Until December 2, 1970, there was no Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That happens to be the date that controversial Republican President Richard Nixon signed the executive order that founded it. The fact that the next Republican President of the United States is set to destroy, dismantle, or at least severely weaken the EPA is deeply ironic – something not lost on the former head of the agency.
Christine Whitman, the EPA chief under George W Bush and a Republican herself, pointed out that “conservation is inherently conservative,” adding that she “hopes to be proven wrong by Mr Trump, but you have so many multi-millionaires from the oil industry in his cabinet.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, she said: “I find it very worrisome that there seems to be a disdain for the science on protecting the environment.” Whitman told reporters that she fears for the future of her grandchildren.
“I worry terribly for the future of my family and families round the world because Mother Nature has never observed geopolitical boundaries,” she added. “To walk away from something where you have 97% of scientists saying this is occurring and people have an impact on it … it's gotten to the point where we've got to try to slow it down if we're going to survive it.”
Whitman may be a Republican – a party known today for its anti-environmental stance – but she rarely followed party lines when it came to scientific discourse. In fact, it was the Bush administration’s insistence that the EPA ease air pollution restrictions back in 2003 that led to her resignation.
The former Governor of New Jersey is demonstrably not a fan of Trump either, having penned several op-eds explaining why Clinton was her choice for the 45th President. Clearly, when it comes to the environment, the two will likely never see eye to eye.
The idea that environmental protection is inherently conservative makes intuitive sense, but it’s been a long time since that applied in reality.
It’s been well documented that plenty of lawmakers – primarily Republicans, traditionally the conservative party in the US – allowed themselves to be heavily lobbied by the fossil fuel industry from the 90s onwards. This drive, along with a profoundly disturbing campaign of misinformation, has peaked with the nomination and success of a Republican candidate that has often referred to climate change as a hoax.
Of course, the President-elect is not really a conservative in many ways, but a populist, and conserving the environment isn’t important to someone who claims to be the people’s voice. Ironically, most people – including Republican voters, these days – actually accept the science of climate change and want America to do something about it.
Still, Trump, more than anything, is an independent, from facts, science, and expert opinion for the most part. That’s probably why he’s appointed a climate change-denying attorney general to head the EPA, a man who has spent much of his career trying to sue the EPA.
“I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does,” Whitman told Grist back in December.
There is hope, however – the rest of the world is going to stick to the Paris agreement, and market forces are ensuring that coal will never make a comeback. And then there’s outgoing President Obama, who’s making it as difficult as possible for Trump to turn back time on his legacy of environmental conservation.
By protecting as much federal land and water as possible, Obama is building an environmental firewall that cannot be quickly dismantled once Trump takes office.
[H/T: BBC News]