In the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s surprising win, many environmental experts are concerned about promises Trump made during his candidacy. Although these proposals would be implemented on a national scale, they could have big effects on Maryland’s environment, said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
Trump’s environmental promises, which include reinventing the Environmental Protection Agency and backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as his disagreement with the scientific consensus on climate change, have left some scientists feeling frustrated.
“[Trump] said a lot of things in the campaign that are worrisome about climate change and environmental protection and so on,” Boesch said.
Trump has been very vocal about his disbelief in climate change despite scientific evidence that proves it exists. In a 2012 tweet, Trump wrote, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Evidence for climate change is far from insignificant: Global sea levels have risen more than 6.5 inches in the last century, water temperatures — as well as global temperature — have increased, glacial and sea ice have shrunk significantly, ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution and extreme weather events are increasing, according to NASA. Trump has shown he is willing to change his positions on other matters such as the Affordable Care Act, so he might evolve similarly here, Boesch said.
“Maybe smarter heads will have a little [effect],” Boesch said.
But, he added, some of Trump’s appointees are “very extreme,” including Myron Ebell, the head of the EPA transition team.
“[Ebell is a] substantial climate change denier, doesn’t believe in regulations, has taken a position that denied the science that showed the world is warming, attacked the scientists and now says it’s not going to be that bad,” Boesch said. “How much that influence comes out in the end, we just have to wait and see.”
One regulation in particular, the Total Maximum Daily Load — a term in the U.S. Clean Water Act that details the maximum amount of a pollutant a body of water can have while still meeting water quality standards — may be at risk, Boesch said. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load is an agreement between all of the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that requires, by law, that all of the states limit the nutrient pollution that enters the watershed daily.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is made up of thousands of creeks, streams and rivers, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is a partnership between six states and Washington, along with the EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and other organizations that work to protect the bay.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has been very supportive of the Total Maximum Daily Load agreement and the laws mandating follow-through, but other states might not be as supportive if they were not afraid of losing funding, Boesch said.
“[These programs] have been cleaning it up step by step, and if you start lifting regulations people will begin dumping into the rivers and streams, and that’s going to be dumping into the Chesapeake Bay,” said David Weber, a graduate assistant in the behavior, ecology, evolution and systematics graduate program.
Boesch noted that, “Maryland has been out in front on reducing its pollution loads. Without that mandate, we’ll never see the kind of clean water we want to achieve, no matter what we do in Maryland.”
Moreover, this state and the nation have specific goals to reduce greenhouse gas output, which is regulated by the EPA. A lack of EPA regulations — which could be a reality if the agency is defunded — would mean Maryland could not meet the goals even if it still works toward them, Boesch said.
Many of the decreases in gas usage come from federal regulations enforced by the EPA, he added.
“Maryland is a special place because we have an estuary, actually the biggest in the U.S., so our climate is important to that,” said senior psychology major Tatiana Roberts. “Our weather has become more extreme, so the effects of climate change are happening now. With this cutting back, we’re just going to see more of the extreme climate.”
This state’s environment is very diverse, Roberts said. It won’t have as much protection as it needs under Trump, she added.
Backing out of the Paris Agreement — another promise Trump made during his campaign — is not just a concern for the United States, Boesch said.
“We’re 20 percent of the world’s emissions, and without the reduction of the U.S. emissions, we won’t be able to stop the world from warming dangerously,” Boesch said. “And it is problematic; without U.S. engagement, there is some question of whether the other nations will be ready and able to fulfill their commitments as well.”
Some environmental advocacy groups, including the Sierra Club, are taking steps to counter Trump’s proposals. The Sierra Club released a petition, which has garnered more than 92,000 signatures, urging President Barack Obama to do all he can to “safeguard our environment” from Trump during his remaining time in the White House.
“We’re supposed to be the example for the world to follow and us backing out [of the Paris Agreement] shows a total reversal of good environmental policy that’s been going on for the last eight years,” Weber said.
In an open letter to his coastal and estuarine ecology class, Columbia University professor Joshua Drew wrote that he still planned to hold class the day after the election because the results of the election are “not someone else’s problem.”
“Why are we having class today? Because the administration that was just elected is demonstrably anti-science, anti-climate, and by extension anti-ocean,” Drew wrote. “As students who are majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology you are facing a unique suite of challenges.”
The course this letter was addressed to focuses on the biology of coastal and deep water.
“You are going to be graduating into a challenging time,” he added. “A time when your science needs to be better, your arguments more convincing, and your commitment to protecting our natural environment fiercer.”
Drew declined to comment.