In a stunning upset, Republican candidate Donald Trump defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to become the President-Elect of the United States.
Now that the election is over, members of the STEM community are left wondering what a Trump presidency means for their jobs, their industries, and the Earth.
“Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C., told Nature. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.”
“I watch the nightly news, and if [Trump’s] even mentioned science, I must admit I’m not in the room when it’s happened,” Princeton University physicist William Happer told Physics Today in September 2016. “I think science for him and his team is sort of a sideshow.”
However, Stanley Young, assistant director for bioinformatics at the National Institute of Statistical Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C., told Nature, “The popular impression I get is Clinton would go forward with business as usual and Trump is likely to upset things a bit. There’s a lot that could be improved in science.”
Part of the problem is that the presidential debates between Trump and Clinton did not contain many questions related to the sciences and climate change (and any actual policy questions during these debates were usually derailed by bickering and insults). Another issue is that Trump has not released very detailed plans about his would-be energy policy or other scientific initiatives. Much of the guesswork comes from Trump’s statements and tweets over the years, which tend to be vague and sometimes contradict other statements he’s made.
Here are some of the statements Trump has made on the sciences, energy, climate change, and other STEM-related initiatives, and what we might expect to see from him once he takes office in January.
Fortune predicts that utility-scale solar and wind power will continue to thrive during the Trump Administration.
However, Trump stated in a November 2012 tweet that “Windmills are destroying every country they touch — and the energy is unreliable and terrible.” Trump has also tweeted that wind turbines are “ugly,” and that they pose a threat to the country on an economic, environmental, and aesthetic level. Back in August 2016, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who authored the original wind energy tax credit in 1992, pledged that he would spend his life fighting a would-be President Trump on getting rid of wind power.
And in an October 2012 tweet Trump said, “Remember, new ‘environment friendly’ lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful — the idiots who came up with this stuff don't care.”
Coal, Drilling, and Fracking
As part of his “First 100 Days in Office” speech in Gettysburg, Pa., in October 2016, Trump pledged that he would “lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars' worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas, and clean coal.” He also promised that he will “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward.”
Trump repeatedly referred to “clean coal” during his debates with Hillary Clinton — a term which has been called “a myth and more a marketing term than scientific reality.” Bloomberg has stated that clean coal does not yet exist, and likely will not exist for a long time — Trump did not mention in his debate answers that, currently, no U.S. major clean coal plant is operational. Bloomberg further states that the decline in coal mining jobs is not because of EPA shutdowns or the Obama Administration, as Trump has alleged, but rather improved mining technology, a worldwide plunge in coal prices, and competition from clean energy sources such as solar and wind.
Furthermore, Trump has vowed to open federal lands to oil and gas drilling and coal mining. He’s also proposed doing away with for tighter methane controls on domestic drillers.
President Obama announced on Nov. 4 that he would reject an application for the completion of the Keystone pipeline. Experts believe that Trump will more than likely allow the Keystone XL Pipeline project to continue. Trump has close financial ties to the company that operates the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners. Trump owns between $500,000 and $1 million worth of stock in the company, and has a similar holding in Phillips 66, which will have a 25 percent stake in the Dakota Access project once it’s finished. Additionally, Trump’s presidential received $103,000 from Energy Transfer Partners’ chief executive (who donated an additional $66,000 to the Republican National Convention after Trump was named their official nominee for president).
A Forbes op-ed said that Trump’s victory is a welcome event from those who support a decrease in fracking regulations, and that oil and gas production will likely surge. "Good news for coal miners ... and owners of coal-fired power plants. Bad news for environmental zealots.”
Environmental Protection Agency and National Institutes of Health
Trump has advocated for decreasing the EPA to a mostly advisory one. And he has tapped Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute — and a noted climate change skeptic — to lead his EPA transition team upon taking office, in a move that some have compared to “the fox guarding the henhouse.” "There has been a little bit of [global] warming," Ebell told Vanity Fair in 2007, "but it's been very modest and well within the range for natural variability, and whether it's caused by human beings or not, it's nothing to worry about."
Trump’s views on the NIH are unclear. Some say that his close relationship with Newt Gingrich, who last year asked Congress to double the NIH budget, might benefit the agency. But on a talk radio show Trump said, “I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible.”
