After Trump

Some day the Trump/Ryan/Pruitt era will end. We need to be ready to move forward.

Fighting the Trump/Ryan/Pruitt assault on environmental protection necessarily absorbs a huge amount of our energy. But eventually, the current conservative stranglehold on the national government will come to an end. Sooner or later, the government will once again come into more environmentally friendly hands. When that happens, we need to have practical, detailed proposals ready to go.

Some of these plans must involve administrative action like the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. But what one president accomplishes through regulation another president may be able to undo. We shouldn’t give up on the idea of legislative action.

There are two reasons why it’s important to be prepared in advance for better political times, if and when they come. The first is the most obvious. Such a period may be short-lived, as we saw in 2009-2010, when a period of Democratic control was cut short by conservative Republicans success in the off-year elections,  So it’s important to move quickly. Lacking concrete plans, environmental advocates could find themselves in the same position as Republicans have been with respect to healthcare, with a general goal in mind and no idea how to get there. It’s important to be ready to move when that window opens. It’s also important to have more than one plan. Ryan does have a thought-out approach to tax reform, but it depends on a border-adjustment tax that may not have political legs. It’s hard to be sure what approach will work politically until you actually get to the point of action.

The other reason to be ready is subtler. Investment decisions are made with long time-lines. If it’s clear that Democrats have concrete, politically feasible plans for addressing greenhouse gases, this will discourage investment in fossil fuel facilities and encourage investment in renewables and energy efficiency.

Some of this work is already going on. For example, Resources for the Future (the leading think tank in environmental economics), has done serious research on implementation of a carbon tax. And environmental advocates have the advantage of being better able to rely on real world experience. In two examples, California is running a real-time experiment in carbon trading, while Canada will soon be implementing a carbon fee.

Carbon taxes and auctioned allowances may have the additional advantage of qualifying for inclusion in the congressional budget reconciliation procedure. This would bypass the possibility of a Senate filibuster. The new Canadian system is especially intriguing because it allows states to opt-out by implementing an approved plan of their own. (I’m planning to blog about the Canadian approach in more detail soon.) This would allow states like California to continue with their own systems, easing the transition. Alternatively, the federal legislation might be more like the Clean Power Plan, giving states broader discretion and perhaps lightening the burden on laggard states. But such an approach might not qualify under reconciliation rules, increasing the difficulty of enactment.

Climate change isn’t the only area of retrograde action by the Trump Administration. Reestablishing protections for wilderness and coastal areas should also be a priority. There is likely to be a backlog of endangered species protections; these will need to be processed expeditiously.

Of course, even under the best of circumstances, there will be surprises, such as technological developments that we can’t easily anticipate. There will also be resistance from Bush and Trump appointees on the bench – Democrats will need to make judicial appointments a much higher priority than in the past, and they will need to be much more careful to get the maximum gain possible with each appointee.

They say that in war, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Something similar seems to be true in politics – except that it sometimes seems no plan survives contact with your allies.

Still, in both situations, it’s best to make plans, if only as a basis for later improvisation. We need to be thinking now about where we want to go later, when we have the chance to move forward.



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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “After Trump”

  1. Amen. I’ve tried to send this message to members and staff on the Hill, but get surprisingly myopic responses. If the environmental community ends up being the “party of no,” we’ll have a hard time offering a positive vision in 2018 and 2020. There’s work to be done now.

  2. Dan, let’s face the facts, we’ve been warned about global warming for over 50 years, which should have been more than enough time for human institutions to save our planet, and we should have come up with implementable solutions, like fusion power generation, well before Trump showed up.

    The problem is not just the usual political, social, economic and scientific institutional failures that have destroyed many civilizations before ours. Some preeminent evolutionary biologists have already declared that the biggest failure mode is that our mental machinery is not changing biologically in time to allow us to save ourselves from the self-destruction our institutions are now enabling.

    One option we keep overlooking is that Berkeley has a group of psychology, sociology, and neuroscience experts with solutions that we haven’t really focused upon, the Greater Good Science Center:

    We keep failing to the point where Trump is possibly the greatest threat to our civilization today, and GGSC could just make the right things happen when we are most desperate.

  3. Completely agree. We should also focus on ways on which it would be too politically hard to overturn. This “debate” over health care might be a good example – once it is in place, it might be too hard to undo.

    But we also need to be careful.

  4. I like the idea of being prepared for better days. But the idea that better days will arrive assumes that there will be reasonably free and fair elections every two years and Presidential elections every four. That is no longer a safe assumption. I’ve turned much of my public advocacy away from the environment as such and toward defending the rule of law and insisting on a through investigation of Russia and the Trump campaign. Congress is not restraining Trump and once loyalists permeate the executive branch, courts will be impotent as well. Already two democratic candidates have withdraw from elections because of death threats and the very idea of truth is under assault. The history of other countries suggests that assuming that democracy will continue without vigorous efforts to defend our institutions may be dangerously naive. The alternative to preparing for better days that may never come and exhausting ourselves defending every issue involves choosing the right strategies for preserving democracy.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more