Protecting the environment in the Trump era

Esty calls for action at the local level

Dan Esty, former state environmental protection commissioner and a Yale professor, speaks to the Aspetuck Land Trust about the Trump administration’s impact on environmental policies. — Brad Durrell photo 

Dan Esty, former state environmental protection commissioner and a Yale professor, speaks to the Aspetuck Land Trust about the Trump era impact on environmental policies. — Brad Durrell photo

By Brad Durrell (Easton Courier) on November 21, 2017

Former state Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty, center, speaks to state Sen. Tony Hwang of Fairfield, whose district includes Easton, as state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Westport listens. — Brad Durrell photo

Former state Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty, center, speaks to state Sen. Tony Hwang of Fairfield, whose district includes Easton, as state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Westport listens. — Brad Durrell photo

Local organizations and activists must play “a much bigger role” in protecting the environment because of policy changes in Washington and the financial limitations of federal, state and local governments.

“You must do more. It is time to step up,” former state Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel Esty told an Aspetuck Land Trust (ALT) gathering on Nov. 15.

Describing it as “an incredibly challenging moment” for environmentalists, Esty said people volunteering their time and donating money at the local level “does make a difference.”

Esty spoke on “Environmental Protection in the Trump Era: What’s Next?” as part of ALT’s Haskins Lecture Series. Close to 200 people attended the event, which included a question-and-answer session, at the Pequot Library in Southport.

The nonprofit ALT has more than 1,000 dues-paying members and owns about 1,800 acres of open space in Easton, Weston, Fairfield, and Westport.

During an interview before his lecture, Esty said groups like ALT have “the capacity” to provide more assistance in their towns as state funding for open space purchases is cut back. He said such organizations also can help financially struggling cities protect natural resources on a regional basis.

Esty is an environmental law professor at Yale University, where he directs the Center for Environmental Law and Policy. He’s advised companies on environmental strategies and authored 10 books. He oversaw the state DEEP from 2011 to 2014.

He said he doesn’t necessarily object to President Donald Trump’s administration’s desire to have state and local entities manage most environmental efforts, because that’s “where it should be.” But he said these responsibilities must come with the federal funds needed to handle the job.

Don Hyman, ALT’s new board president, introduced Esty. “Many of us tonight are concerned about the local, national and international implications of President Trump’s statements on environmental protection,” Hyman said.

Esty said governors, mayors and business leaders will have more prominent roles in protecting the environment, which he noted already is happening in reaction to Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Describing governors and mayors as “sovereign leaders” of their states and cities, he asked, “Why don’t we open these agreements to signatures by governors and mayors?”

A number of high-profile state and local leaders, such as California Gov. Jerry  Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have been active in climate change issues.

Corporations also “believe in sustainability” and are implementing eco-friendly policies because they realize it’s key to their long-term success, Esty said. “An amazing number of businesses are playing a constructive role,” he said.

Individuals can have an impact by purchasing products and investing in stocks that “align with [their] values,” Esty said.

‘No going back’

Esty called the Paris Agreement “resilient” and “robust,” and said it will be hard to stop despite the current political situation in America. “We are moving forward, we are going to de-carbonize,” he said. “We have turned the corner and there’s no going back.”

The Trump administration’s actions “cannot overturn the market reality,” such as coal being too expensive to fuel modern power plants, he said.

He said a 1992 worldwide climate change accord reached in Brazil, which he helped negotiate while working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was flawed because of a “top-down” approach. It allowed countries to decide to “sit on the sidelines,” leading to higher emissions in those nations.

In contrast, Esty said, the Paris Agreement requires countries to make commitments and meet them. “We have everyone in the action, and that is transformative,” he said.

Esty said he personally favors a carbon emissions tax because it would change behavior. “Make people pay for the harm,” he said.

“Don’t panic yet,” he told the audience, pointing out that Trump faces many obstacles to changing environmental policies. These include the legislative process, required administrative procedures, the courts, and precedent.

“This is a nation of laws,” Esty said. “I think President Trump is shocked he can’t eliminate the clean power plan with the stroke of a pen.”

The Obama administration implemented the clean power plan in 2014 to try to lower U.S. greenhouse emissions. Trump has ordered a review of the plan and may seek to overturn some of its requirements.

Trump’s “pull-back” comes at a time when “we’re seeing increasing signs of what a climate-changed environment looks like,” said Esty, pointing to the impact of the recent hurricane in Puerto Rico.

He said those who doubt the science of climate change should favor spending more money to study the issue “to clarify the situation.”

He favors “a clean energy race” so all forms of sustainable power generation — such as wind, solar, batteries, and even nuclear — can compete to find what makes environmental and economic sense.

Esty stressed the importance innovation will play in finding the best clean energy sources. “We’re entering an era of sustainability,” he said.

ALT board member Ross Ogden of Easton said the organization was “thrilled” at Esty’s appearance. “He’s on the forefront of a lot of issues important to the trust,” Ogden said.

Dan Esty, former state environmental protection commissioner and a Yale professor, speaks to the Aspetuck Land Trust about the Trump administration’s impact on environmental policies. — Brad Durrell photo 

Dan Esty, former state environmental protection commissioner and a Yale professor, speaks to the Aspetuck Land Trust about the Trump administration’s impact on environmental policies. — Brad Durrell photo

Source: https://www.eastoncourier.com/62749/protecting-the-environment-in-the-trump-era/