This week the Trump administration proposed its latest major attack on our national efforts to fight climate change — a reversal of regulations for methane emissions, which are one of the most destructive sources of climate pollution. California Governor Jerry Brown, speaking at this week’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, called the proposal “dangerous and irresponsible” — also an accurate description of this administration’s assaults on regulating emissions from vehicles and power plants, lack of enforcement of standards to limit soot and smog, rollback of protections of national monuments and, well, you get the idea.
But outrageous as these attempted rollbacks are, they don’t represent Trump’s most dangerous attack on the environment and climate action. First of all, we’re challenging them in court — and we know we have strong arguments. Secondly, any single policy can always be reversed by a later administration or Congress, and I’m convinced that the American people can and will elect people to both Congress and the White House who take climate change seriously.
But there’s one branch of the U.S. government that’s much harder and a lot slower to change: The Supreme Court. Our malignly mendacious president could self-destruct at any time, but if the U.S. Senate confirms Brett Kavanaugh, then the Trump administration’s deep hostility to bedrock environmental laws that protect us from corporate polluters will have a seat on that court long after Trump himself is a mortifying historical footnote.
Public opinion polls show that Kavanaugh is an exceptionally unpopular Supreme Court nominee — and with good reason. His extreme brand of conservative activism directly threatens environmental protections, women’s reproductive rights, civil rights, workers’ rights, and much more. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination proved only that Republican senators no longer care about maintaining even a pretense of nonpartisan deliberation or judicial balance, and that Kavanaugh himself will say (or more often, not say) whatever it takes to secure his lifelong seat on the bench.For the environment, and particularly for our climate, that would be bad news indeed. In decision after decision, Kavanaugh has sided with polluting corporations over the right of the public to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in safe communities. No other federal judge has been so consistently hostile to the authority of the EPA to protect people from polluters. The Trump administration actually cited his role in killing environmental protections as one of his greatest qualifications.
A Supreme Court that included Brett Kavanaugh could actually revoke the EPA’s authority to regulate climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. If that were to happen, it wouldn’t mean we’d stop making progress on reducing emissions, but it would make that progress far more difficult. Considering how destructive the earliest consequences of climate change have been, we can’t afford the delay that might cause. This summer’s wildfire victims in the West and the people in the Carolinas about to have their lives upended by yet another superstorm deserve more than “thoughts and prayers” from politicians and evasive legalese from corporate lackeys like Brett Kavanaugh.
We can still stop this from happening. Incredibly, more than a dozen Democratic senators still haven’t said whether they will oppose Kavanaugh’s appointment. That number should be zero. And many Republicans haven’t declared their positions either. If enough people contact their senators, we can stop this attack on the integrity of the Supreme Court just like we stopped the attack on affordable healthcare. But you’ve got to take action. Nothing you do this year, perhaps this decade, will be more consequential for the long-term safety of our climate and our communities.