Panel of professors discuss Trump’s environmental policies, possible outcomes for the future

A panel of professors from different fields came together to help students consider the Trump administration’s environmental policies from a variety of perspectives

Hannah Powell

Geology, law, biology and economics professors from Washington and Lee University hosted a panel to discuss the potential consequences of the Trump administration’s environmental policies.

The goal of the event was to hold a discussion with scholars of different academic backgrounds to give students a broader understanding of the policies. Students then used what they heard in the panel to debate a proposal for a new carbon tax.

Geology professor Lisa Greer started the panel by discussing Trump’s new cabinet members and their views on climate change.

Greer said the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is known to be a “climate change skeptic.” She said Pruitt encourages “debate” about climate change and the human’s role in causing it instead of it accepting its scientific consensus.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke have similar stances to Pruitt when it comes to environmental policy, said Greer, and Trump’s cabinet gives her reason to believe that negative effects on U.S. Environmental Policy are inevitable.

Business and biology professors provided different but equally distressing accounts of new policies.

Business professor Julia Youngman focused on new policy surrounding pipeline construction that forces agencies like the EPA to “expedite” environmental reviews of a company’s work. The policy gives agencies less time and fewer resources to make changes to protect the environment.

Youngman also raised concerns about the administration’s efforts to decrease government regulations as quickly as possible. Trump’s executive order that for every new regulation, two must be disbanded has “horribly risky” implications for the EPA. The GOP-controlled congress could also review and disband a resolution that limits the amount of coal mining waste that can enter streams.

Biology professor Bill Hamilton then added that, even if the EPA is not eliminated entirely, funding cuts will be dangerous to the agency’s ability to enforce restrictions and maintain enough low-level employees to conduct research.

He continued to explain that a shift in focus to nuclear power may improve air quality, but it will not reduce environmental risks. For example, the waste of uranium mining around the Grand Canyon could deface large wall surfaces of the landmark as well as pollute the Colorado River beyond repair.

Talk of minimizing testing and expediting experimental use of herbicides and pesticides is also worrisome.

Economics professor Jim Casey introduced the proposed carbon tax that would afterwards be the focus of the student debate.

Proponents of the carbon tax claim that it will incentivize companies to reduce their carbon footprints without having to increase regulations.

To answer criticism about low-income households being economically punished by this policy, republicans argue that they will use revenue of the tax to provide up to $2,000 in aid to these households. Republicans say these families in poverty would then gain in the process.

Casey said republican legislators also believe that, because the tax will reduce the need for environmentally protective legislation, the affected companies will be able to promote economic productivity for the entire nation. Individuals then will have reason to invest in non-fossil fuel forms of energy production that will benefit them and the greater public, he added.

The debate was held under the mutually-accepted premise that climate change is real and that humans have caused it.

The students in favor of the carbon tax began by reminding the audience that in the last 20-40 years, there has been “an emerging dichotomy between those who agree with environ- mental reform and those who oppose it.” They said that republicans wanting to reform through the carbon tax is encouraging for longterm policy changes that will protect the planet.

The students in favor of the carbon tax said previous movements have turned off conservatives’ involvement through ideological issues. Not all conservatives oppose climate reform, the students said, but some previous approaches have made it seem that way.

The carbon tax, to these students, offers a unique form of compromise in a free market approach that also respects the personal property rights of Americans.

The students arguing against the tax urged “caution and prudence” for the study and implementation of this policy. They also said that the prospect of republican cooperation was exciting.

The second group of students saud they feel the policy is “not appropriately orienting itself around the political context that will make it successful.”

They also said the gas and fossil fuels lobbies coming out in support of the tax is a red flag because those lobbies have been arguing against climate reform for years.

The students in favor of the tax rebutted that this is actually a good sign, and will lead to energy companies transitioning slowly away from fossil fuels. The debate continued in this fashion until concluded amicably, with no determined winner.

“It’s great that the school encourages events like these where both sides of an issue are discussed,” said Erin Duffy, ‘18. “W&L is unique because the administration doesn’t try to tell you what to think. It just gives students the tools to make up their own minds.”