fossil fuels
  • Discontinued a scientific review panel that advised the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about safe levels of air pollution.
  • Proposed changes to freeze fuel efficiency standards at 37 miles per gallon, instead of the Obama-era policy that would have boosted efficiency over time to 54 mpg.
  • Rolled back regulations on oil and gas companies to monitor and mitigate releases of methane from wells and other operations. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
  • Ended NASA's Carbon Monitoring System, which was intended to improve the monitoring of global carbon emissions.

Beyond direct attacks on programs designed to curb global warming, the Trump Administration this year advanced other plans to weaken environmental and public health regulations,

  • Easing restrictions on oil and gas drilling across millions of acres of protected environmental habitats in 11 western states.
  • Allowing five oil and gas companies to search for lucrative oil and gas deposits in the Atlantic Ocean floor from New Jersey to Florida.
  • Approving the oil and gas development of U.S. Arctic.
  • Advancing a plan to significantly weaken clean water regulations. And more.

Which brings us to New York State.

New York alone cannot reverse the disastrous policies of the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress. But states like New York must advance science-based policies in order to show that government can make a positive difference, advance plans that protect the public’s health without harming the economy, and that it can be done in an open manner.

Here are a few steps:

  1. Commit to moving the state to 100% clean energy. Governor Cuomo has pledged to move New York to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040. The pledge is the easy part, making it happen is much harder. A critical component will be ensuring that the intermediate steps to achieve that goal are met and independently verified. Transparency and accountability must be critical components of any clean energy plan.
  2. Commit resources to clean up New York’s drinking water. New York’s abundant water resources are a precious natural treasure. Although the state’s water systems predominantly deliver safe water to residents, they are vulnerable to threats of contamination from a number of different sources that have grown in recent years, including: an aging and crumbling infrastructure; an industrial legacy of toxic sites; newer, unregulated toxic chemical threats; industrial and fossil fuel transportation and development; and the impacts of climate change.
  3. Develop a solid waste strategy that focuses on reducing the waste that is generated, like plastic bags and other containers, prioritizes reusing products, such as electronic devices, and boosts investments in recycling programs.

The Governor and the Legislature are due to begin a new session next week. It’s their best opportunity to make sure that New York shows the nation the way toward a

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.