While Trump Was Tweeting: Tracking the Trump Administration’s Attacks on Our Air, Water, and Public Lands

Posted on
While Trump Was Tweeting: Tracking the Trump Administration’s Attacks on Our Air, Water, and Public Lands
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump speaks at the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., prior to signing an executive order on energy independence, March 28, 2017. From left: Vice President Mike Pence, Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

  • OVERVIEW

    Since taking office in January 2017, the Trump administration has taken dozens of actions to weaken clean air and water protections; block action on climate change; and sell out our public lands to the fossil fuel industry. CAP Action is tracking it all.

  • PRESS CONTACT

Since taking office, President Donald Trump and his administration have consistently shown that they care more about catering to polluting industries than they do about the environment. They are working to weaken the bedrock environmental laws that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink; to open up the nation’s public lands and coastal areas to drilling and mining; and to block action on the urgent threat of climate change. Many of the administration’s attacks on the environment have escaped high-profile scrutiny because of the nonstop scandals and controversial statements that keep flowing from the White House and consuming the front pages. While President Trump continues to tweet whatever comes to mind, his administration has steadily pushed an anti-environmental agenda that benefits polluting companies at the expense of American families.

To help monitor these actions, the Center for American Progress Action Fund is tracking everything that the Trump administration has done and will do to sacrifice the environment and public health to the highest bidder.

We will be updating this page as the Trump administration launches new attacks on our nation’s bedrock environmental and public health protections. This page was last updated on September 27, 2017.

Toxic air pollution and smog

Health-based air quality standards for ozone. On April 7, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to delay oral arguments in a case challenging the Obama administration’s 2015 rule setting a stronger air quality standard for smog-forming ozone pollution. To many, this request suggested that the Trump administration may not defend the new ozone standard and instead would reconsider it. Notably, when he was attorney general of Oklahoma, current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sued the EPA to block this rule. On April 13, 2017, the court granted the EPA’s request for a delay. On June 6, Pruitt sent a letter to governors announcing that he was extending the deadline for issuing attainment and nonattainment designations for one year. On June 28, 2017, the EPA formally announced that it was extending the deadline by one year until October 1, 2018. On August 3, 2017, it announced that it would not delay implementation of the 2015 standards after all, after 16 state attorneys general filed suit challenging the delay.

Toxic air pollution from power plants. On April 18, 2017, the EPA asked the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to delay oral arguments in a case challenging an EPA rule—finalized in 2012 and already largely implemented—that limits the amount of mercury and other toxic air pollution that power plants can release. This suggests that the EPA may reconsider the mercury and air toxics rule. On April 27, 2017, the court granted the EPA’s request to delay the case. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA to block this rule.

Industrial air pollution from facility startups and shutdowns. On April 18, 2017, the EPA requested an indefinite delay of a court case challenging a 2015 EPA rule eliminating automatic exemptions for excess emissions that occur during power plant and refinery startups, shutdowns, or equipment malfunctions. On April 24, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted the EPA’s request for a delay. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA to block this rule.

Air pollution from offshore drilling. On April 28, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Secretary of the Interior to review an air pollution rule proposed in 2016 by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The BOEM’s proposed rule would update decades-old air pollution standards for offshore drilling rigs, ships, and equipment, applying them to the delicate environment of the Arctic Ocean. The secretary will determine whether the rule should be revised or withdrawn.

Pollution from nonroad diesel engines. In 2016, Western States Trucking Association, Dalton Trucking Inc., Merit Oil Co., and Southern California Contractors Association Inc. filed suit against the EPA, arguing that it exceeded its authority when it granted California a waiver to set separate emissions standards for nonroad mobile sources, including the diesel engines on farm equipment, construction equipment, and logging equipment. On May 10, 2017, the court granted the EPA’s request to delay oral arguments in the case while it reviews the waiver and potentially reconsiders it.

Regional haze. On April 14, 2017, the EPA announced a three-month stay of a plan to reduce air pollutants from electric power plants in Arkansas in order to mitigate regional haze problems and restore visibility in wilderness areas. On July 13, 2017, the EPA proposed giving three coal-fired power plants another 18 months to comply with limits on smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions. On July 18, 2017, Pruitt informed the state of Utah that the EPA plans to reconsider a 2016 order requiring two coal-fired power plants in Utah to install new pollution controls in order to reduce haze at nearby national parks. Following these actions in Arkansas and Utah, on August 18, 2017, the EPA asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to delay a long-overdue deadline for the agency to submit a plan to clean up regional haze pollution from power plants in Texas. The court rejected the EPA’s request.

