It’s easy to spin any politician as a villain, especially if you’re focused on one topic. And Donald Trump, a climate change denier who thought Obama had made clean coal illegal, is a particularly easy target. In 2017, Trump seemed more interested in reversing regulations, regardless of their effect, than targeting any one topic.
Still, when it came to the environment, Trump made big promises, and spent much of his year hoping nobody would notice he couldn’t deliver. A few of his failures:
- Trump’s attempt to leave the Paris Accords backfired: As part of what he called an “America First” program, Trump loudly proclaimed in June that the US would be backing out of the Paris climate agreement, which, by the way, is completely non-binding. Almost immediately, America witnessed the President of the United States get dunked on by a basic cable channel. Trump also made the announcement hoping nobody would notice that the earliest he could actually do this was 2020. They did, and in early December, a coalition of mayors in the US officially signed an accord to abide by the Paris accords. So even if Trump pulls out, the majority of cities doing the lion’s share of emitting are still in.
- Trump’s efforts to prop up coal seem doomed: So far, despite repeated claims he was going to bring coal mining back, the only really effective action has been plans for a sweetheart deal for the people who store coal. Which is good news for them, because they’ll be sitting on it for a long, long time. In the coal-driven UK, it was second banana to renewables most of the year and Costa Rica ran 300 days out of the year without fossil fuels. Even the GOP’s tax bill turned out to leave renewable energy alone. And 2018 does not promise much fun for coal barons, since a lawsuit over air pollution might force the EPA to begrudgingly clean up its act and force coal plants to offset their pollution.
- The auto industry ignored Trump and worked on going green: Trump tried to embrace the auto industry, when he wasn’t threatening them over jobs, only to watch as General Motors became the first corporate entity of 2017 to slam him over his ignorance of taxes before he even took office. Then, in October, GM announced an ambitious plan to ditch gasoline in most of its cars by 2022. Trump couldn’t even reverse Obama’s electric vehicle tax breaks.
- Trump’s attempts to shrink national monuments might wind up putting a legal limit on his power: When Trump announced he was going to shrink the Bears Ears national monuments as created by Obama, he thought he had the power to do that unilaterally. Turns out he might not, stumbling ass-backwards into an enormous, complicated legal battle that his administration may spend years hashing out. At issue is whether the President even has the authority to do this in the first place, and although legal scholars seem to agree that, in terms of building monuments, he does. But ecologically, and culturally? That may be a far different matter. Oh, also, he got called out by Patagonia, possibly marking the first time a clothing label has called the President of the United States a thief.
- Trump handed the oil industry a string of pyrrhic victories: Trump reversed Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would seem to be good news for Keystone. Except it ran into even more legal problems and analysts are increasingly skeptical the pipeline can ever get built. While the GOP tax bill opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, that’s the opening curtain to a long, messy fight that may last just long enough for a new President to come along and shut it all down. The Dakota Access Pipeline is also facing legal problems. And if that weren’t enough bad news for oil companies, ExxonMobil’s board, which has denied climate change for decades, was forced to acknowledge it as a financial risk thanks to a shareholder rebellion.
- Trump’s attempts to remove protections on America’s waters led to a flood of lawsuits: The Trump administration controversially rescinded the definition of the Waters of the United States. Except that since his administration is dragging its feet over coming up with a new rule, in part because the Waters of the United States is one of the most complicated environmental laws on the books, the courts have to stick by Obama’s definition. Oops.
- Trump even got denied by his own party over environmental policy: Trump has spent most of 2017 trying to reverse an Obama-era regulation that requires fracking teams to find and plug methane leaks. So he tried to get Congress to throw the rule out… annnnnnnnd got denied.
Don’t get us wrong, there are some pretty severe environmental mistakes being made by the Trump administration, including being on the wrong side of an ongoing war over a pesticide that may cause brain damage in children and more minor stuff, like allowing plastic bottles back into national parks. But looking back at 2017, it’s pretty clear that while the Trump administration may not care about the environment, almost everybody else does.