United States

   

Environmental Policies

#41
Key Findings
Despite a history of ambitious environmental protections, the United States holds the SGI 2020’s lowest position (rank 41) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has declined by 1.2 points relative to 2014.

The Trump administration has been a rapidly escalating disaster for environmental policy. The Republican president has embraced climate-change denial and withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement, and has promised to rejuvenate the coal-mining industry.

Hard-line opponents of environmental regulation have been appointed to top environmental positions, and many regulations have been reversed without analysis. The Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific and expert staff has been decimated, and many regulations that remain are unlikely to be enforced.

A number of individual states have sought to continue efforts to reduce carbon emissions. However, under Trump, there is unlikely to be leadership or even cooperation from the United States federal government in international climate-change efforts.

Environment

#38

How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?

10
 9

Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.
 2
 1

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
Environmental Policy
4
The United States has had ambitious environmental programs since the early 1970s. By the 1990s, major enactments covered the entire range of significant environmental concerns, including resource use (e.g., water resources, wetlands, endangered species and the protection of forests). In some areas of environmental pollution, such as hazardous-waste management and new sources of air pollution, environmental controls have imposed excessive costs. The issue of climate change, however, requires the implementation of costly controls for the sake of benefits that will occur years or even decades in the future and that will affect the rest of the world as much as the United States itself.

The Trump administration has been a rapidly escalating disaster for environmental policy. Trump has embraced an extreme version of climate-change denial and withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Although some of the country’s more liberal states will continue to seek reductions in carbon emissions, no national action can be expected to be taken under the Trump presidency. Indeed, Trump has promised to rejuvenate the coal-mining industry, an economic absurdity. He appears to want to reverse any action that was taken by the Obama administration – for no other reason than that – and thereby torpedo ambitious environmental policy goals. There is no coherent policy approach across different relevant policy fields.

Meanwhile, Trump has appointed hardliner opponents of environmental regulation from industry to top environmental positions. Under his leadership, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered the cancellation of numerous Obama-era environmental regulations – actions that have generally been undertaken without benefit of serious analysis and may, in many cases, eventually be struck down by the courts. The Trump administration has decimated the EPA’s scientific and expert staff, leaving the agency unlikely to enforce many regulations that remain on the books.

Global Environmental Protection

#41

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
2
The Trump administration represents a sharp reversal of the U.S. role on international environmental issues. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, the United States exercised leadership on a wide range of international environmental issues. However, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases (GHGs) was a turning point, as the Clinton administration signed the protocol, committing the United States to a schedule of emission reductions, but later abandoned an evidently doomed effort to win Senate ratification. In 2001, the Bush administration formally withdrew the United States’ endorsement of the protocol.

The Obama administration sharply reversed Bush’s policy direction on environmental issues, especially with regard to climate change. But limited support from Congress and the public constrained U.S. positions in international negotiations. Nevertheless, the U.S. rejoined the United Nations process on climate change. In 2014, it committed to reducing total U.S. carbon emissions by 26% to 28% in comparison with 2005 levels, and it played a leading role in the December 2015 U.N. Conference on Climate Change (COP21), although lacking an effective national carbon reduction strategy.

In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump denied the reality of human-driven climate change and vowed to abandon costly policies designed to control greenhouse gases. As president, Trump has withdrawn the United States from the international climate-change regime and canceled U.S. contributions to support conversion to clean energy by low-income countries. Importantly, some states (especially California) have indicated their intention to continue progress in reducing carbon emissions. But California does not play a significant role in supporting the international regimes for environmental control. Under President Trump there will no leadership and little, if any, cooperation from the U.S. federal government in international climate-change efforts.

Marine plastic pollution threatens biodiversity through entanglement, ingestion and chemical exposure. The United States is in the top 20 of 192 coastal countries with mismanaged waste entering the ocean. Regarding single‐use plastics and fishing nets, two major sources of plastic pollution, the United States currently does not have a federal ban on most single‐use plastics or on synthetic gillnets.
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