The Trickle-Down Environment

Federal policies are harming Pennsylvania

 Illustration by Clarissa Eck

Illustration by Clarissa Eck

By Jacqui Bonomo

President Trump’s napalming of environmental protection is withering the air, water, landscape and public health of our nation. As the president’s agenda begins to manifest in on-the-ground changes—at the state and federal levels, in our fragile ecosystems, in waterways and throughout our imperiled climate system—we move closer to crises that future leaders, laws and technology will be hard-pressed to reverse.

The most striking impact of the president’s effect in Pennsylvania is how it’s emboldened anti-environmental elected officials in the state Legislature. The past year saw an unprecedented series of attacks on previously hard-fought, and typically bipartisan, environmental protections that, at least until now, provided basic measures and tools to clean our air and water. The Trump effect has spawned copycat policymakers who embrace the same bombastic and divisive tactics and rhetoric as the president. If the electorate does not reject these destructive personalities or turn them out of office, the prospect becomes grim for providing a healthy environment and uncompromised climate systems to future generations. 

But despite the extreme anti-environmental provocations of the Trump team, we are seeing small victories for clean water and air. A large state coalition of clean water advocates recently beat back the Trump administration’s attempt to zero out the budget for watershed protection and restoration projects in local streams of the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The recently passed state budget closed Pennsylvania’s solar borders, and now clean energy credits needed to meet our renewable energy goals must come from solar projects and jobs produced here, and not from out of state, as previously allowed.  

We are witnessing a profound rejection of Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, and his demolition of the Clean Power Plan, a reasonable path forward to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Our communities are stepping up to take their climate and clean energy futures into their own hands. Backed by their constituents, mayors and elected officials around the commonwealth have declared their intention to reduce emissions and move forward with climate action in places like Bethlehem, Downingtown, Mount Pocono, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Swarthmore and State College, with the list growing every day.

There are opportunities for state and federal policymakers to shed the polarized fever that’s beset them and make progress for our environment. Congress could surprise us and produce a good Farm Bill reauthorization that helps Pennsylvania agriculture and water quality, or pass the RECLAIM Act to provide funding to accelerate restoration of land and water impacted by legacy pollution from coal mining. The state Legislature could get serious about reforming and reauthorizing the alternative energy portfolio standard and continue to build on 70,000 clean energy jobs around the state. 

Yet, the pull of the president’s fear-driven environmental policy is so strong, I would not count on it. My money is on the regular folks and emerging environmental leaders who know there is too much at stake, and who will not allow this president to get in our way.

Jacqui Bonomo is the president and CEO of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization in Pennsylvania.