Columns

Environmentalists Fall Back to State-by-State Battle Lines

Marchers take part in the Forward on Climate rally on Feb. 17, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Rena Schild/Shutterstock.com)

Veronica Eady, the Massachusetts director of the Conservative Law Foundation, told Democrats this month that with Donald Trump in the White House it will be up to them to protect the environment.

“A lot of the burden is going to fall on you to make the change that we are not able to make at the federal level. We are in your custody for the next four years,” the State House News Service reported she said.

Eady and other environmentalists met with Massachusetts legislative Democrats to map strategy before the climate change debate really hit the fan in January after President Trump announced plans to restart negotiations to build the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines.

Trump also ordered a “temporary suspension” of all new business at the department. That included issuing orders and work assignments to EPA contractors.

And in a real message about the Trump administration’s attitude, the phrase “climate change” was removed from the White House website.

More than a week before Trump rocked the environmentalists’ world, Rep. Stephen Kulik (D) said Massachusetts would have to double or even triple its environmental protection efforts to fight White House policy at the local level.

“It’s a very dangerous time, as we know,” Kulik, who serves as vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said. “But we can make up for that, we can resist that as much as we can in Massachusetts and focus on what we know we can do right here.”

If all environmental politics is local now, those on the Green side of the aisle in California have a friend in Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

“Our state is known the world over for actions we’ve taken to encourage renewable energy and combat climate change,” Brown said in his State of the State address. “Whatever they do in Washington, they can’t change the facts, and these are the facts: The climate is changing.”

Brown and the California Legislature have created their own environmental plan that includes reducing state greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent and more investments in clean energy.

Without mentioning Trump by name, Gov. Brown made it clear that neither he nor the Legislature would back down from a fight over climate change.

“We can’t fall back and give in to the climate deniers,” he said. “The science is clear, the dangers is real. We can do much on our own and we can join with others — other states and provinces, even other countries — to stop the dangerous rise in climate pollution.”

While environmentalists may see an easy path to victory in Massachusetts and California, the situation is different in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker may have been one of the GOP candidates wiped out of the presidential primary by Trump, but the Wisconsin Republican beat the White House to the punch when it came to wiping climate change off the state’s Department of Natural Resources website.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported language claiming a scientific consensus branded human activity as the cause of climate change disappeared in December 2016. DNR communications director Jim Dick described the change as part of a routine year-end review of the website.

“Human activities that increase heat–trapping (‘green house’) gases are the main cause. Earth’s average temperature has increased 1.4 °F since 1850 and the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. Increasing temperatures have led to changes in rainfall patterns and snow and ice cover,” the Wisconsin DNR web page had read.

That was replaced with: “As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.”

That was fine with Scott Manley, vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

“[Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resource] get their authority from the Wisconsin legislature and so if anybody is concerned about climate change or global warming or any issue, they should look to the laws that the legislature has passed, because that’s what’s relevant, what’s on their website is not relevant,” Manley told WUOM.

If it is true that now all environmental politics is local, George Meyer, the head of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said he’s more worried than ever about what his state’s Legislature — dominated by Republicans since 2011 — has planned.

Although his path may be smoother in a state legislature dominated by Democrats, George Bachrach, the president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said his fellow environmentalists should see the transition to Trump as an “opportunity.”

“We’re not wringing out hands,” Bachrach said. “Washington is going to be in disarray. This is a time when cities and states must lead the nation.”