U.S. Climate Change Law and Policy in the Time of Trump and Beyond
25 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2021 Last revised: 8 Jan 2022
Date Written: February 28, 2020
As the world's second most profligate greenhouse gas ("GHG") emitter, the United States is one of the two keys to any successful global effort to limit global climate change to sub-catastrophic levels, which in turn is a prerequisite for efforts to achieve sustainable development worldwide. The other key is China, the world's most profligate GHG emitter. Yet meaningful, sustained progress toward limiting U.S. GHG emissions, and toward U.S. cooperation with less developed countries such as China to help them to limit their own emissions, remain elusive goals. Domestically, the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan regulations and new Corporate Average Fuel Economy ("CAFE") standards for passenger cars and light trucks were a step in the right direction. They also paved the way for the executive agreement on limiting GHG emissions signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, and for their joint effort to bring the Paris Agreement into being the following year. Donald Trump's surprise election as U.S. President in 2016 has undermined the promise of even these modest steps, however, by empowering further an ideologically radical minority within the U.S. political system. These traditional conservatives are mostly white, Christian evangelicals who are concentrated in the States of the South, Midwest, and Intermountain West.
They remain hostile to nearly all laws or policies that would limit U.S. GHG emissions or that would require the United States to provide financial or technical assistance or to make other concessions to less developed countries such as China to help them to limit their own emissions. The predictability of these effects flows ultimately from the Calvinist moral content of American traditional conservatism. Although simmering tensions within the Republican Party inject some uncertainty into the task of making long term predictions, certain structural and other features of the U.S. Government likely mean that even the end of the Trump Administration will not eliminate the resulting barriers to progress in limiting GHG emissions in the United States or anywhere else. Even so, other structural features suggest that the efforts of traditional conservatives to roll back the existing U.S. GHG emissions and related regulations that would provide an indispensable foundation for reviving progress over the long term will be easier said than done. Still other structural features suggest that the most fruitful opportunities for long term progress will revolve less around the U.S. Federal Government than it will around the U.S. States.
Keywords: Climate change, traditional conservatism, United States, law, foreign policy
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