Trump’s Energy Policies Attack Vulnerable Communities
Our expert panel discusses the fallout from the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and examines how deregulation limits opportunities for job growth
Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The Trump Administration has been in defense mode since the President announced he would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement last Thursday. Trump also faced criticism from leaders of China, France, Germany, and Canada as well as a number of business and industry heads at Disney, at GE, Exxon, Citibank, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, [Telsa 00:00:38], Uber, Intel, and Google to name a few. Here’s the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, on Friday defending Trump Administration’s decision.
Scott Pruitt: The world applauded when we joined Paris and you know why? I think they applauded because they knew it was going to put this country at an economic disadvantage.
Sharmini Peries: With us to discuss the fallout from the US withdrawal here at home, we are joined by two guests, Mustafa Santiago Ali and Scott Edwards. Mustafa Santiago Ali is the Senior Vice-President of Climate, Environmental Justice, and Community Revitala-, vi-, revitali- … Let me try that one again. Hold on for a second. Mustafa Santiago Ali is the senior vice-president of Climate, Environmental Justice, and Community Revitalization for the Hip Hop Caucus. You’ll find him at hiphopcaucus.org. Scott Edwards is the Co-Director of Climate and Energy Policy Team at Food & Water Watch. You will find him at foodandwaterwatch.org.
Thank you both for joining us.
Scott Edwards: Sure.
Mustafa Ali: Thank you.
Sharmini Peries: So, let me go to you, Mustafa, first. The White House now as you could see from Pruitt’s clip officially portraying the agreement as a conspiracy to weaken American industry yet a large portion of the American industry lined up to criticize the withdrawal from the agreement. What do you make of that?
Mustafa Ali: Well, it’s good to see that business and industry is beginning to sort of get in step with what the rest of America is actually asking for. I find that the new administration is actually out of step and really not sort of connected with what real people are asking for. Business and industry is asking for consistency so that they can make long-term decisions. Hopefully those decisions are actually beneficial to people’s health and beneficial to building communities up and not tearing them down. I think the other thing that they’re noticing also is that there is a new demographic that is growing inside of our country. Business and industry, if they want to continue to flourish in the future, need to make sure that they are meeting the needs of a new sort of demographic that is asking for our country to be more sustainable and to be more healthy and to be connected with a process that is going to move us in a positive direction and one that’s not going to take us backwards.
Sharmini Peries: And, Scott, your reaction?
Scott Edwards: Yeah, oh, no, I agree with that. I think, also, though, for businesses, you know, they understand that in order to survive in this world, we’re going to need to transition to renewable energy. It’s going to be done in a way in which it’s going to be economically beneficial for communities, for everybody including these businesses. They understand that our future’s not in fossil fuels and that fossil fuels are a way of the past. So you see countries like China even embracing renewable energy under an economic model.
I mean, that’s the irony of Trump standing up at the White House and talking about the economic devastation that adhering to the climate accord and phasing out fossil fuels will have when, quite frankly, the truth is the fossil fuels has had an economic devastating effect on communities, on the US economy, on public health, on a whole host of fronts. So he’s ignoring what, as Mustafa said, what the rest of us know to be true and that is the economic future, the public health future, the energy future of this country is in clean, renewable energy, not in fossil fuels.
Sharmini Peries: And, Scott, Rex Tillerson, who used to head up Exxon-Mobil prior to becoming Secretary of State, but when he was there and now, Exxon is one of the organizations that are supporting the accord. What’s the motivation behind them?
Scott Edwards: We’ve seen messages, and it’s not just Exxon-Mobil, a lot of the fossil fuel companies came out recently in favor of a mechanism to climate change under a sort of a pricing model, of creating a carbon tax. You know, we’ve looked at that very carefully at Food & Water Watch. We recently did a very in-depth report of British Columbia’s carbon tax model and found that it was not successful in reducing carbon emissions at all but what companies like Exxon-Mobil and others find attractive about a carbon tax is it really enables them to continue with business as usual. The tax gets passed on to consumers. This becomes a consumer tax. As a matter of fact there was a recent proposal in the House by a Democrat from Maryland to bring in a carbon tax as purportedly a way to address climate change and in exchange cut the corporate income tax. So there’s all kinds of things going on which would explain why companies like Exxon-Mobil and Rex Tillerson would support approaches like carbon tax. He would not support regulation of carbon, though, under any accord.
Sharmini Peries: And, Mustafa, speaking of regulations, the Trump Administration has been quite active in terms of rollbacks to environmental regulations, the Administration and Congress pushing through a lot of de-regulation. What do you make of the fact that all this de-regulation is happening and they’re pulling out of the accord. Does it really matter that we pull out of the accord if all those de-regulations are happening and corporations are able to run havoc with our environment?
Mustafa Ali: I think it definitely matters. I think what you’re also seeing from the new administration, they’re sending a very, very clear signal. Maya Angelou once said that when someone shows you who they are, believe them. What they are showing us is that they don’t care about the lives inside of communities and especially the most vulnerable communities that I’ve worked for over the past couple of decades. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement will have impacts inside of our most vulnerable communities, the communities that are going to get a double whammy. These are communities where many of our coal-fired power plants exist and other sort of plants and industries that are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. So when you begin to go through this de-regulation process, those communities will be the ones who are going to be receiving more of the impacts from the initial onset and then, as the planet warms up, then they’ll get that second whammy also. The actions that they’re taking definitely have some significant impacts inside of those communities.
