Denise Fort, UNM Law professor emeritus
Every Sierra Club member knows the damage that the Trump administration has done to our environment in its four years. Indeed they are working feverishly up until Inauguration Day to continue inflicting harm.
There’s a lot President Biden will be able to do without going to Congress. New Mexicans are on the receiving end of many of Trump’s actions, such as the rollback of Obama-era methane rules, the attempt to eviscerate the Clean Water Act through regulatory action, the declaration of open season on migratory birds, the roll back of auto efficiency standards, the rushed leasing of federal lands, and so much more. (The New York Times has kept a running list of the damage at www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks-list.html)
But, if there’s any good news about the Trump administration it must be that they were massively incompetent in pursuing the dismantlement of environmental regulation. Environmental lawyers have stopped many of these efforts, or held them up in courts, so that the new Administration can now reverse the legal positions of the Trump/Barr lawyers. Each of Trump’s actions has to be approached carefully, especially with a Supreme Court that we can presume to be hostile to environmental regulation.
The Biden administration will also need to rebuild the federal agencies that administer our environmental laws. EPA has lost scores of dedicated staff, because what professional would want to work for an administration that discredited science and discounted public health? Environmental justice will need to be at the heart of a rebuilt EPA. The Fish and Wildlife Service, The Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, NOAA, need to be rebuilt and shaped to meet the environmental challenges that we well understand.
Unfortunately, undoing the damage will only take us so far. If we are to really make progress on climate, for example, Congress needs to appropriate funding for new transportation infrastructure, including rail upgrades, enact bold legislation to reduce fossil fuel subsidies, provide for a just transition for workers and communities, and advance other initiatives that require legislation.
For this, President Biden will need to appeal to the slender House majority and will need the support of the Senate. That’s where we come in, of course, as we work through the Sierra Club and other organizations to flip those seats!