Candidates approach environmental protection from widely varying viewpoints


CLEVELAND — Among the stark differences between presidential candidates Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent, and Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger, among the most pronounced is their stances on the environment and energy development.

Trump’s term in office has been marked by the rollback of dozens of regulations and rules governing environmental safeguards, denial of climate change, encouragement of widespread fossil fuel development to promote American energy independence, and withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate accord that commits adherents to reducing carbon emissions.

Biden’s far-reaching platform posted on his campaign website seeks to eradicate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, cement alternative energy as part of the country’s future, leading to new jobs and an economic recovery from the pandemic, and a return to the Paris agreement to address climate change.

That the candidates widely differ on environmental protection and energy development is no surprise. The question comes down to which plan will come closer to bringing the country closer to church teaching, Catholic election watchers said.

Deciphering the actions and pledges of the candidates on environmental protection is difficult. But the watchers pointed to Catholic social teaching, papal documents and the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” as places to start.

While not specifically written for American voters, Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical on integral human development, Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, can be a helpful tool to reflect on the importance of protecting creation, upholding human dignity and contributing to the common good, they said.

The document’s teaching message focuses on understanding that all life is connected and decisions about how to utilize the earth’s resources must promote human flourishing, said Daniel DiLeo, assistant professor and director of the Justice and Peace Studies program at Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

The encyclical, DiLeo explained, provides guidelines to compare the environmental and economic platforms of Trump and Biden.

“To me, this is really about trying to discern the different platforms in light of the church’s teaching about ecology and life and the role of the state. That’s the standard,” DiLeo said.

Trump came into office in 2017 promising to build American energy independence and roll back two regulations for every one created. Nowhere is that more apparent than in his administration’s efforts to hear industry desires to ease regulatory burdens that corporate officials claim cost billions of dollars and produce minimal health and environmental benefits.

Several programs have tracked Trump administration rollbacks of regulations affecting the environment, including the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University Law School, the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, and a partnership between the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School and Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Each details dozens of deregulatory actions emanating largely from the Environmental Protection Agency. Many rollbacks have been challenged in the courts as environmental advocates have decried the measures, saying business profits have taken precedent over human health and wildlife and resource protection.

The White House website promotes Trump’s efforts to protect the environment with no mention of the rollbacks. It focuses on actions that have kept air and water “the cleanest … in the world.”

Brent Fewell, general counsel at ConservAmerica, told Catholic News Service that rollbacks are not necessarily bad, especially if they involve outdated regulations that go beyond what Congress intended when adopting anti-pollution laws beginning in the 1970s.

An evangelical and a former EPA official in the…

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