But also, by de-regulating, by pulling out of the Paris Agreement, they are also trying to limit the opportunities that exist in creating economic vehicles, in creating clean energy jobs. We know that inside of our most vulnerable community, there are elevated levels of unemployment and, if they were focused, they could make sure that these new jobs in a cleaner economy could be a part of the change and the revitalization that needs to happen inside of our most vulnerable communities. The great thing is that recently over 200 mayors and others have come together to say that, if the federal government won’t lead, they will, so they have the opportunity to continue to move forward on some of the things that were inside of the agreement and to make some good choices on the local and state level.
Sharmini Peries: All right, Mustafa, it seems that de-regulation or regulation, the smoke will still rise. I’m wondering what other regulations the Trump Administration has been engaging recently that will contributing to worsening the situation on the ground and in the community you speak of.
Mustafa Ali: Oh, my goodness. We’ll probably need a few hours to talk about that but just real quickly I used to run the Inter-agency Working Group for Environmental Justice, so that was 17 federal agencies who had the responsibility of taking a holistic look at the things that are happening inside of our communities and begin to strategize on how to leverage those resources. If you look at some of the choices that are being made inside of HUD and de-regulating and removing resources that are necessary for people to be able to move into home ownership, to make sure that when we talk about lead issues, that those are addressed along with the Environmental Protection Agency and the rolling back of some of the lead regulations and opportunities that will impact communities like Flint and East Chicago and a number of others across the country who are dealing with those types of situations.
Again, it shows that you don’t care about those communities when you start to take away low-income energy assistance programs, then that also places that additional burden on communities who are trying to get traction and who are trying to make change. When you start to take away programs, worker training programs, and in the Department of Labor when you start to take away the resources that are necessary to retrain folks and to also give them an opportunity around entrepreneurialism. When you don’t make sure that you have the right folks in the Small Business Administration who can again help folks to be able to start the right types of businesses that are beneficial to their community, all of these and many other actions that are happening.
I have not, to date, seen one action that was beneficial to communities as a whole or to our most vulnerable communities. That’s why I say I don’t think that, one, they are connected to what’s happening on the ground across the country, two, and I’ve seen no indication that they care about the lives of folks who are currently in these communities or the next generation. If they did, there would be different choices that would be being made. There would be different voices who were a part of the analytical sort of analysis of what needs to happen inside of communities. I have not seen that to date.
Sharmini Peries: Scott, let me ask you. Against good advice of many people around Trump and the Republican party, against criticism that he was going to receive, from he knew already, China and India and the European Union and places like France and Germany and so on, Trump still decided to pull out of this agreement. He was obviously playing to his base, which is very small number of people who believe that climate change isn’t human caused or fossil fuel caused. Even Trump supporters agree that the climate change is a problem and yet he catered to that minority. Why did he do that and what are the other regulations that is playing to that base?
Scott Edwards: Right, that’s right. It is a very, very, very small community. You know, Trump is, like on many issues, not a deep thinker on climate change and renewable energy and the need to shift and so he seems to have bought into this whole economic tension argument. As we all know, he ran on jobs and economy and America first and all this sort of red meat for his base and he doesn’t understand the intricacies of climate change, of the economy, of what it means to make this shift and what the impact of this shift to renewables will have. You know, I sat and thought about the announcement last week and thought about it a long time. His attack on the climate and the United States approach to climate began really the day he took office. In addition to the things that he’s done that Mustafa has spoken of, things like withdrawing methane reporting mules for the fracking industry, a huge contributor, we don’t even know how much they’re contributing to climate change, opening up drilling on public lands and offshore sites.
Perhaps one of the most harmful things this man has done on climate change and renewable energy is to absolutely devastate the funding of the Department of Energy’s renewable research program. So we’re promoting fossil fuels. We are dis-incentivizing and de-funding renewable research programs and this is all done by a man who quite frankly is ruling as if he’s a petulant 12-year-old in the White House here. I heard an interesting story about how he was on the fence about pulling out of Paris for a long time and was going back and forth and some commentator said that probably what threw him over the edge was the Macron handshake when he was over in France just recently. You know, you think about the absurdity of that but then you think about this man in the White House and it doesn’t sound so absurd anymore that that’s the kind of reaction that would make him do something like pulling out of Paris.
I don’t think he’s thinking about what’s good for this country. I don’t think he understands what’s good for this country. I think he’s just reacting, like I said, as if he’s throwing something out to what he thinks his base will like to hear, which is America’s going it alone.
Sharmini Peries: Mustafa, let me give you the last word. Your reaction to the splits this has created within the Republican party and in the White House. Media was reporting that, you know, Rex Tillerson of course was against pulling out. He is the Secretary of State after all. Ivanka Trump was against pulling out of the agreement. What do you make of these splits not only in the White House but within the party?
Mustafa Ali: Well I think that the President should actually pay attention to those who actually are trying their best to map out a new future, a better way if you will. Currently the President is putting our country at a great disadvantage by pulling out of the agreement and some of the actions that he’s done. What that does is it gives an opening to other countries, to China, Brazil, India, the opportunity to fill that space, along with the EU to take leadership on these issues and also to fill that economic space that exists. What he also does is he places folks like those in West Virginia, I come from Appalachia, what he’s done is he also has placed them at a disadvantage by not actually putting in place worker training programs and new clean energy opportunities in those markets where we know are eventually going to fade away. So he’s placing those good folks, with strong culture and who work hard every day at a disadvantage not only today but also tomorrow.
Sharmini Peries: All right, Mustafa, I think you so much for joining us today.
Mustafa Ali: Thank you.
Sharmini Peries: And, Scott, I look forward to having you and Mustafa back. I think this issue is really not going away and here at The Real News we have a focus on the environment and we will be calling on you again. Thank you so much for today.
Scott Edwards: Thank you.
Mustafa Ali: Thank you.
Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.