A new American President took office this weekend, and political passions are running high. President Trump’s bold call in his inaugural address for a “new vision” to put “America first” was answered by unprecedented public demonstrations in Washington and cities around the world.
But when one steps back from the heightened passions of the moment, it’s uncertain what exactly will happen next with federal policy on the environment. We are in uncharted terrain.
President Trump’s team has not yet laid out a clear road map for implementing its priorities. The administration says it intends to eliminate the Clean Power Plan and other environmental policies of the Obama administration, yet it promises that “protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority.”
It’s not yet clear how the administration’s priorities will fare in Congress. Republicans control both Houses, but their narrow majority in the Senate means they will need to muster Democratic support to enact significant policy changes. Democrats will likely push back against Republican attacks on existing environmental policies and programs.
At such an uncertain time, with political passions running high, how should environmentalists proceed?
First, we should remember what we have working in our favor. While the environment may appear to be a partisan issue in Washington, D.C., most Americans support common sense policies to protect our air, land, water, oceans and climate. In the 2016 elections, voters in a dozen states—red and blue—approved ballot measures that will devote $4.4 billion to protect the environment. Some of these measures passed with majorities of 80 percent or more. At a time of historic political division, nature can unite us.
This doesn’t mean that Americans agree on how best to protect nature. Many of our partisan disagreements on the environment boil down to how we should protect nature, not whether we should.
The Nature Conservancy has succeeded in our mission for more than sixty years by listening to people whose lives and livelihoods depend on nature and creating conservation solutions that protect the environment and address their interests. We know from our work in all 50 states and 70 countries around the world that the needs of people and nature aren’t necessarily in conflict—indeed people need nature to thrive.
In that spirit, we offer a few core principles that we believe both Republicans and Democrats can embrace to make progress on our nation’s—and the world’s—environmental challenges.