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Commentary: How the planet could survive another Trump term

Mark Gongloff, Liam Denning, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Science & Technology News

A second Donald Trump presidency would be a nightmare for Earth’s climate (among other things). But in the same way your immune system builds up defenses after exposure to a virus, efforts to fight global warming are stronger now than the first time Trump attacked them. But he could still do significant damage from the White House.

In his first term, Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, rolled back environmental regulations, unleashed oil and gas drilling and more. His advisers seem to think he didn’t go far enough. Report after report after report quotes them planning for “all-out war on climate science and policies” that will make first-term Trump look like Al Gore by comparison.

President Joe Biden has taken flak from environmentalists for approving the Willow project in Alaska and overseeing a surge in exports of liquefied natural gas. But he has also driven significant investments in the green-energy transition, starting with the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act’s nominal $370 billion in climate spending. He has limited oil exploration in the Alaskan wilderness and effectively frozen new LNG export terminals. All told, he has taken climate more seriously than any predecessor since Jimmy “Solar Panels on the White House” Carter.

Trump could quickly, and with gusto, wreck much of that progress. Here’s a survey of some of the strengths and weaknesses the climate movement would bring to a second Trump term.

Executive Orders: Weakness

Most vulnerable are Biden’s climate-related executive actions, including rejoining the Paris accord and ordering the federal government to decarbonize by 2050. Trump can undo these with the stroke of a pen on his first day back in the Oval Office. Biden himself canceled 11 of Trump’s climate-related orders on his first day.

 

Inflation Reduction Act: A Wash

It will be trickier to undo the IRA, which could funnel government support to the green-energy transition for years. The analogy here is the Affordable Care Act, passed under the administration of Biden’s former boss. Republicans campaigned relentlessly against the ACA but could never repeal it. In the IRA’s case, most benefits flow to red states and districts — election battleground Georgia figures prominently — making any such effort particularly awkward, especially if Democrats hold at least one chamber of Congress.

But Trump could hamstring the IRA by tweaking Internal Revenue Service regulations to make accessing IRA tax benefits more difficult. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, whose vote for the IRA was crucial, has railed against the Biden administration ever since for interpreting its domestic content provisions in ways that prioritize green, rather than protectionist, elements. Trump, who has dragged his own party to support protectionism, would surely reverse those priorities. He could also effectively shut down the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, which acts like a cleantech venture fund.

Green Economics: Strength

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