EPA Rollback of Air Pollution Regulation Shows the Power of the Ruling Elite

On January 25th, 2018 the Trump administration announced that it would be getting rid of the requirement for the EPA to classify sites as “major sources” of hazardous air pollution indefinitely. This policy is described by many environmentalists as “one of the EPA’s bedrock environmental regulations” (Puko 2018). The policy was created during the Clinton administration and mandates manufacturing sites that “annually emit 10 tons or more of a single air pollutant or 25 tons or more of a group of pollutants” to be classified as “major-source” polluters and use the maximum available technology to lower that pollution (Puko 2018). Without the regulation, according to environmentalists, polluters could reduce carbon emissions just below the major-source classification cutoff in order to avoid consequences (Puko 2018). However, there are other perspectives on this issue, such as the opinions of Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso. They claim that the indefinite classification as a major-source pollutant causes a lack of investment by corporations (Puko 2018). The corporations mainly benefiting from the EPA’s rollback are big business manufacturers such as steel, paper, and chemical makers (Puko 2018). While a complex issue, it is evident that the change in EPA regulation is a direct result of the promethean and market liberal values of the current administration. By comparing the driving values of both environmentalists and the Trump administration, I argue that the values of the ruling elite will trump all other opinions even though the public may feel otherwise.

Environmentalist values are clearly leading the backlash in this situation. From the start, Trump’s campaign has promised to roll back environmental regulations related to air emissions and other environmental regulations, and environmentalists have been upset since. In this situation, environmentalists are driven by their commitment to the preservation and protection of the environment particularly from the emission of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, it should be noted that even those who do not consider themselves environmentalists can still object to this decision. John Walke, the NRDC’s Clean Air director, states that the decision of the Trump administration “drastically weakens protective limits on air pollutants […] that cause cancer, brain damage, infertility, developmental problems and even death” (Puko 2018). Essentially, this statement applies to all homocentrists as well. Homocentrists care about the well being of all of humanity but don’t include plant and animal life as part of their concerns (Merchant 1992). With that being said, a homocentrist would still find the rollback of the “major-source” regulation law to be detrimental to the health of Americans because of the consequences from pollutant emissions that directly impact human health.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, are acting with promethean and market liberal values. Instead of concerning themselves with the implications of the environment, the Trump administration takes an approach centered around resource abundance and exploitation of those resources. It is also important to note, however, that they are also taking a free market approach to government regulation in this particular circumstance. Market liberals don’t support heavy regulation because they think that the market should be able to function on its own. In Trump’s eyes, if the regulation is rolled back, then this will provide more opportunity for competitiveness and increase investment while still giving manufacturing businesses freedom to reduce pollution in their own ways.

Environmentalists, however, don’t believe that a reduction of regulation is the proper way to ensure reduction of carbon emissions. The majority of America also believes that we should have more regulation. A poll conducted by the New York Times revealed that 69% of Americans believe that there should be strict CO2 limits on power plants (Popovich, Schwartz, and Schlossburg 2017). This is somewhat surprising considering the current administration’s environmental policy. So, if almost three quarters of the population believes there should be strict carbon emission laws in place, why is the Trump administration disregarding the desires of the American people? The answer may lie in elite theory. According to elite theory, society is ruled by the bourgeoisie and political elites that determine our laws and policies (Bill and Hardgrave 1981). The elites do not bother with the desires of the general public, and instead make policy based on what will positively impact those in power, including owners of large manufacturing plants. In this situation, the Trump administration and the emitting industries act as the elitist factions. Unfortunately, if this theory holds true, this case is a prime example of the power the administration can have on the policies our country chooses to pursue. As a result of this, the concerns for the well being of the general public are ignored in favor of economic investment which may cause an environmental backlash movement in the future.


Works Cited

Bill, James A., and Robert L. Hardgrave. 1981. Comparative Politics: The Quest for Theory. University Press of America.

Merchant, Carolyn. 1992. Radical ecology: the search for a livable world. Routledge, Taylor & Francis group.

Puko, Timothy. 2018. “EPA Withdraws Air Pollution Policy.” WSJ.

Popovich, Nadja, John Schwartz, and Tatiana Schlossberg. 2017. “How Americans Think About Climate Change, In Six Maps.” Nytimes.com.

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