President-elect Donald Trump’s naming of climate change skeptic Myron Ebell to lead the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency has some folks cheering and others dismayed.
Seldom did environmental issues enter the discussion among candidates seeking the office of president.
Consultants and pundits explain that the topic doesn’t have “legs,” so spending time on it doesn’t make political sense. That is because the issue has never rated very high on the list of people’s concerns.
On the list of 18 concerns identified in the survey, the environment ranked No. 13 among the priorities and climate change was No. 16.
Nevertheless, outgoing President Barack Obama has focused on establishing the U.S. as the world’s leader in developing aggressive controls of greenhouse gas emissions as the solution to global warming.
He made it one of his legacy issues.
During Obama’s first two years in office, there was a bold effort to write new environmental laws when his party controlled both houses of Congress.
However, the matter proved so controversial that Democrats could not reach consensus even among themselves, and the plan to develop such statutes was abandoned.
Not to be deterred by an uncooperative Congress, the president then instructed the EPA to proceed with new control measures under existing environmental laws to achieve his objectives.
That resulted in historic production of rules and regulations, with the principal targets being the country’s power plants, especially those burning coal as their primary fuel.
Doing so was consistent with Obama’s promise at the beginning of his first term to “bankrupt” electric providers using coal.
The first of EPA’s plans to rein in coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, was to effectively eliminate its use in new power plants.
There was some resistance, but such rules were finalized and then the agency’s attention was directed at regulating the use of coal in existing power plants.
The result of that regulatory journey was for EPA to be sued by about half the states, much of the power industry, coal producers and others. Now it’s all in the hands of the judicial branch and will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
Or maybe not.
If the new president instructs his new head of EPA to cease the war on coal and perhaps craft a different approach to dealing with climate change, then most of what has taken place up to now will be rolled back.
That is cause for alarm among environmental groups, climate scientists and other countries that are parties to the international agreement to develop solutions to global warming.
The larger concern is that Trump, by putting EPA in the hands of Ebell, who questions whether any of this is necessary, would put the whole matter of climate change on the back burner.
There is one more thing to realize when examining all of this: Trump campaigned heavily in the swing states with economies and jobs highly dependent on the production and use of coal.
Hillary Clinton told coal miners they were going to have to find new work and recommended they focus on the coming era of wind and solar energy for their futures.
The election results have given environmental issues those “legs” they never had before. Trump’s meeting with The New York Times brass on Tuesday suggests his environmental strategy is very much a work in progress.
We’ll see how all this develops as the new administration begins.