One of Bridging The Gap’s top funders came to us last week and asked if we would answer several questions regarding the current political climate in our country. They were polling all of their grantees to understand how their giving impacts non-profits, like BTG . So, several staffers got together and came up with the following responses.
1) How does the current political situation in the US. affect environmental issues in general, from your viewpoint?
The simple fact is that with the Trump administration in place and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress there is a very real risk of rollbacks of many of our country’s environmental achievements over the last 50 years, not just those of the Obama administration. President Trump has been very explicit about his intent to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan, of course, but he also made “over-regulation” a theme of his campaign. This opens the door to Congress weakening such landmark laws as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water and Air Acts, and the National Environmental Policy Act as well as to downsizing and defunding the Environmental Protection Agency. Even if all those efforts were to be blocked by the hard work of environmental organizations – and that fight is already on – at the very least we will lose two years, until the Congress elected in November 2018 takes office, and likely four years to inaction on the critical environmental problems we face, most especially climate change. This will have very damaging effects.
On a positive note, the election of such an openly hostile administration has energized and activated many more people who care about the state of the world. New people have joined membership organizations and contributions have also increased. The challenge is how to direct these new people and financial resources most effectively to fend off the attacks that are underway and to build the base for future advances.
2) Does the U.S. political climate affect your ability to do the environmental work you do, and if so, how?
Bridging The Gap anticipates that the impact of the current administration will not be felt during the initial wave of changes, but in the subsequent waves. Bridging The Gap, its partners and funders have the funds to complete existing contracts. The proposed budget cuts will greatly restrict new contracts and funding opportunities. For example, Bridging The Gap has litter abatement contracts with two local governments. As the Federal budget begins to impact state and local budgets, programs like litter abatement are often abandoned in order to maintain essential services.
Federal, State and local regulations have a great impact on the work of Bridging The Gap including litter clean-ups, remediation efforts, solid waste management and energy efficiency. The current administration has a goal to greatly reduce government regulations. Unfortunately it takes government regulations to maintain clean air and drinking water. Most recently, Bridging The Gap has been contracted to assist with the remediation of a creek that was being polluted by a local business for years. The contract is possible because the EPA enforced the regulation and the organization had to pay a fine. It is this fine that being used for remediation work conducted by Bridging The Gap. As this example demonstrates, without environmental regulations there will be an increase in environmental contaminants and a reduction in funding for remediation.
3) Does the current political situation directly affect the constituents or communities you serve, and if so, how?
Though most of our work is classified as “environmental,” Bridging the Gap is a community-focused organization, and so we see ourselves as serving the entire Kansas City community. Consequently, efforts by those in power to scapegoat certain groups of people in American society do have an effect on the community we serve even when they don’t explicitly relate to our programs. People who feel under threat of oppression or deportation may not have the luxury to spend much time and energy dealing with other concerns, like waste reduction or tree-planting or habitat preservation and restoration or improving energy efficiency.
While those consequences are being felt right now, it remains to be seen how our community will be affected by specific environmental actions taken by the Trump administration and Congress. The approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline means oil is already flowing under the Missouri River in two places far upriver of Kansas City, posing some risk of oil contamination of our drinking water supply. The State Department has also granted a Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pass under the Missouri and tributaries of it much closer to Kansas City if built.
A weakening of the Clean Power Plan could mean coal-fired power plants will remain in operation longer, polluting the air we all breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. A rollback of the Obama administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations could slow the adoption of more-efficient and less-polluting electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles, also resulting in more smog and particulates and water pollution.
And inaction on the climate change emergency will undermine one of the fundamental life support systems that all human societies depend upon, threatening food production and water supplies and forcing people to migrate in addition to causing more extreme weather disasters like flooding and droughts and severe storms.