The EPA, Trump and a Doctrine of Nothing

In June of 2014 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) detailed an audacious proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. The usual fall-out unfolded. Agency favorable Democrats and environmentalists smiled while Industry favorable Republicans, suits and the national conservative right cried: “Green is the new Red!” Now a regime change is occurring. We do not know much about what a Trump presidency might bring, but we do know he is a big supporter of the fossil fuel economy. The EPA’s regulations of greenhouse gas emissions are sure to be sent curbside.

Here we find a problem with executive authority. What one executive giveth the other may taketh away. Obama’s much touted and championed climate policies did not make their way through the halls of congress thus are not law. He issued executive orders to regulate climate. President-elect Trump has tapped Myron Bell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a leading climate skeptic, to lead his EPA transition team. It is also believed Bell is a top candidate for taking over the EPA.

Now, let’s reflect on 2016. Here in the twilight of summer Climate Change is in the news again. This summer we panted through the hottest temperatures ever recorded in human history. Thank goodness for air-conditioning, the Icee (Coke flavor, of course) and cold beer.

Over at The Hill, a February 2015 article by Jerry Taylor, of the Libertarian think-tank Niskanen Center, recently caught my eye. In it he details a possible Republican strategy for dismantling Obama’s executive orders. Basically, Taylor explains, they don’t really have one because with limited imagination they cannot think of any policy proposals that fit their world view. With Trump, lucky for them, they don’t have to dream up any tactics. This reminds me of a study by Duke University scholars Troy H. Campbell and Aaron C. Kay (“Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) that suggests politics is the root of all social ills.

The research finds that people evaluate issues based on the desirability of policy implications. If said implications are undesirable people tend to deny a problem even exists. The study uses the subject of climate change as a specific example. Most discourse regarding climate simply asks after the role of the nation, or state, in addressing global change — to carbon tax, or not to carbon tax is the question. The Washington Post‘s Chris Mooney connects the dots and notes: “Conservatives don’t hate climate science. They hate the left’s climate solutions.”

So, as climate policy implications are undesirable for the nations conservatives, to them, climate change simply doesn’t exist. To Trump, it certainly doesn’t exist. The mainstream politicos of the GOP openly and proudly deny climate science despite overwhelming consensus to the contrary. “No such thing as a footprint” is the mantra of the party. In the years since the EPA proposal we’ve watched the GOP deny climate change as a phenomenon (the moderates question human-kinds role in the process) and simultaneously promote anti-science policy proposals (such as Trump’s call for clean coal — a dirty lie). This is all we can expect for some time.

Not surprising, the party is in shambles. Climate is one of many key issues that will continue to splinter liberty leaning Republicans, Libertarians proper and a very important voting block, Millennials, for some time. Millennials, the future policy makers, are rather concerned about global change.

At the end of his article, Taylor offers a Libertarian prescription to engage millennials and climate:

Republicans should forward a bill that would (1) eliminate EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and (2) impose an economy-wide, revenue neutral carbon tax.

Far better to let market actors decide when, where, and how emissions are reduced than to leave that decision to state and federal regulatory agencies. The revenues from a tax would be used to cut capital gains taxes, corporate income taxes, or other taxes that discourage wealth creation. And some of the revenues could be used to transfer resources to the poor to reduce or eliminate the regressive nature of the tax changes.

Let’s go straight to the meat and potatoes of this prescription: Carbon Taxation. I have long been skeptical of the carbon or carbon neutral tax as a political levy. Carbon taxes are hard to explain, thus hard to sell.  Taxes of all stripes encourage State manipulation of markets and carbon taxes leave open a lot of wiggle room for powerful polluters to keep on polluting. Market actors will not collectively decide emission reduction, major players like Duke Energy will — and Duke will keep on burning their fossil fuels as they push smaller competitors out of the energy market. Furthermore, with the election of Donald Trump, the point is moot. Executive authority is about to roll back regulation. The Obama climate doctrine will soon be reduced to nothing.

Let’s assume, however, that mainstream and Libertarian leaning Republicans want to distance themselves from Trump’s authoritarian image and engage climate policy. Taylor may be right that this is an engagement that needs to happen in Washington. I’m not a political scientist, but I am skeptical of his claim.

I think it is more interesting to find flaws in systems. This time let’s shrug a little bit — nothing we can do about it anyway. These EPA regulations are bold and sweeping, but they wouldn’t exist if not for a lot of public support. Major environmental/political movements have been organized over the past decade to reign in fossil fuels. A lot of folks have engaged the political system like never before to demand change.

The knee jerk reaction of confronting power with counter power should be put on hold. The best strategy, in my opinion, is to take the national conversation in a new direction. Point out governments involvement in exacerbating the climate problem. Call out the Department of Defense as the largest polluter on the planet — cannot take climate seriously until the empires footprint is reduced. Trump is surely a war candidate, the Democrats are the party of war. Should we take them at face value on climate? What is the EPA’s authority over the Pentagon?

More importantly, the most successful climate crusaders are folks who are local — folks who are sitting in and pushing for change. These are the people who have ideas to better their neighborhoods and protect their commons. In fact, humanities greatest climate hero’s are indigenous people. Libertarian-socialist Noam Chomsky, in an interesting analysis at Popular Resistance, describes eloquently how indigenous populations are defending the commons. Just look at the social movement organized around halting the Dakota Access Pipeline.  With the election of Trump they will need more support than ever. Environmental fights are often won locally, not nationally. So please, investigate ways to help.

The environmental movement is known for thinking global, but acting local. Does this not require a libertarian relationship between people and their institutions? Does it not demand a reduction in state authority? Neighborhood cleanups, smart growth, liberated markets (even fireflies are utilized as a market tactic to stop logging operations), urban forests and some good recreation in the natural world will do more to reduce our collective ecological footprints than any sweeping federal policy — Democrat, Republican or otherwise.

The state is a system of organized power and domination. Best to stop looking up to such an institution but rather horizontally to one another instead.


Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory