The 2016 election has produced its fair share of conflict. Believing Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in as America’s next president, protesters have taken to the streets objecting to Donald Trump’s regime. Scientists claiming the 45th president is ignoring climate data in support of oil and gas conglomerates have pledged their anger, while purported attempts to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have many people waiting on pins and needles. “What will happen to the environment?” they’re asking, but the current administration is leaving many of their questions unanswered.
Stepping in to fill the void, a group of former Republican cabinet members and economists has proposed a conservative climate solution based on taxing CO2 emissions and returning the funds to working class Americans via a dividend system.
While the plan is a breath of fresh air coming from the right — which regularly seeks to delegitimize science — it’s unlikely to be implemented by a government teeming with climate deniers.
An Assault on the EPA
Douglas Smith is an environmental scientist and retired senior compliance investigator for the EPA. For 36 years, he traveled overseas helping governments develop their environmental programs. He’s also a contributing writer for Planet Experts, and he agreed to offer his thoughts on the chaotic transition America is witnessing at the EPA.
“It’s extremely top heavy with management,” he said. “Regulatory oversight is necessary as history has indicated that without oversight, pollution increases almost immediately. EPA has a research and grant role that is vital in setting standards.”
At present, a bill proposing the outright destruction of the EPA — HR 861 — is beginning its journey through Congress. The text is not available as of yet, though the bill calls for a “smooth transition” of EPA-based federal power to individual states. Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz proposed the bill in early February and has since picked up the support of several lawmakers, including Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Steven Palazzo of Mississippi and Barry Loudermilk of Georgia.
“The EPA makes rules that undermine the voice of the American people and threaten jobs in Kentucky,” Massie said, voicing support for the measure.
While the situation sounds odd (and maybe a little nerve-racking), Smith is convinced the bill lacks the power to make any real headway.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said confidently. “There are a lot of bills proposed that never make it. The public stands with the EPA. More than half of people in the U.S. recognize climate change. The world recognizes the EPA as the ultimate authority on climate change.”
Dismantling the EPA would also leave approximately 15,000 federal employees in need of new jobs, which could bear massive repercussions on U.S. agencies.
Instead, Smith believes the administration will take a different approach.
“They will try to cut the budget,” he explained. “If they cut money, they can’t travel, so they can’t monitor the industry. That way, the White House can say the agency is failing and not doing its job. Then, should Trump win a second term, he can talk more about directly dismantling the EPA from there.”
According to Smith, the EPA is set up so that the most knowledgeable and qualified individuals reside at the bottom. This group often consists of scientists, engineers and technical staffers, while those residing at the top are directly appointed. They do not work their way through the agency, and they arrive bearing the same political bias of whatever administration they serve.
“Budget cuts for the EPA usually hit highly educated and trained staff first,” Smith said. “Not middle or senior management. Like most bureaucracies, over time they have promoted the dead wood up the chain because it is so difficult to lay off a federal employee once they have career status.”
A Conservative Solution to Climate Change?
As questions arise regarding the future of our country’s environment, a new climate plan is earning considerable notice from both sides of the political spectrum. Created by high-ranking cabinet members from previous Republican administrations, as well as business leaders like Rob Walton, the former chairman of Walmart, the plan covers four distinct but interconnected pillars of action that rely upon one another to creative effective policy.
- The first calls for a solid tax on carbon emissions. The idea is to start out small, and gradually increase the tax over time for those who prove unwilling to cooperate.
- The second step involves giving these collected taxes and funds back to working Americans through “quarterly dividend checks.”
- Thirdly, companies exporting goods to nations without applicable carbon pricing would receive rebates, while imports would be taxed on their carbon content. This could protect the competitiveness of American businesses and inspire other regions to adopt their own carbon-pricing policies.
- Lastly, regulations made unnecessary through the tax would be outright eliminated (this includes the Clean Power Plan).
While much of Obama’s legacy is tied to his work in environmental defense, a combative Republican Congress ensured that legislation passed during his presidency did little to attack climate change head-on. As a result, Obama was forced to rely on his executive powers — a less-desirable strategy that has left his legacy more vulnerable to dismantling by future presidents.
As the White House and Congress move into Republican hands, the idea of a “repeal-only” climate program — where Obama’s regulations are axed without adding new protections — is terrifying to many Americans, argue the plan’s authors. The idea that one administration can reverse everything the previous cabinet had set in motion develops an “on again, off again” system for environmental regulations, which in the long run, hurts businesses and government agencies alike.
“Regulations or no regulations makes it extremely difficult for long-term budgeting and planning,” Smith said.
The plan’s authors describe it as the one that can work for all. They boast widespread support from an array of economists, while the Treasury Department states that nearly 223 million individuals stand to benefit from the plan’s dividends. As great as it all sounds, however, Smith says there’s likely be hurdles along the way, especially as the plan gains momentum.
“This Congress isn’t going to give money back to the people,” he said. “They’re going to give it to businesses. Also, this administration does not believe in climate change. Every single major committee that has to do with science, technology and the economy is run by a climate denier.”
According to Smith, the only way for the plan to work is if all four sections are accepted simultaneously, and he says there’s a slim chance of that happening.
“It’s going to have trouble in Congress because they’re going to want to take it apart and have certain points passed at different times,” he explains. “We have to have all four parts right now.”
But perhaps the biggest problem with the program is its timing.
“The plan is late,” Smith warns. “This is all taking place as we near the drop-dead time limits of global warming and climate change. If we don’t reduce global emissions 30 percent by 2020, we face two permanent problems: We will exceed two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and the exponential costs of emissions reductions climb dangerously beyond what the global economy can handle.”
And that, warns Smith, could spell irreversible doom.
“The combination of these two factors will lead to a loss of global security through famine, failed regimes, migration and military unrest,” he said. “I’ve come to this date based upon emissions calculations by every major research report and national science academy assessment. We have already emitted about 650 gigatons of carbon and achieved over one degree Celsius. Over half of those emissions have been in the past 30 years, so you can see how important the science is. NASA, NOAA, the EPA and science research needs more support, not less.”