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Ignore climate change in decision making; what does this mean?

Recent Trump administration overhauls of guidelines for federal agencies may instruct them to ignore climate change. The context is that these agencies would not have to take climate change into account when defining the impact of major infrastructure projects. The goal is to speed up the approval process for these large projects. 

Efficiency is a virtue, but environmental pollution and degradation are not. Thus, we have the tension that plays out on the national regulatory stage. Unfortunately, the proposed changes in the National Environmental Policy Act will do more than improve the speed of project approvals. The proposed changes “could make it likely that more projects will sail through the approval process without having to disclose plans to do things like discharge waste, cut trees or increase air pollution,” writes Lisa Friedman.

The proposed changes may be directed more at project cost reduction than project efficiency. The economics of environmental pollution are geared at increasing profits now through passing environmental remediation on to future taxpayers. 

How do we interpret these changes?

So, what does it mean to ignore climate change science? Should we build major infrastructure in coastal zones that are experiencing an increased frequency in flooding due to rising sea levels? Should we use pipes that corrode quickly in the presence of saltwater to cut project cost when replacing sewer lines in coastal communities where ocean water intrudes into their groundwater? Can we now ignore increased flooding in the midcontinent and allow the discharge of toxic wastes that leak into public waterways during floods? These types of questions raised by the proposed changes need answers. 

We don’t have answers yet. What we can say is that climate change science involves meteorology, oceanography, ecology, biology, physics, and chemistry. Is science related to these areas now off-limits for consideration in major infrastructure projects? Prohibiting the use of science in decision making is not a step forward; it is a step backward.

Sources:

White House update of key environmental law would exclude climate change (By Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Brady Dennis – Washington Post) – https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/white-house-update-of-key-environmental-law-would-exclude-climate-change/2020/01/03/35491e10-2e89-11ea-9b60-817cc18cf173_story.html Also:

Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning (By Lisa Friedman – New York Times) – https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/climate/trump-nepa-climate-change.html Also

Feature Image: Bury your head in the sand (by Sander van der Wel ) – (Modified) – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.