The environment is important in Idaho. The state has some of the greatest outdoor resources in the world, a booming tourism industry, and a population that appreciates clean air, pure water and outdoor recreation, and using the land to grow food.
So, 100 days into the Trump presidency, is the new administration a threat to Idaho’s environment?
Certainly, some of the worst fears of the environmental community are coming true. Trump is reversing a number of environmental regulations and his administration does not appear to be alarmed by climate change.
Trump wants to re-energize the coal industry, see oil and gas pipelines built, and develop more energy. He may reverse designations of national monuments, or reduce their size.
Many environmental groups are outraged, and Trump is just getting started. His Cabinet selections have increased the anxiety. Some of the more activist environmental groups are acting as if the world is about to end in a torrent of pollution. I receive press releases and newsletters from a number of conservation groups, and their rhetoric is scorching and apocalyptic.
In reality, we don’t know what Trump’s environmental legacy will be. He is learning as he goes, and his actions have often been more reasonable than some of his earlier extreme positions.
Reasonable people obviously want to protect the environment. Congress does, state legislatures do, governors do, and business people do. Reasonable people can disagree regarding some of the regulations imposed by the Obama administration.
Personally, I don’t believe that much of the enormous environmental progress made in the last several decades across America and the world will be reversed. Citizens will not stand for it.
We have a strong conservation ethic in Idaho and in the country. We don’t develop natural resources or even farm and ranch like we did in the bad old days. The extractive industries, along with agriculture and manufacturing, operate under rules that really do protect the environment.
Despite major population growth, our air and water are cleaner than they have been for many decades. Automobiles, other machines that use fossil fuels, and electricity generation are dramatically cleaner, and we’re quickly moving to electric vehicles and clean energy. That trajectory won’t change.
Generations have now grown up supporting conservation and protecting the natural world. Trump and his appointees won’t change those dynamics. We’re a state and country that cares deeply about the environment. We’re going to continue to clean it up, not pollute it.
What’s more, if the economy picks up, more jobs are created, and citizens become wealthier, that’s good news for the environment. Poor people who have to be concerned about food and shelter aren’t able to support environmental causes as much as people who have more resources.
It is wealthy people who can afford electric vehicles, who purchase power from wind farms, who volunteer and make large contributions to environmental groups. It is wealthy foundations (many of which earned their billions in dirty industries) that fund conservation causes. It is a wealthy society that generates tax dollars for university research for new technologies that generate clean energy.
The Trump administration is dismantling Obama’s Clean Power Plan. But that won’t matter much over the long term. The nation’s coal-fired power plants are going to close anyway. It might take a little longer, but we’re quickly moving to clean energy.
Advanced technology is as important as stringent regulations for clean air and water and reduced carbon emissions.
What is true for America is also true for the rest of the world. The fastest way to clean up the planet is for the world’s countries to become more prosperous. Prosperity means slower population growth, a stronger conservation ethic, more resources to clean up air and water. Prosperity requires abundant energy. But look at coal, oil and gas as bridge energies that will be replaced soon enough by wind, solar, hydrogen fuel cells and nuclear.
Certainly, major environmental battles are brewing in the years ahead. We don’t know how aggressive the Trump administration will be. But whatever happens, I see long-term progress, not retreat, on protecting our planet.