Science & Environment

Trump's environment plans could spark opposition

Trump protesters Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Environmental campaigners are gearing up to oppose Donald Trump's plans for the environment

Proposals by the Trump administration to roll back US environmental regulations are likely to foment opposition, say analysts.

The President-elect is likely to push forward plans for fracking and drilling for oil and gas on federal lands.

Campaigners say that this is likely to be opposed in the courts, in Congress and lead to protests.

President Obama is trying to limit the impact of the next administration by extending existing protections.

While much attention since Mr Trump's election has focused on the President-elect's threats to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, there is growing concern among green groups about the impact of other aspects of the Trump environmental plan.

One key element is the expansion of oil and gas production on publicly owned lands. At present there is a moratorium on energy recovery in federal areas, and the Trump team has promised to lift this, and encourage fracking and drilling.

President-elect Trump has also been vocal in his support for projects such as the XL oil pipeline, which President Obama rejected.

Attempts to open up public lands for oil and gas, and to push through pipelines will likely attract significant public resistance, say observers.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption There is likely to be a push for increased fracking for oil and gas under the Trump administration

"I think there'll be a lot of people who were very willing to get in the streets and you know, protest with civil disobedience and we're likely to see some real confrontations there," said Dean Baker, an economist with the Centre for Economic and Policy Research.

Environmental campaigners also take the view that opening up federal lands for resource extraction would be foolish and would help unify the opposition.

"I think they will try to expand fracking and mining and drilling on public lands," said Michael Brune from the Sierra Club.

"But that will be pretty fiercely resisted by people who live near those communities, both progressive and conservatives alike."

Even if the Trump administration succeeds in overturning the current moratorium, there may not be a rush from oil and gas companies to exploit these reserves.

"Most of these shale gas (and tight oil) resources are on private lands, according to the Congressional Research Service, so "opening up" public lands will do little to induce production until prices rise and could even have a depressing effect on prices," writes Alan Krupnick in a blog post for Resources for the Future, an independent economic research organisation.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption At a recent meeting with the New York Times, the President-elect said he had an open mind on climate change

"If prices were to fall, the advantage natural gas has over coal would further widen unless coal prices fell as well."

As well as opening up public lands for oil and gas, the incoming administration is likely to try and overturn existing environmental regulations.

In an interview in 2015 Donald Trump labelled the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "a disgrace" and promised to cut the department if elected.

He has appointed Myron Ebell, well known for his opposition to the scientific consensus on climate change, to head the EPA transition team.

It's likely that many of the actions taken by the EPA, especially recent regulations on methane emissions from pipelines and installations will now be overturned.

"I think these regulations are going to get a very critical look, as to what they're doing in terms of the economic cost versus the climate benefits," said Nick Loris, from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

"I don't know if you will see an energy revolution but I do think there's going to be a look at this regulatory onslaught that's choked off investment to specific energy technologies and energy sources."

The biggest casualty of the Trump presidency is likely to be the Clean Power Plan, the centre piece of the Obama administration's attempts to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation by a third within 15 years.

This plan has already run into trouble in the the courts and even if it isn't ultimately thrown out by the judges, the new administration is likely to let it wither on the vine.

Environmentalists are hopeful though, that the plan has already had some impacts on energy production.

"We have made so much progress in replacing coal with clean energy that many of the early goals of the Clean Power Plan have already been met," said Michael Brune.

"So undermining it won't have the effect that people thought two years ago."

With 29 states now having regulations in place that mandate a proportion of their energy comes from renewable sources, this will also make it difficult for President-elect Trump to turn back the renewable tide and boost coal without getting into a battle with the state governors.

One area where President Obama is rapidly trying to secure his environmentally friendly legacy is through giving extra protections to federal lands.

Earlier this week, the US department of the interior banned gold mining in an area near Yellowstone national park. There are expectations that he will try and extend protection from mining in Utah, Nevada and around the Grand Canyon.

While time is running out for President Obama, the imminent arrival of the Trump environmental agenda is doing wonders for environmental campaigners - Donations are rocketing, and memberships are rising.

"We have seen a surge of donations and volunteers that we haven't see in two decades in the last two weeks," said Michael Brune for the Sierra Club.

"It is good that people are uniting around Trump's proposals, but it is an unwanted silver lining."

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