Enrique Saenz. Courtesy photo


This November, Hoosiers will help decide who sets the goals for the country’s environmental policies for at least the next four years. The impact of those policies will ripple throughout the lives of everyone living in the United States.

The two major presidential candidates, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, have both said they are trying to find a balance between economic prosperity and clean air, water, and land for all—but their approaches are vastly different.

The Trump environmental approach has centered on quota-based regulation slashing. For every regulation proposed, two existing regulations have to be repealed in order to reduce the cost to private companies of complying with those regulations.

So far, the administration has used that rationale to roll back or weaken 68 environmental regulations, including several bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The Trump U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exceeded deregulatory expectations, saving the agency millions of dollars in administrative costs and billions, potentially, for private industries that pollute.

Private citizens lost more than they gained from the increased deregulation. Weakened air pollution rules meant to prop up the fossil fuel industry failed to do so. At least eight coal companies declared bankruptcy in 2019, and the oil and gas industry had its biggest job losses, even before the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse.

Greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. rose 3.4% during 2018 after three years of decline, before a market-driven decline in coal consumption led to an 2.1% decrease in 2019. The reduction in air quality caused by weakened regulations could lead to 80,000 premature deaths every decade.

The administration has also signed the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which funds maintenance in federal parks and refuges; given loans and grants to improve water infrastructure across the country; and begun the process to regulate PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals.

Trump has made plain that he intends to follow the same environmental course he charted his first term.

The Biden campaign said it wants to tie economic progress and environmental progress together. Its Build Back Better plan is a jobs-first approach to transforming the U.S. economy with a clean energy foundation, instead of the fossil fuels the country has depended on for centuries.

The campaign promises to achieve a 100% clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050. It said it will seek to do so by creating jobs needed to build a “modern, sustainable infrastructure and deliver an equitable clean energy future” with $2 trillion in investments, according to the campaign’s website.

It promises to tackle water and air pollution in a science-based manner, especially in disadvantaged communities, which will receive 40% of the money budgeted for clean energy projects.

The Biden campaign said it would establish an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity at the Department of Health and Human Services, an idea pushed by Biden’s pick for vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris. The campaign also said it would establish a National Crisis Strategy to address climate change response.

It’s unclear how many of those promises Biden would be able to fulfill, but his record as a senator points to a mostly environmentally friendly outlook.

Biden introduced the first climate change bill in the Senate, which became law in 1987. The League of Conservation Voters gave him a lifetime score of 83% for his mostly pro-environment voting record over the 36 years he was in the U.S. Senate.

It will be up to Hoosiers to decide whether they want to stay on the path the nation is currently taking this November or whether it’s time for a change.

Enrique Saenz is a journalist with the Indiana Environmental Reporter, an independent reporting organization supported by The Media School at Indiana University and IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute.