On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States of America. With campaign promises including the revitalization of the coal industry and doing away with environmental regulations, concerned citizens feared his impact on efforts to combat global climate change. 

 
 

In the year since, these fears were brought to life as the Trump administration conducted a continuous assault on climate protections.

The administration has consistently put industry interests ahead of Americans’ health and safety — in a year where millions of Americans have suffered the impacts of climate change.

Trump began the year by filling his Cabinet with known climate deniers and fossil fuel industry supporters. In June, he announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, confirming anxiety that the nation would abdicate its role as a global climate leader. Under Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked counter to its core mission, rolling back dozens of regulations meant to protect clean air, clean water, and the environment.

While the Trump administration decimated environmental policies, the American public struggled through a year filled with climate change-fueled catastrophes. One of the hottest years on record, 2017 was filled with devastating hurricanes, wildfires and floods, which cost the U.S. a record $306 billion.

The Trump administration’s denial of climate science and rollback of protections will continue to impact the American people well beyond the first year of his presidency — threatening our health, economy and our future.

 

Click on "What Happened" boxes to read more and see sources.

 
*Impacts refer to Climate Nexus’ list of data points from our database. For more detailed information on climate impacts, see this list of top 10 climate impacts of 2017

*Impacts refer to Climate Nexus’ list of data points from our database. For more detailed information on climate impacts, see this list of top 10 climate impacts of 2017

We embarked on this project to review and highlight significant climate disasters and climate-related political events in 2017.

Most of these incidents were tracked closely by Natural Resources Defense Council’s Trump Watch, Union of Concerned Scientists’ Attacks on Science page and Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s Climate Deregulation Tracker and Silencing Science Tracker. We are grateful for their work, without which we could not have compiled our own. In addition to these sources, we reviewed Climate Nexus' daily Hot News email for additional climate-related news moments.

Under the two broad umbrellas of Trump Impacts and Climate Impacts, each event in the database is categorized by topic and by the month in which it occurred.

How we defined the categories:

 

Trump Impacts

Climate and energy related political decisions made by the Trump administration in 2017 and their ramifications

  • Attacks on science: assaults, criticisms, condemnations and delegitimization of climate science and scientists

  • Rollbacks: Changes made in rules and regulations enacted by President Trump’s predecessors

  • State of denial: Climate deniers in power and the prevalence of climate denial within the Trump administration

Climate Impacts

Extreme weather events that occurred within the U.S. in 2017. These categories are self explanatory.

  • Drought

  • Floods/ Extreme precipitation

  • Hurricanes

  • Wildfires

 

The EPA has been particularly affected by the Trump administration’s first year in power. From attacks on science to rollbacks of rules intended to reduce emissions to a dramatic increase of deniers in leadership roles, it’s become clear that the agency’s M.O. has changed since the Obama era. The actions outlined in this section fly in the face of its own mission statement, which declares, among other things, that its purpose is to ensure that:

  • All Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work;
  • National efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information;
  • Environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy.

Given that the EPA's actions over the past year have prioritized industry over the health of the planet — upon which the health of all Americans depends — it might be time to revisit the mission of the agency.

Here’s what really happened at the agency this year.

Climate language and information was changed, limited and removed

Almost immediately after the inauguration, information on climate change was removed from the agency’s website. Carbon pollution was not mentioned as a cause of climate change, and references to national and international climate plans disappeared. The EPA’s science office removed “science” from its mission statement in March, and its climate change website went down entirely in April — replaced by a “This page is being updated” message. The climate change site for children followed suit the following month. Later in the year, climate references were removed from a truck efficiency site.

 
 
 
 
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Deniers were put in positions of power

It goes without saying that the Senate’s confirmation of Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator in February was a harbinger of denial to come. (To refresh your memory, the former attorney general of Oklahoma had sued the agency more than a dozen times in his previous life.) Pruitt made media waves in March when he falsely asserted that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming — and scientists resoundingly disagreed. The administration’s hiring freeze in the first part of the year left over 350 jobs at the agency unfilled, over 100 of those being positions for scientists. In May, members of a major scientific review board were dismissed, and soon after, so were 38 more science advisors. Toward the end of the year, coal lobbyist Andrew R. Wheeler was nominated to be the deputy administrator (second-in-command) of the EPA. And the year’s contaminated cherry on top? Pruitt appointed 66 new “scientific advisers,” to EPA scientific committees, including a good number of industry experts and state government officials who hold more conservative views than those who came before them. Michael Honeycutt, Texas’s top toxicologist and the new head of the Scientific Advisory Board, is a prime example of poor scientific judgment; according to him, the EPA exaggerated the risks associated with the dangerous neurotoxin we all know as mercury.

