The climate has been in crisis for decades, but recent reversals and relaxations of long-held environmental regulations in the U.S. have quickened the pace of environmental decline. While this has negative implications for the health of climates and communities across the country, the impact of these changes will affect certain communities more intensely than others.
Not only is the 72.7 billion-dollar winter sports industry and its 695,00 employees at risk, but individuals who inhabit cold climates and those from low-income communities or communities with many people from disempowered racial backgrounds will feel a greater burden from the loosening of environmental rules.
To date, the current administration has reversed or dismantled 66 environmental regulations and is in the process of reviewing 34 more. The public attention to the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a sharp uptick in the explicit removals of some of the nation’s most integral environmental protections.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, President Trump has signed multiple executive orders that have effectively allowed corporations to “surpass the need to comply with our various federal infrastructure regulations,” according to Kayalin Akens-Irby, an environmental, social, governmental, and impact investing advisor. President Trump’s June 2020 executive order allowed for the weakening of key elements of the Clean Water Act, The Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act to expedite economic recovery through infrastructure projects.
Additionally, the consistent defunding of the Environmental Protection Agency over the past three years has eroded environmental mandates in the U.S. The EPA has faced steep budget cuts and according to Akens-Irby, the lack of financial resources reduced enforcement capabilities of environmental regulations in place since the ‘60s and ‘70s. Even though strong environmental laws exist, “they do not have power unless someone is there to enforce them” says Akens-Irby.
Aside from weakening the enforcement of these laws, the bulk of the rolled-back environmental regulations will lead to a quickening in the pace of climate change in which cold climate communities are being disproportionately impacted. A 2018 study that found that between 1982 and 2016, the western United States saw a 41 percent decrease in snowfall and a 34-day decrease in the snow season. Climate change affects everyone, but the intensity of it is felt most deeply in climates that depend on adequate snowfall.
Josh Prigge, CEO of sustainability consulting company Sustridge, says that of all the environmental regulations being relaxed, the rollback of air pollution regulations will have the most direct impact on cold climate communities. Air pollution is linked to an increase of greenhouse gases which trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and lead to an increase in the warming of the Earth’s temperatures.
Prigge states that one of the high impact rollbacks was the rollback of the Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon pollution from US power plants. In 2019, The Clean Power Plan was replaced with The Affordable Clean Energy Rule which decreased the carbon reduction requirement from the Clean Power Plan’s 32 percent reduction to between 0.7 percent and 1.5 percent.
Significant, too, is the removal of a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with extreme efficacy in the trapping of heat. Over a 25 year period, its global warming potential is 84 times stronger than that of carbon dioxide. Underreporting methane emissions will obfuscate a clear understanding of how much greenhouse gasses are entering the atmosphere. Plus, if the amount of methane reported in the atmosphere is less than the actual amount, scientists will have a weaker position to increase regulation.
Perhaps most devastating for inhabitants of cold areas and snowsports enthusiasts is the relaxation of rules that limit air pollution in National Parks and wilderness areas. Because so many ski resorts are in close proximity to protected wilderness areas, the increased air pollution in those areas will directly affect many ski areas and compound the harsh effects of climate change in those towns.
The reversal or weak enforcement of critical environmental legislature keenly hurts Black, Hispanic and Indigenous communities because, based on a combination of inequalities, they bear the highest exposure to air and water pollution.
“Black people and Hispanic people are more likely to live in areas with air quality that doesn’t meet standards,” says Megan Latshaw Ph.D., an associate scientist at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She also states that the majority of people who live near toxic waste facilities are people of color and that African American children are five times more likely to be exposed to lead poisoning than White children.
This is why many lawmakers craft environmental policies with minority communities in mind. Dr. Latshaw cites Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12898, which “mandated that all federal agencies consider the impact of their actions on the environmental health of minority and low-income communities.”
The National Environmental Policy Act, enacted in 1970, requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. There has been a decrease, however, in requirements for community input as the current administration relaxes environmental regulations.
As a result of the loosening requirements for community input, companies are going to be able to expedite infrastructure projects, such as oil and gas pipelines, without giving the people in the communities that will be impacted these projects the chance to comment about it. This removes one of the few ways people, especially BIPOC, can fight for the rights of their community.
The deregulation of long-held environmental practices threatens not only the survival of the snowsports industry but also the livelihoods of many racial minorities. The snow season will continue to shrink at a more rapid pace and the exposure to negative elements of the environment will increase for lower-income individuals, particularly of underrepresented minority status. If unchallenged, the recent rollbacks have the potential to create untold long-term environmental harm.
Tiffany Onyejiaka is a writer and healthcare worker based in Maryland who is focused on the way health, science, and society connect, and how this intersection affects the country’s most disempowered demographics.