Environmentalists this week are trying to rally Democrats in opposition to President-elect Donald Trump’s energy team, but they’re facing an uphill battle with both lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the American public.
Powerful environmental groups held high-profile demonstrations Monday in front of key senators’ offices in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and they’ve mounted an aggressive public relations campaign aimed at derailing several of Mr. Trump’s nominees.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, tapped to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, nominated to be energy secretary, are the top two targets, along with would-be Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil.
Among the chief concerns for environmentalists are Mr. Pruitt’s pledge to roll back the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan — which dramatically limits emissions from coal-fired power plants — and Mr. Perry’s cozy relationship with the oil-and-gas industry. They also accuse the nominees of being climate change deniers and say they’re unfit for the jobs they soon could hold.
“We’re certainly asking our members and supporters to weigh in with Senate offices. I think you’ll see public and private efforts to get senators to vote against confirmation” for Mr. Perry, Mr. Pruitt and others, said David Goldston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It’s very important to have the Senate make clear to the nominees, and for the public to understand, just how out of step with public opinion, just how radical the positions of these nominees are,” he added.
But environmentalists’ efforts ultimately may prove futile, especially given that the Republican-controlled Senate almost certainly will confirm Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Perry and other potential members of the Trump energy and environment team.
There’s unlikely to be a major public outcry against any of the nominees given that polling consistently has shown that climate change ranks low on Americans’ list of concerns. Furthermore, Senate Democrats — despite many having vowed to act as a check on Mr. Trump’s environmental agenda — may be more inclined to spend their own political capital fighting Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, for example, rather than wage losing battles on climate change.
“There are too many fronts in the battle to win every skirmish,” Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said of the danger Democrats face by spending too much time and effort opposing Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Perry and others.
“Climate change is an issue they can use to embarrass the nominees, but because of the partisan differences, they won’t get political traction with the public on it,” Mr. Rottinghaus continued. “Climate change is too politically muddled to win an election on, so it’s a losing issue for Democrats.”
Nevertheless, environmentalists are bent on keeping the issue in the public eye to the degree they’re able.
On Monday environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, 350.org, and others helped organize a series of nationwide protests known as the “Day Against Denial,” with the goal of pressuring senators to vote against so-called climate change deniers. The demonstrations were designed to keep the focus on climate change even as the issue is overshadowed in Washington.
Environmentalists demonstrated at the Maine office of Republican Sen. Susan M. Collins, the New York office of Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s South Carolina office and elsewhere across the country.
Other protests are expected as confirmation hearings for Mr. Pruitt and Mr. Perry draw closer.
“The fight to stop Trump’s climate-denial Cabinet is only the beginning. Our resistance to his fossil fuel-loving, climate-denying administration is more important than ever as inauguration approaches,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org.
Those efforts, specialists say, are largely futile but are vital to maintaining morale within the environmental movement.
“To some extent it’s theater,” said Robert Nelson, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland who has studied the environmental movement. “It’s not necessarily done with the expectation that you’re going to win. What you’re really seeing here is an attempt on the part of the environmental movement to take the situation as an opportunity to get more members, get more money and without much expectation that they’re going to be able to turn things around.”