 
 

Scientists were prevented from speaking, congregating and advising

Less than a week after inauguration, EPA scientists were prohibited from communicating with the public and the press. In February, 17 staff members were held back from attending the Alaska Forum on the Environment. This was billed as a cost-saving measure by EPA spokesman Doug Ericksen, even though multiple scientific societies have argued that reducing the number of government scientists at conferences reduces their productivity. Also in February, climate scientists expressed fears of “McCarthyist attacks,” and Rep. Lamar Smith called a hearing on the EPA’s use of science in its decisions. Witnesses discussed “how EPA can pursue environmental protection and protect public health by relying on sound science” — implying, of course, that the agency had been relying on science that was not sound. Soon after, the House passed the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act of 2017, which would require the EPA to make all scientific and technical data it uses to craft regulations available online. (The bill did not pass the Senate.)

The attacks on science re-intensified in October, when the EPA abruptly canceled a climate change talk by three agency scientists with no explanation. Administrator Scott Pruitt also signed a directive blocking scientists who have received EPA funding from serving on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

Environmental protections were delayed, overturned, rejected and rolled back

Various measures were taken to lessen the burden placed on industry by rules tracking and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. In February, Trump signed an executive order instructing Pruitt to dismantle the Waters of the U.S. rule. The same month, a rule barring coal companies from throwing mining debris into streams was overturned. Later in the spring, Pruitt overturned the methane reporting requirement for fossil fuel companies; one of the president’s many EOs cut the social cost of carbon by as much as 97%; and the administration officially stopped telling agencies to include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. Also in that first six months, the EPA shut down its climate adaptation program as it simultaneously launched its “Back to Basics” campaign, which is intended to shift oversight of clean air and water over to individual states.

Decisions in the second half of the year were even more striking against a backdrop of climate change-amplified natural disasters. The U.S. Court of Appeals struck down an EPA rule that had required companies to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, the greenhouse gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration. The EPA attacked Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, as well as a coal waste rule, at the end of the summer. In September, Pruitt used EPA's budget for fiscal year 2018 to restrict DOJ environmental programs. Then, after nearly an entire year of natural disasters intensified by climate change — from the agriculture-crippling flash drought in the plains to California’s wildfires to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — the agency still refused to invest in a clean energy future, and announced the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

 

In the year following Trump's inauguration, climate-driven weather disasters have affected millions of American lives and billions of dollars of property. Still, the destruction has not slowed the federal administration's mission to undo policies designed to combat climate change and its impacts.

We break it down by the numbers.

 
 
 

Appointing Scott Pruitt to take the reins of the EPA isn’t the only example of Trump’s favor for climate deniers. Top positions across federal agencies are now filled by individuals who deny climate change is real, happening now and caused by humans. Their appointments have already resulted in dangerous rollbacks of climate protections and will likely cause even more harm as their tenure continues.

 
 
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Rick Perry, Department of Energy

Anyone who loves Dancing with the Stars knows that Rick Perry has a ton of energy — what the American public doesn’t know is how well-versed he is on energy policy.

As Secretary of Energy, Perry ordered the agency to conduct a review of power grid reliability in April. Though the study, released in August, noted the U.S. power grid could handle renewables, it failed to mention the threat of climate change. Further, it called for rollbacks of existing environment and climate protections while recommending  “minimizing regulatory barriers to energy production.” An unsubtle boost for the administration-favored coal industry.

Under the guise of boosting grid resilience, Perry proposed the Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule in September. The rule would not only stick consumers with the financial burden of subsidizing failing coal and nuclear plants, it would specifically benefit a small number of energy companies. One of those is Murray Energy, whose CEO Bob Murray was photographed giving Perry his policy wishlist in early 2017. Not surprisingly, the list included a proposal to alter policies in the name of “grid resilience.”

