Environmentalists reeling from stunning reversals under US President Trump

 File photo of protesters during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC on June 1, 2017.
File photo of protesters during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC on June 1, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - The Donald Trump administration is reportedly set to rescind rules put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, meant to prevent a repetition of the largest oil spill in American waters.

It will be only the latest in what may be one of Mr Trump's most far reaching legacies and one that he has achieved very quickly - the dismantling of federal environmental regulations.

Some of this has been in the name of states' rights, and for the primary benefit of the fossil fuel industry, with the aim of transforming America into a global energy powerhouse.

"Trump has rolled out the most corporatist… administration since at least the age of the robber barons," Mr Bob Deans, author and director of strategic engagement at the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), wrote in a memo last week.

"He has raided, or signaled plans to raid, public waters and lands - from the oceans and coasts of the Eastern Seaboard to the teeming Arctic wilds of Alaska - and exposed them to industrial ruin for the sake of big oil, coal and gas," he wrote.

"This has happened at lightning speed, with powerful input from lobbies and corporate interests," Ms Sharon Guynup, a Global Fellow at the Wilson Centre in Washington told The Straits Times.

Within days of taking office in January 2017, Mr Trump signed off on two multibillion dollar oil pipelines, Keystone XL and Dakota Access, which had been stalled on environmental concerns and objections from Native American tribes.

  • Some key environmental reversals under Trump

  • December
    - Drops climate change from list of national security threats
    - Announces plans to reduce the size of the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument created by President Barack Obama in 2016, by 85 per cent; and the 1.88-million acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, by nearly half.
    - Opens part of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration

    October
    Environmental Protection Agency scraps Obama-era Clean Power Plan designed to slash carbon emissions

    June
    US pulls out of Paris Agreement on curbing climate change

    May
    Calls for slashing Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 per cent – which translates into a US $2.7 billion reduction and the loss of 3,200 jobs, according to the World Resources Institute.

    April
    Orders a review of Obama-era bans on offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans.

On June 1, he withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement on curbing global warming.

Last week, Mr Trump celebrated the opening up of part of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration. Earlier this month, he shrank protection for two vast National Monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, by nearly two million acres.

The borders of others are being reviewed - under the logic that the land should be given back to the people rather than be controlled by Washington.

In November, Mr Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told an America First Energy Conference in Houston, Texas, "Washington has become way too consequential in the lives of Americans across the country, and the president has elected to change that."

About 60 environmental regulations have already overturned or are in the cross hairs, Ms Guynup told The Straits Times.

Some of the rollbacks are being challenged in the courts.

But the sea change under Mr Trump is deep. Mr Pruitt, who as Republican attorney general of Oklahoma spent much time challenging the regulations of the EPA - the very agency he now heads, is openly sceptical of the scientific consensus that human activity, specifically greenhouse gas emission, is contributing to global warming. In his campaign, Mr Trump famously remarked that global warming was a Chinese hoax.

In a joint opinion article in June in the right-leaning Washington Times, Mr Pruitt, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, wrote : "For the first time in four decades, the energy story in the United States is about becoming an energy exporter and no longer about peak resources or being beholden to foreign powers.

"Becoming energy dominant means that we are getting government out of the way. For years, Washington stood in the way of our energy dominance. That changes now."

It is an overdue shift, said Mr Ed Russo, an environmental consultant who has worked with the President's company Trump Organisation for more than a decade.

He told the journal The Hill this week: "For the past 10 years, there were certain aspects of energy that you couldn't talk about in Washington, coal being one of them.

"I think that global warming has been a very hurtful distraction for the environmental community."

Similarly, on Dec 18, Dr Jay Lehr, science director at the right wing Heartland Institute - which hosted the Houston conference - noted that dropping climate change as a national security threat in the National Security Strategy was "one of the most important of the many actions the President has taken".

Meanwhile, under Mr Pruitt, more than 700 people, including over 200 scientists and 96 environmental protection specialists, have left the EPA, according to a joint report published last week by The New York Times and ProPublica, a non-profit organisation dedicated to investigative journalism.

The departures reflected poor morale and a sense of grievance after criticism of the EPA by Mr Trump and top Republicans, the report said

An EPA officer who spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity, confirmed reports of demoralisation.

"It's true, morale is very low," she said. "I'm looking to change jobs myself."