Sweeping Republicans out of Congress and statehouses key to saving environment
Demonstrators sit on the ground along Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the White House in Washington, April 29, 2017, during a climate march. Thousands gathered across the country that day protest of President Donald Trump's environmental policies, which included rolling back restrictions on mining, oil drilling, and greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The 2022 elections are shaping up as a crucial battle in the fight to reverse Trump's climate reversals. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

After four years of Trump policies and cuts that have obliterated environmental protection, the Biden administration is left to pick up the pieces. Its predecessor’s administration was littered with an anti-climate, anti-science menagerie, including former lobbyists and lawyers for fossil fuel companies and chemical manufacturers—many of whom were appointed to the EPA itself. Though President Biden has been working hard to reverse Republican rollbacks to environmental laws, it’s an uphill battle with no end in sight.

In the wake of at least 100 environmental rules being reversed over four years of Trump, it may now be impossible to meet some of the U.S.’s targets in reducing emissions. The most severe encumbrance occurred when Trump withdrew the nation from the Paris climate accord, and while the U.S. has since rejoined thanks to Biden, the setback will have its repercussions.

Case in point: Under the initial terms of the climate agreement, the U.S. vowed to cut its emissions by 25% by 2025 compared with 2005 levels. Analysts say that now, however, the country is only expected to achieve a 17% reduction.

Researchers from Yale and Columbia University framed the issue quite frankly in a report issued June 1, which found that in making progress toward net-zero emissions, between 2010 and 2019 the U.S. ranked a pitiful 43rd.

“This relatively low ranking reflects the rollback of environmental protections during the Trump administration,” the report noted. “In particular, its withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and weakened methane emissions rules meant the United States lost precious time to mitigate climate change, while many of its peers in the developed world enacted policies to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”

When it comes to Trump’s anti-climate policies, the Biden administration in January put a freeze on all pending regulations that had not yet gone into effect, most of which were later nixed after a 60-day review period. This included a rule threatening the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 100-year-old legislation that protects migratory birds. The rule change would have meant that companies implicit in incidental bird deaths would not be held financially accountable.

Another potential Trump rule was one that would have only allowed the EPA to impose emissions regulations on oil and gas sectors that contributed to at least 3 percent of the country’s total emissions—that one was also canned.

The current administration’s ongoing pushback is compounded by Republican attacks on environment that are still happening—even subtly. Republican Congress members held a public event on June 2 in Hobbs, N.M., before an audience of people in the oil industry, on a so-called “climate plan,” in which they discussed an “all of the above energy policy” with an emphasis on oil and gas production. This is a stark reminder that even among those in the GOP who admit to the reality of climate change, there is absolute resistance to any departure from fossil fuels.

Photo via Center for International Environmental Law

Environmental groups have seen through the Republicans’ façade, with Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs, remarking, “This would be laughable as a climate agenda in 2022 except there is nothing funny about the climate crisis or Congressional Republicans’ obstruction of desperately needed solutions in the name of lining the pockets of their corporate allies and big oil polluters who fund their campaigns.”

Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director, called this the “latest attempt to greenhouse gaslight the American public,” and said the GOP plan would “accomplish two things: intensify the climate crisis and further line the pockets of the corporate polluters that have long bankrolled Washington Republicans.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans have been demanding action on the climate crisis for years, while Republicans mocked or ignored their pleas. Attaching ‘climate’ to [the June 2] efforts does not change that. The second one looks at this plan, they’ll see it’s rotten with the same fossil fuel proposals driving the crisis that Congressional Republicans have long promoted.”

What the Biden administration can salvage from the havoc Trump wreaked on environment is one matter, but the upcoming midterm elections will also play a pivotal role in the fight against climate change. It’s a battle for positions in Congress and for the state governorships, where those elected could make or break climate policy with the stroke of a pen. With public opinion polls suggesting Democratic losses in Congress might be likely, the already beleaguered climate fightback might need to brace itself for that blow.

“Because of those very, very high expectations, you face a letdown issue,” said Barry Rabe, environmental policy professor at the University of Michigan. “And with midterms, you’re always worried, not so much about how people vote, but whether they show up to vote. And for more climate-minded voters, what might compel them to go to the polls in November? What happens between now and then in Congress should be significant. Can Congress put something together or not? I think we got a sense of where the parties might converge late last year when the infrastructure legislation passed, which had some climate-friendly provisions in it.”

Saving the environment and the planet from the worst ravages of climate change, then, becomes one more reason people have to turn out in huge numbers in the 2022 midterms. Many understand that the survival of democracy hinges on defeating Republicans up and down the line. It is clear, too, that the survival of the planet itself is closely connected to what happens on Election Day.


Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the People's World home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend and their cats. He enjoys wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he reviews music, creates artwork, and is working on several books and digital comics.