Donald Trump’s War on Science and the Environment

Fiber plant, Halsey, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

We’ve spent 40 years putting together an apparatus to protect public health and environment from a lot of different pollutants.  [Former EPA administrator Scott} Pruitt is pulling the whole apparatus down.

– William Ruckelshaus, the EPA’s first administrator, regarding former president Trump’s first EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

One of President Joe Biden’s greatest accomplishments over the past three and a half years has been the rebuilding of the Environmental Protection Agency, and endorsing  ambitious EPA rules that will slash air pollution, water pollution, and planet-warming emissions from U.S. power plants.  President Barack Obama tried  to force power plants to stop burning coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but his successor—Donald Trump—reversed Obama’s plans.  Biden is trying to end carbon emissions from coal plants, and Trump has already promised to reverse these plans if he returns to the White House in 2025.

As the poster child for “science denialism,” Trump had no science adviser for the first two years of his presidency; he finally named a meteorologist to be the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology.  Trump closed scientific laboratories throughout the country; compromised scientific conferences that depended on federal participation; and interrupted the planning and flow of resources needed by the scientific community.  Government scientists were furloughed  at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service; the EPA; and NASA.  Government agencies that provided research grants, such as the National Science Foundation, had to cancel review panels and put plans for future spending on hold.

Trump’s war on science, particularly climate change, included the naming of climate deniers to his cabinet: Rex Tillerson to the State Department; Pruitt to the EPA; Ryan Zinke to the Department of the Interior; and Rick Perry to the Department of Energy.  Tillerson was fired; Pruitt and Zinke stepped down due to ethics and management scandals; and Perry stepped down after demonstrating world-class incompetence.  Only five cabinet officials have left the Biden administration after three and a half years; the turmoil in Trump’s cabinet included the departures of more than 20 cabinet officers in addition to 17 other acting officials who stepped in temporarily.

Trump is already promising chaos if he gets back to the White House.  His speeches over the past several months have threatened to “cancel” Biden’s plans for cutting pollution from fossil-fuel burning power plants; terminate programs to encourage electric vehicles; and  “develop the liquid gold that is right under our feet,” meaning oil and gas.  In his first term, Trump reversed more than 100 EPA protections signed by the Obama administration.  Trump has promised to “unleash domestic energy production like never before,” meaning oil, gas, and coal, and to end Biden’s limits on pollution from automobile tailpipes.  Trump also wants to gut Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which marks the nation’s largest investment to fight climate change.

As president, Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris agreement, which committed nations to reduce their greenhouse gases to keep global warming within relatively safe limits.  Several days after the November election, the United Nations will convene the annual global climate summit in Azerbaijan, which Trump would presumably ignore as part of his effort to make the United States an environmental “pariah state” in the fight against climate change.

Trump’s attacks on science and fact-finding were unprecedented in a country that has prided itself on innovation and development.  The United States is a global leader in Nobel prizes for science and math, and no country has registered more patents for research and the application of theoretical ideas.  US. educational and research institutions are some of the finest in the world, and regularly attract foreign scientists to their classrooms and laboratories.

Unlike Trump, Biden has called climate change an existential threat, and has moved to reduce pollution; limit toxic chemicals in our water; and to ban “white asbestos,” which has been linked to mesothelioma and other cancers.  EPA regulations will cut pollution from power plants, and will require coal plants to reduce 90 percent of their greenhouse pollution by 2039.  According to the New York Times, Biden has ordered federal agencies to reinstate or strengthen more than 100 environmental regulations that former president Trump had weakened or removed.  The Biden administration has also made it more expensive for fossil fuel companies to drill for oil, gas, and coal on public lands.  Conversely, Trump is campaigning on the basis of a “drill, baby, drill” agenda.

No American president in history has demonstrated such disdain for science and technology as Donald Trump.  Science is one of the sources of truth, and Trump’s war on truth was destructive.  He is already holding “energy round tables” to raise $1 billion for his campaign from oil executives and energy lobbyists, promising that he will roll back Biden’s environmental reforms and limits on fossil fuels.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for