Carbon pollution and climate change

Stationary sources

Carbon pollution from power plants. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the EPA to review the agency’s carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, which were finalized in 2015, and determine whether to rescind or revise them. On April 4, 2017, the EPA announced it had commenced its formal review of the Clean Power Plan, which set the first limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The EPA also asked the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to hold litigation related to the Clean Power Plan in abeyance. The court granted the EPA’s request on April 28, 2017, and extended the abeyance on August 8, 2017, for another 60 days until the agency could complete its review of the Clean Power Plan. In June, the EPA sent a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), seeking to reconsider—or potentially repeal—the Clean Power Plan. On August 10, 2017, the same court placed an indefinite hold on all litigation related to the EPA’s carbon pollution standards for new power plants. Notably, while he was serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA to block these rules.

Methane pollution from oil and gas facilities. On March 2, 2017, the EPA announced that it was withdrawing the agency’s 2016 information request in which it sought data from oil and gas companies about best practices for reducing methane pollution from their existing operations. On April 18, 2017, the EPA announced that it planned to reconsider its 2016 rule that set the first-ever limits on methane pollution from new oil and gas wells and equipment. On June 5, 2017, the EPA published its plan to reconsider the rules and announced a 90-day stay on the rule’s effective date, pending the reconsideration. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated this 90-day stay on July 3, 2017, and directed the EPA to implement the standards in another ruling on July 31, 2017. In the interim, on June 13, 2017, the EPA proposed delaying portions of the rule for two years and began collecting public comments. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA to block this rule.

Methane pollution from oil and gas facilities on public lands. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order ordering the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review a 2016 rule that aimed to reduce methane pollution and wasted natural gas from oil and gas drilling operations on public and tribal lands. Based on that review, the BLM will decide whether to keep, rescind, or revise the rule. On June 15, 2017, it announced that it was indefinitely postponing the effective date of the rule. In August 2017, the BLM sent a proposal to the OMB that would delay implementation of all provisions until July 2019.

Methane pollution from solid waste landfills. On May 31, 2017, the EPA announced it was staying limits on methane emissions from new and existing municipal solid waste landfills, pending reconsideration of the rules. In addition to cutting methane pollution, these standards would reduce emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants.

Natural gas storage. On June 19, 2017, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced that it will not enforce certain aspects of a 2016 safety rule for underground natural gas storage sites until the agency addresses concerns raised by the oil and gas industry. The PHMSA issued this rule in response to the 2015 Aliso Canyon disaster in California, where an underground storage facility leaked billions of cubic feet of natural gas.

Mobile sources

Fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for light-duty vehicles. On March 22, 2017, the EPA announced that it plans to reconsider the Obama administration’s determination—issued on January 12, 2017—that automakers can meet the greenhouse gas tailpipe and fuel economy standards set for model year 2022–2025 light-duty passenger cars and trucks. On July 26, 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it was preparing an environmental assessment of fuel economy standards and potential alternatives, including an option to freeze the standards for model years 2022 through 2025 at 2021 levels. On August 10, 2017, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation opened a public comment period to reconsider the Obama administration’s determination to maintain the greenhouse gas standards for model years 2022 through 2025. The EPA also requested comments on whether the standards for model year 2021 remain “appropriate.”

Tailpipe pollution from trucks. On April 20, 2017, the EPA asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to hold in abeyance for 90 days a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s 2016 rule setting greenhouse gas emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks through model year 2027. The EPA said it needed time to review the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association’s request to reconsider portions of the rule. On May 8, the court granted the EPA’s request for a 90-day pause. On August 17, 2017, the agency announced its plan to revisit the standards pertaining to truck trailers and gliders—rebuilt or refurbished engines installed in a new chassis.

Emissions from mobile sources on America’s highways. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) established new requirements for performance management—that is, recipients of federal funding for transportation projects have to make investments to achieve certain performance targets related to safety, congestion, system reliability, and environmental sustainability. On May 19, 2017, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced an indefinite delay of performance measures related to greenhouse gas emission reductions. On September 28, 2017, the administration announced—in the face of litigation from environmental groups—that it would allow these performance measures to take effect. In the same notice, however, the FHWA said that it “has initiated additional rulemaking procedures” to repeal the greenhouse gas performance measures, with a goal of finalizing a rule in spring 2018.

Other attacks on climate policies

Paris climate agreement. On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that he intends to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. The administration gave formal notice of his intent to withdraw on August 4, 2017.

Social cost of carbon. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order nullifying the “social cost of carbon,” a critical metric used to measure the economic cost of emitting or the benefit of cutting 1 ton of carbon pollution.

Consideration of climate change in environmental reviews. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order rescinding the Obama administration’s 2016 guidance to federal agencies on how to consider greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews of major federal projects.

