Donald Trump may find that the environmental train already left the station.
Even if he follows through on promises to repeal many of President Barack Obama’s environmental policies, Trump's efforts would be dwarfed by the clean energy movement that has developed during the last eight years.
On Nov. 4, Walmart announced a vigorous plan to increase its investment in renewable energy exponentially, with the retail giant vowing to power half its operations from wind, solar, and other renewables by 2025, and reduce its carbon emissions by 18 percent by that time.
A week-and-a-half later, Microsoft, signed off on its largest wind-power purchase agreement to buy 237 megawatts of electricity from turbines in Kansas and Wyoming to run data centers in Cheyenne.
Even if Trump loosens renewable energy requirements, corporations, consumers and activists may continue to pursue Obama's ambitious goals anyway. “What’s important to remember is that we should expect the worst from Trump, but there are certain things he cannot change,” Cassady Craighill, a media officer at Greenpeace USA who covers the Arctic, climate change and corporate influence over politics, said. “For starters, renewable energy is growing and growing fast.”
One of Obama’s most controversial policies is the Clean Power Plan (CPP) -- the EPA’s response to global warming that would force the nation to become less dependent on coal and rely more on renewable energy sources, reducing carbon emissions levels by 32 percent of what they were in 2005 by 2030.
Although the plan has faced tremendous resistance – with more than two dozen states opposing the plan’s stringent regulations -- more than a dozen state environmental agency officials have sought additional information and technical assistance related to CPP compliance, a sign that the demand for clean energy is gaining momentum.
“While the Clean Power Plan is the trademark legislation of President Obama's climate legacy, it is fortified by the rapid growth of clean energy and a boisterous movement of people who understand the urgency of climate change,” Craighill said. “Those will both continue to grow and act with or without the support of Trump, who still fails to grasp basic science.”
Marlo Lewis, Jr., senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, argued that there is simply no need for the power plan, and that Trump administration would not pose any threat to companies desiring to go green.
“If a large corporation wants to be a climate leader in its own business practices, it will still be free to do so,” he said. “Companies would continue to invest in ‘green’ power if they expected to achieve higher rates of return than alternative investments with the same capital. But in that case, there really is no need for the policies.”
Rodrigo Estrada of Greenpeace USA disagreed. He is calling for environmental activists to stand firmly against any efforts to roll back Obama’s energy policies.
“Unchecked, President Trump could eliminate the Clean Power Plan, abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, and pull us out of the landmark Paris Climate Agreement,” Estrada said. "This is an urgent wake-up call for people power now. People power is stronger than any government and any one President, but only if we act.”
The EPA’s energy regulations are often touted as policies that will benefit the American people, but Lewis said such mandates lead to fewer options for consumers, and regulatory advocates’ claim that compliant products are less expensive to operate in the long-run is “a dubious claim” because high-efficiency models tend to cost more to maintain and repair, and using them often involves major drawbacks.
“Trump would be wise to just let consumers choose,” Lewis said. “If energy-efficiency mandates really produce better products, then we don’t need laws forcing consumers to buy those products. And if large firms need these mandates to sell their products, that’s a very good sign that they’re not benefitting consumers at all.”