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The most consequential environmental stories of 2017 – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump made his mark in the energy and environment world during his first year in Washington. Many of his actions aimed to undo work from the Obama era. Trump all but abandoned the nation’s efforts to combat climate change, and he shrank national monuments that President Barack Obama had established or sought to preserve. Trump scaled back regulations on the fossil fuel industry and pushed for more drilling on land and at sea.

And in turn, much of the world pushed back. Protesters descended on Washington to oppose his policies and campaign against what they saw as an attack on science. Other nations denounced his decision to back out of an international climate agreement, leaving the United States at odds with the rest of the globe.

Meanwhile, extreme weather nationwide wrought devastation. Hurricanes leveled homes, triggered floods and upended lives from Puerto Rico to Texas. Wildfires ravaged California, burning entire neighborhoods to ashes. It was a tumultuous year. Here are some of the most consequential environmental stories we covered along the way.

1. Withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump proclaimed from the Rose Garden in June. With those words, he declared his intention to withdraw the nation from a global effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to fend off the worst effects of climate change. The Obama administration had led the charge for the landmark deal in late 2015, helping to persuade other world powers – and major polluters – such as China and India to pledge to reduce their emissions in coming years.

Trump reversed course, despite widespread criticism from world leaders, claiming that the Paris accord was a bad deal for the United States that would disadvantage American workers. The United States is now the only nation in the world to reject the deal. While the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement cannot officially be finalized until late 2020, the action sent a clear message: Climate action has little place in the Trump administration.

2. A sea change at the Environmental Protection Agency. “The future ain’t what it used to be at the EPA,” the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, is fond of saying. That’s certainly true. In nominating Pruitt to head the agency that Trump once promised to reduce to “little tidbits,” the president chose a man who had long been one of its most outspoken adversaries. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, challenging its authority to regulate toxic mercury pollution, smog, carbon emissions from power plants and the quality of wetlands and other waters.

Now, as EPA’s leader, he has acted aggressively to reduce the agency’s reach, pause or reverse numerous environmental rules, and shrink its workforce to Reagan-era levels. He has begun to dismantle Obama’s environmental legacy, in part by rolling back the Clean Power Plan – a key attempt to combat climate change by regulating carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants. Along the way, Pruitt has become one of Trump’s most effective Cabinet members, as well as a lightning rod for criticism from public health and environmental groups.

3. The fight over national monuments. Trump issued an executive order in April to review 27 land and marine monuments. But it was clear that two particular monuments were in his crosshairs: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Utah’s congressional delegation and its governor had lobbied Trump’s inner circle to reverse the monument designations of these parks in their state even before he was elected.

Utah Republicans called the designations by Obama and President Bill Clinton overzealous land grabs, and shortly after he took office, Trump adopted some of the same language. He promised to end what he called presidential “abuses” and give control of the land “back to the people.” In the end, Trump shrank both monuments by nearly 2 million acres last month, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the borders of other monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as in the West, are being reviewed. Native American groups that had requested a Bears Ears designation are leading a wave of lawsuits against the Trump administration’s decision.

4. Drill, baby, drill. Drilling platforms already dot the Gulf of Mexico, where the fossil fuel industry has extracted oil and gas for decades. But the Trump administration wanted to make history. In early November, it did so by announcing the largest gulf lease offering for oil and gas exploration in U.S. history: 77 million acres.

The move was consistent with Trump’s push for “energy dominance.” He and Zinke are also opening more land to coal excavation in the West. One of Zinke’s first acts as interior secretary was to remove a bright and colorful picture of a western landscape from the Bureau of Land Management’s website and replace it with a black wall of coal. Oil prices are climbing after reaching record lows in recent years, but coal is struggling to make a comeback after the rise of natural gas. The Gulf of Mexico promises more oil, but it also might promise disaster. It’s the scene of the nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which fouled beaches and killed untold numbers of marine animals when oil spewed into the water for months.

Is drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge next? The Republican-controlled Congress greenlighted leases for exploration in the recently passed tax bill completely along party lines. But let the buyer beware. Royal Dutch Shell drilled a $7 billion hole in the Chukchi Sea in 2014 and has nothing to show for it.

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