As of Jan. 3rd, the Trump Administration ruled that industries no longer need to account for climate change when assessing the environmental effects of major infrastructure projects. Previously, the half-a-century old National Environmental Policy Act served to both limit the entry of planet-warming greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, as well as properly assess the effects of global warming such as rising sea levels and increased temperatures on the infrastructure projects themselves.
The government plays a major role in environmental policy changes such as this. According to Dr. Amanda Harwood, professor of environmental science, “At the most basic level, the legislative branch makes decisions, and the president or governor will veto those decisions. On the national level, the president selects cabinet members such as the head of the E.P.A. Those higher officials are not chosen necessarily because they’re superior scientists, but because of politics.”
Because politics so heavily mingle with environmental policy, major changes to policies may be made without the main goal in mind — safety. “The main thing about policy is that it’s supposed to protect you. You don’t want to have to think ‘Can I breathe outside today?’ or ‘Can I drink the water from my tap?’ because, hypothetically, the Safe Drinking Water Act should be protecting you,” said Harwood.
Proponents of the changes to the National Environmental Policy Act may not know the environmental risks associated with large infrastructure projects. In some cases, environmentally negligent shortcuts may be taken to complete infrastructure projects as quickly as possible. “There are lots of different things that could happen with big infrastructure projects from chemical spills to habitat destruction. The effects are site and project specific. Generally, impact statements must be done before starting major infrastructure projects,” said Harwood.
Many disagree with the Trump Administration’s ruling on the changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, and feel that it favors the interests of big businesses over environmental concerns.
“Of course, industries should take climate change into consideration before major infrastructure projects. Especially with the extent of how the climate crisis is going at the moment, I definitely believe we should not be giving outs to companies, and there needs to be more restrictions with everything going on in the country and other countries as well,” said Monika Tomica, (‘20).
The battles between environmentalists and big businesses often seem never ending. In order for one to thrive, the other must suffer as they compete to either build-upon or conserve the same plots of land. “We have to prioritize. We have to decide where our compromise is. Do we care that we have clean air and clean water? To what degree are we willing to sacrifice habitats to build a bridge or a pipeline?” said Harwood.
In spite of the government’s heavy hand on environmental policy, citizens of the United States still have a large role in selecting the people who make these major decisions. Voting for environmentally conscious candidates ensures that environmental concerns are addressed with thoughtfulness and care. “You can drive policy when you vote. If you want clean air, clean water and clean food, you have to vote for people who want you to have clean air, water and food,” said Harwood.