Where will the Great Lakes fit into Donald Trump's agenda?

Expect a dramatic reduction in emphasis on combating climate change, more fossil fuel mining and drilling and less environmental regulation generally under a Donald Trump presidency.

That's the consensus of academics and environmental advocates as they rush to read the tea leaves of Trump's campaign rhetoric and his transition team moves to discern how he will act on environmental issues following the Republican businessman's upset victory in Tuesday's presidential election.

"We're going to see everything driven, essentially, by economics," said Mark Barteau, director of the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

"Wind and solar (energy) will get support only to the extent they are economically competitive."

►Related: UAW seeks to join Trump in effort to dismantle NAFTA

Accepting any politician's campaign rhetoric as gospel for how he or she will govern is unwise. But a strong tell for Trump's direction on environmental matters is his selection of noted climate change skeptic Myron Ebell to lead his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, has a history as an outspoken, polarizing figure in the climate change debate.

Bloomberg reported Thursday that Fiat Chrysler stocks posted their biggest gains in two years, and General Motors the most in a year, after Ebell's appointment, with analysts expecting the automakers won't now have to meet heightened fuel economy standards pushed by the Obama administration. Tesla, which is betting big on alternative energy, declined.

►Related: Thousands across U.S., including in Detroit, protest Trump victory

Next year, the EPA is  to evaluate President Barack Obama’s ambitious fuel-economy regulations that were originally intended to double the efficiency of the nation’s light-vehicle fleet to 54.5 miles per gallon  by 2025.

On Great Lakes issues, Trump, or at least his campaign representatives, have signaled an interest. At a Great Lakes conference in Ohio in September, former Ohio Division of Wildlife chief Mike Budzik, who spoke on behalf of Trump's campaign, said, "When Donald Trump becomes president, he assures me he'll do all he can do to make the Great Lakes great again."

"He knows the successes that have come from the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations that have been put into place that have been guiding us along," Budzik said of Trump. "There are some things, I think, that could possibly change. But I believe, in the end, he is going to stand up for a clean environment."

Having a former Great Lakes governor as his vice president —   Mike Pence of Indiana — should also help keep Great Lakes issues from getting lost in the shuffle.

►Related: Obama says he and Trump had 'excellent conversation'

When asked on "FOX News Sunday" in October 2015 if he would cut departments if he became president, Trump immediately cited the EPA.

"Environmental protection, what they do is a disgrace," he said. "Every week they come out with new regulations."

When asked how he would then protect the environment, Trump replied, "We'll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can't destroy businesses."

Then there's Trump's statements in one of his favorite modes of campaign communication, his Twitter tweets.

He stated, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive" in November 2012.  In two tweets in February 2014 he added, "Massive record setting snowstorm and freezing temperatures in U.S. Smart that GLOBAL WARMING hoaxsters changed name to CLIMATE CHANGE! $$$$" ... "Don't let the GLOBAL WARMING wiseguys get away with changing the name to CLIMATE CHANGE because the FACTS do not let GW tag to work anymore!"

►Related: Bernie Sanders is 'prepared to work with' Donald Trump

At an Oct. 31 rally at Macomb Community College in Warren, Trump also said he planned on "canceling billions in climate change spending for the United Nations ... and instead use that money to provide for American infrastructure, including clean water, clean air and safety."

Obama's Clean Power Plan, controversial regulation designed to significantly reduce the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants — a move challenged in court by dozens of Republican-led states — faces likely revocation under the Trump administration. But that may not be as paradigm-shifting as it sounds, said Barteau.

"The industry is heading on that path anyway, because of cheap and abundant natural gas, and the average age of our coal plants is 40 years or so," he said. "That transition is going to happen anyway, maybe not as fast."

Any large expansion of oil and gas drilling is also going to be tampered by the lack of available profitability — the currently low-cost energy commodities don't provide enough return now for major investments in extracting them, Barteau said.

While Trump has said he is not opposed to renewable energy in principle, he is not a fan of wind turbine farms. In an Oct. 25 interview on conservative former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain's radio show, Trump said wind power is “very, very expensive” and “only works when it’s windy."

Trump also complained that America is “destroying our energy companies with regulation” and asked Cain if he’d ever seen the wind turbine farms outside of Palm Springs, Calif.

"It looks like a junkyard," Trump said. "It's the worst thing you've ever seen."

The Clean Water Rule, an Obama EPA measure that would bring a greater number of tributaries under federal regulation and that also is being challenged in federal court, is likely in jeopardy as well, said Michael Kelly, director of communications for the environmental nonprofit organization Clean Water Action.

If all that sounds bleak for the future of the environment, Trump also previously has signaled an interest in ecological protection.

In his 2010 book "Think Like a Champion," Trump discussed his development of a golf course in Scotland's Grampian Region four years earlier. "There were a lot of issues to be dealt with, from badger and otter protection plans to the economic value to the locals," Trump wrote. "People expected a duel, which I realized, so instead I offered a partnership approach. We worked with the Scottish National Heritage, and it became clear to them that I am environmentally sensitive."

Kelly said environmental organizations likely will look to the courts to uphold provisions in existing environmental law should a Trump administration not do enough. They also will look to state and local policy makers, legislatures and city councils, to keep environmental issues at the forefront.

Not all those who voted for Trump will be on board with any sort of dismantling of environmental protections, Kelly said.

"Clean water and clean air are not partisan issues," he said. "People get it; they understand we need these things to survive. We will create a critical mass of people who are working on these issues in their backyards.

"We are getting ready for a long fight, but it's a fight we know we can win."

Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or kmatheny@freepress.com. Follow on Twitter @keithmatheny.

© 2016, Detroit Free Press


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