NASA and Space Exploration
An October 2016 op-ed for SpaceNews.com was authored by Robert S. Walker — a former Pennsylvania Congressman, the chair of President George W. Bush’s Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry, the current chairman of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Energy, the space policy adviser for Trump’s election campaign, and a possible frontrunner for NASA Administrator under President Trump. In the op-end, Walker — along with co-author Peter Navarro, a business professor at UC Irvine — stated that “NASA should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies.” He also suggests that they American space program must be re-invigorated in order to keep up with military-focused initiatives from countries such as China and Russia. Walker has further stated that NASA budgets ought to be shifted to “deep space achievements” instead of Earth science and climate research, and said that some NASA Earth science missions could instead be taken over by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Research, Funding, and Education
“If you look at Trump’s fiscal plan, while he hasn’t said much specific about science or much else, you’ve got an overall spending approach and tax proposal that would severely limit the amount of investment the government could put into anything, including science,” said David Goldston, a former staff director of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee who now oversees the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, in a Physics Today article.
Trump has said he’ll cut federal funding, but hasn’t clued America in to his plan when it comes to funding for scientific research. Most academic researchers are dependent on grants from government agencies, such as the NIH and the National Science Foundation.
Many have also expressed fears that Trump’s hardline stances against immigration — including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and preventing Muslim immigrants from entering the country — could dissuade talented and brilliant foreign scientists and students from coming to the U.S. to work or study.
Speaking of “The Wall,” it’s also feared that such a structure would threaten wildlife and destroy their habitats, alter breeding and genetic diversity if animals cannot physically cross a border, prevent animals from migrating (which is especially necessary with climate change), and could cause destructive flooding.
Trump has stated that he wants to get rid of Common Core and overhaul the nation’s education system, and perhaps dismantle or even eliminate the Education Department. His vague “drain the swap” comments have also got researchers worried that that means R&D funding cuts.
Medicine and Healthcare
One of the cornerstones of Trump’s presidential campaign was to repeal “Obamacare” — actually known as the Affordable Care Act — a 2010 national healthcare reform law which extended medical insurance to 25 million people by expanding the Medicaid plan for the poor and creating subsidized coverage for individuals. Republican lawmakers have voted over 50 times to repeal all or part of the law, and now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that repealing it is high on the list now that Republicans control both Congress and the White House. But since Republicans are short of the 60 votes needed to completely overturn Obamacare, Trump could instead use a process called “budget reconciliation” to eliminate funding for the income-based subsidies that make the new insurance plans affordable, or cut the money providing expanded Medicaid benefits in 31 states.
Trump has said he’ll replace the Affordable Care Act with something else — however, it’s unclear as to exactly what his plan would be. During his presidential campaign he suggested replacing the current individual coverage with high-deductible healthcare plans, as well as grouping the sickest people together into high-risk pools that are insured separately.
Trump stated in a March 2014 tweet that autism is likely caused by vaccines. He also stated in his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, that “the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal. Great pressure was put on politicians, and as usual, the politicians relented.”
Trump has been an outspoken denier of climate change for years, despite what most scientists say about the subject. Some of his tweets about global warming have called it a concept developed by the Chinese in order to destroy U.S. manufacturing, “expensive bulls**t that needs to stop,” a hoax perpetuated to raise taxes, and unlikely because of snow and freezing temperatures he experienced in New York City in March as well as freezing temperatures in Los Angeles in December
ScienceDebate.org sent a list of 20 questions to Trump before Election Day (Clinton, Independent Candidate Gary Johnson, and Green Party Candidate Jill Stein received the same questions). One question asked, “The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?” Trump’s reply: “There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change.’ Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water. Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria. Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population. Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels. We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer, and more prosperous.”
Trump’s “First 100 Days in Office” speech in October pledged to “cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs [$2.5 billion is currently owed to the U.N. Green Climate Fund] and use the money to fix America's water and environmental infrastructure.”
