LONDON – The relationship between business, politics, and the environment is about to become more complicated. As US President Donald Trump’s administration threatens to dismantle vital environmental protections, some of which have existed for decades, business leaders are increasingly recognizing – and acting upon – the need for environmentally sustainable policies.
Trump, who once called climate change a Chinese hoax intended to weaken the US economy, has already repealed the Stream Protection Rule, which bars coal producers from dumping waste into waterways. Next on the chopping block may be the Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse-gas emissions from generating plants – by far the country’s largest source of CO2 emissions – with the goal of cutting carbon pollution from the power sector to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. The Trump administration has even threatened to back out of the Paris climate agreement, to which the world’s governments committed in 2015.
A decade ago, business leaders would have largely welcomed such regressive environmental policies, which can lower costs and expand opportunities, by reducing constraints on their companies’ behavior. But today, even as markets respond bullishly to Trump’s “business-friendly” pledges – not just deregulation and tax cuts, but also a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan that would include reviving coal – business leaders have remained cautious.
In particular, they have strong reservations about a potential withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Whatever benefits could be derived from a low-regulation economy would not offset the harm of reneging on environmental commitments that are viewed as vital to American business success.