 
 

Ryan Zinke, Department of Interior

In 2008, Ryan Zinke recognized climate change as manmade and as a national security threat. But by the time he was appointed Secretary of Interior, he had adopted popular denier talking points. His rejection of climate science was specifically called out in the resignation letter of Joel Clement, a senior advisor at DOI. “You and President Trump have waged an all-out assault on civil service by muzzling scientists and policy experts like myself,” Clement asserted.

A fossil fuel advocate, Zinke’s actions as secretary align with the Trump administration’s desire to increase natural gas and goal production by opening up public lands for mining and drilling.

In June, he signed an order to “streamline process for federal onshore oil and gas leasing permits.” And to close out 2017, the Bureau of Land Management — which falls under Interior — rescinded Obama-era environmental protections limiting fracking on public lands.

 
 
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Kathleen Hartnett White, White House Council on Environmental Quality

To say that Trump’s pick for the top White House environment position has made some troubling statements on science is an understatement. Though nominated to a position designed to protect the environment from threats such as climate change and air pollution, Hartnett White has said “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.” A letter signed by 300 scientists opposed Hartnett White’s nomination “because one thing more dangerous than climate change is lying.”

Her lack of understanding of environmental science may be driven by her allegiance to the fossil fuel industry. Prior to the White House, she was a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is funded by the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil, among others.

Jeff Sessions, Department of Justice

As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has not created, enacted or rolled back any climate laws. However, he is another example of a denier in the Trump administration’s cabinet. In 2015, when Sessions was a senator, he asserted that “carbon pollution is CO2, and that’s really not a pollutant. It’s a plant food, and it doesn’t really harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases,” during a hearing of the Environment and Public Works committee.

Mike Pompeo, Central Intelligence Agency

During his confirmation hearing, CIA Director Mike Pompeo evaded questions on his understanding and belief of climate change. When asked by Senator Kamala Harris on his views on climate change as a national security threat, he responded that he would prefer “not to get into the details of the climate debate and science.”

Prior to his appointment to Trump’s cabinet, Pompeo was a congressman in Kansas. During which, he voiced vehement opposition to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, noting, “Federal policy should be about the American family, not worshipping a radical environmental agenda.”

Sonny Perdue, Department of Agriculture

For an indication of Sonny Perdue’s understanding of science, climate or otherwise, know this: while governor of Georgia, he hosted a prayer service for rain — his effort to end a severe drought.

As Agriculture Secretary, Perdue issued an official statement supporting Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Despite the fact that the agency runs climate change adaptation programs as well as programs to limit agriculture’s climate impact, Perdue asserts “the Earth’s climate has been changing since the planet was formed.”

Though the amount of administration-induced climate damage can feel overwhelming, it’s important to note that plenty of climate progress happened in the past year as well. Progress that is all the more notable given the political atmosphere.

 
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To refresh your memory, 2017 brought the first-ever March for Science. Thousands of scientists and science supporters gathered in D.C. and at over 600 “satellite” marches around the world. One week later, tens of thousands of people demanded climate action at the Peoples Climate March. In response to Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Agreement, cities, states, business leaders and others reiterated their continued commitment to the deal by forming the United States Climate Alliance and signing on to We Are Still In movement. The New York Times leaked Volume 1 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (also known as the Climate Science Special Report) amid fears the administration would suppress it; the final draft was released later with no evidence of denier tampering. Advancements continued in renewable energy, and the grid in solar-heavy areas passed a major test with flying colors.

 

That’s not an exhaustive list, of course. A lot happened. But we can always do more.

We can contribute when drafts of science education standards or climate science reports are open for public comment. We can educate ourselves and others about the established long-term trends and physical processes associated with climate change, drawing connections to the amplification of extreme weather that’s already happening. We can show up to not only the big marches and protests, but the small and medium ones that happen around the country throughout the year.

We can recognize that systems of oppression overlap; we can fight for the rights and well-being of marginalized communities that are bearing, and will continue to bear, the brunt of climate change impacts. We can elevate and support those communities and put their experiences front and center. We can fly less, call our senators and engage in socially responsible investing.

We can vote.

And of course, we can start difficult conversations with the people in our lives. Conversations that might, just maybe, plant the seeds of a change of mind or heart.