Additionally, Trump has threatened to halt the initiatives developed by President Obama in response to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two percent in the next 20 years. Trump has the power to immediately undo any of Obama’s executive orders on his first day in office in January 2017 — and Trump promised to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama” in his First 100 Days speech in Gettysburg. However, an environmental law professor at Stanford Law School cautions that the U.S. would still be a party to the Paris Agreement for four years and could be subject to its legally binding procedural commitments. Withdrawing from the agreement may also mean that Trump will have a hard time working with other countries on things like terrorism and trade. Additionally, if the U.S. pulls out of the Paris Agreement, it may inspire other countries to do the same, and the entire coalition may collapse.
And President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, integral to the 2015 Paris Agreement, is likely history under President Trump.
Vice President Pence
Vice President-Elect Mike Pence has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to science, technology, and healthcare. During his time in Congress, Pence voted 201 times against environmental interests (compared with 18 times in favor). As governor of Indiana, Pence sued the Obama administration over the Clean Power Plan (which, again, President Trump is free to nullify on his very first day in office).
Declaring himself a “Christian first,” Pence rejects stem cell research. He co-sponsored a bill that would force women seeking abortions to first undergo ultrasounds, as well as a bill (dubbed the “Pro-Life Act”) that would allow hospitals to deny an abortion even to a woman with a life-threatening condition. As governor of Indiana, he signed legislation that closed five Planned Parenthood clinics starting in 2011 — Indiana was later hit with a huge HIV outbreak in 2015. (The bill was designed to defund Planned Parenthood clinics that offered abortion services — none of the five Planned Parenthood clinics that were forced to close had offered abortion services, although all five did offer HIV testing.) Pence pushed for the federal government to completely defund Planned Parenthood in 2011, and threatened to shut down the government to make it happen.
Pence has also stated that the Trump-Pence Administration will fight back on the side of “religious freedom” against the contraceptive mandate in President Obama Affordable Health Care Act, which requires health insurers, or employers that provide their employees with health insurance, to cover some contraceptive costs in their health insurance plans.
Potential Cabinet Members, and Other Advisers
The Washington Post points out that Trump ran his campaign as a “outsider” who would change Washington policy, but he has surrounded himself with veteran Washington insiders as part of his transition team — many of them lobbyists for fossil fuel companies and skeptics about climate science.
Some of the names that have been floated as possible members of Trump’s Cabinet:
Secretary of Energy:
Oil and gas investor and shale developer Harold Hamm, who told CNBC that the Trump Administration could get the U.S. to energy independence by 2022. He has also advised Trump to “just scrap” the many energy initiatives put forth by the Obama Administration because they are unfair to the oil and gas industry.
Venture capitalist and private equity investor Robert Grady, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s director of Natural Resources, Energy and Science in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He helped develop the Clean Air Act of 1990, and later developed California’s under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Former Congressman Newt Gingrich, who has pushed for more research into Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Gingrich is also thought by some to be a candidate for Secretary of State
Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson was one of the candidates in the vast 2016 Republican field before Trump was named the party’s official nominee. Carson disputes evolution and the Big Bang theory, and has expressed interest in overturning Roe v. Wade. Buzzfeed reports that Carson is also being considered for Secretary of Education, and another report says he may be named Surgeon General.
Rich Bagger, former executive at biotech company Celgene, may also be a contender for HHS Secretary.
Secretary of the Interior:
Forrest Lucas (co-founder of LucasOil, a donor to groups that attach the Humane Society and PETA, and a staunch defender of animal agriculture, hunting, rodeos, and circuses; he also financed and produced a film that defends puppy mills. Lucas’ wife came under fire for a 2014 Facebook post where she said, “I’m sick and tired of minorities running our country!” and went on to attack Muslims and atheists. She later apologized and said her comments “did not reflect [her] personal views about any individual or minority group.”)
Former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin is also said to be on Trump’s short list. Palin, a “Tea Party” politician, is known for her “Drill, baby, drill!” chant during the 2008 presidential campaign when she was Sen. John McCain’s running mate, to encourage oil and gas expansion.
Another report says Trump’s son, Donald Jr., may be on the list for Secretary of the Interior.
Not a Cabinet post, but there’s also the question of who will be presidential science adviser, a position which heads the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The current adviser is Dr. John P. Holdren, who previously served as the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, as well as professor in Harvard's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center. Holdren also worked on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under President Bill Clinton. However, this position is not mandatory, and Trump may very well decide not to fill it.