Friday, November 11, 2016

Five Sustainability Predictions for the Next Four Years

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With every change of administration there is always a revision of national policy. One of the themes that occurs in this blog is that the U.S. government, regardless of who is in the executive branch, has had limited impact on sustainability initiatives. The government is divided and it is difficult to move initiatives forward in such an environment. Even with the new configuration with one party in control of the executive and the two houses of congress, it will be difficult to roll back many key laws. Nevertheless, there will be change. Here are my 5 sustainability predictions for the next 4 years.

1. Increased activism. President Obama did what he could with his limited power to promote a sustainability agenda. Congress was unwilling to work with him on many of his key environmental initiatives. Thus, the impact of President Obama's efforts, while significant, are not transformative. Environmentalists gave him a pass and didn't protest or cause him difficulty because there was a sense he was trying his best. However, with the likely appointment of climate change deniers within the cabinet, I suspect that there will be a very significant uptick in the efforts of activists that include more civil action such as what is occurring in North Dakota.

2. Coal stays dead. The President elect always blamed President Obama on the death of the coal industry. While the President might have nudged its demise a bit through some regulatory policies, the reality is that the industry was dying anyway through natural economic processes. While the incoming regime may try to bring it back, coal is not a viable long-term energy source for our nation for many economic reasons.

3. Paris is dead but local and state action is back. I've always been dubious about the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. The President never had congressional support. Without such support, it is difficult to put policies into place that move the U.S. forward on climate change. For over a generation now, most of the action in the U.S. on climate policy was at the local level. Under President Obama, the Federal government tried to have a larger hand in the policy and local and state action tried to follow his lead. The seesaw from state and local leadership (during George W. Bush) to limited national leadership (under Obama) and back to state and local leadership under the new administration is a bit challenging for developing a successful long-term agenda. Clearly there will be limited support for climate policy under the new administration and leadership will emerge once again in states and cities.

4. Infrastructure. There is no doubt that spending on infrastructure will increase. It will be up to states to set this agenda. While some may push spending on roads and bridges, many states have mass transit initiatives such as high speed rail projects that are shovel ready. I suspect that some regions, particularly the red ones, will see significant investment. It is long tradition to provide financial payback to regions that support elected officials. Environmentalists in these regions should be prepared to evaluate the projects as they come forward.

5. Pull back of environmental regulation. Given previous statements from the president elect, I suspect that there will be a general rollback of environmental regulation at the federal level which will give cover to roll back state and local regulations in some communities. This will lead to more activism as per my first prediction.

The suspect that the coming four years will see a renaissance of environmental activism in the U.S. Many in the environmental community are very worried and they are already mobilizing.

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