Resilience to the impacts of climate change. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order rescinding Executive Order 13653, issued by President Barack Obama in 2013. Obama’s order directed federal agencies to improve the nation’s preparedness for and resilience to the impacts of climate change, which could endanger our environment, economy, and infrastructure.

Climate change and national security. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order rescinding a 2016 presidential memorandum that directed federal agencies to consider climate change-related impacts “in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.”

National parks and climate change. On August 31, 2017, the National Park Service (NPS) rescinded a 2016 director’s order calling for park employees to prioritize climate change in their management of natural and cultural resources. Signed by NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis on December 20, 2016, Director’s Order No. 100 focused on “resource stewardship for the 21st century” and provided a framework for addressing climate change, in addition to other issues facing the agency such as diversity and sexual harassment.

Clean energy and energy efficiency

Ceiling fans. On January 31, 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) delayed the effective date of energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans. The Obama administration had finalized those standards just two weeks earlier. On March 21, 2017, the DOE delayed the effective date again to September 30, 2017. On March 31, 2017, eight states, New York City, and consumer and environmental groups sued the DOE regarding its delay of the ceiling fan standards. The DOE reversed course, naming an effective date and compliance date for the rule.

Air compressors. In February 2017, the Energy Department delayed the effective date of energy efficiency standards for air compressors, which are used to power a variety of commercial and industrial equipment. The Obama administration had finalized those standards in January 2017. On March 21, 2017, the DOE delayed the effective date again. On June 30, 2017, the department issued a request for information about air compressor test procedures and announced that it would delay the standards’ effective date until December 30, 2017, while it reviewed the public comments.

Portable air conditioners, commercial packaged boilers, and uninterruptible power supplies. In January 2017, the DOE delayed the energy efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, commercial packaged boilers, and uninterruptible power supplies. The Obama administration had announced those standards in December 2016 but did not publish them due to a required 45-day waiting period.

Water pollution

Toxic water pollution from power plants. On April 12, 2017, the EPA announced it would reconsider and indefinitely delay a rule—finalized in September 2015—that set the first-ever federal limits on the amount of toxic metals that power plants can discharge into their wastewater. The agency asked the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to hold all litigation in abeyance until the EPA had reconsidered the rule. On April 24, 2017, the court agreed to put a hold on all proceedings. On May 25, 2017, the EPA proposed to postpone the compliance dates for these effluent limits and pretreatment standards until the agency has completed reconsideration of the rule. On September 13, 2017, the EPA finalized a two-year delay on compliance with the newly established limits for bottom ash transport water and flue gas desulfurization wastewater. The EPA said it intends to start a new rulemaking for those waste streams.

Toxic water pollution from coal mining. On February 16, 2017, President Trump signed a congressional resolution introduced under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) nullifying the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule and blocking the agency from issuing a rule in the future that is substantially similar. The rule, which took nearly a decade to craft, aimed to protect the drinking water for communities living downstream of coal mining operations.

Toxic water pollution from coal ash. On September 14, 2017, the EPA announced that it would reconsider parts of a 2015 coal ash rule that set standards for the management and disposal of coal combustion residue—or coal ash—in surface impoundments and landfills. Coal ash impoundments can rupture, causing widespread environmental damage. The agency took this action in response to petitions from AES Puerto Rico LP and the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, which requested reconsideration of significant portions of the rule.

Protections for streams and wetlands. On February 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order requiring the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the agencies’ Clean Water Rule and determine whether to revise or rescind it. The Clean Water Rule would protect smaller streams and wetlands from pollution, since they feed into larger waterbodies. On March 6, 2017, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers announced their intention to start the review process. On June 27, 2017, they announced plans to repeal the rule and reinstate the status quo that existed before it—a status of uncertainty marked by two muddled U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on July 27, 2017.

Restoration of damaged natural resources. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order rescinding a presidential memorandum called “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment.” This memorandum encouraged federal agencies to identify opportunities to leverage private investment in the restoration of natural resources, such as watersheds.

Public lands and wildlife protections

Selling out our public lands and waters to fossil fuel interests

National monuments. On April 26, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the secretary of the interior to review and reconsider national monument designations made over the past 20 years. Even though only Congress has the legal authority to revoke or alter national monuments, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that he will be reviewing 27 monuments, including 22 land-based monuments. Zinke also indicated that his review would focus special attention on Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both of which are threatened by fossil fuel development. On August 24, 2017, the media reported that Zinke recommended changes to a “handful” of national monuments in a secret report sent to the White House. Just a few weeks later, on September 17, 2017, a copy of the report was leaked, revealing that Secretary Zinke had recommended removing protections from nearly a dozen national monuments located on public lands and oceans.

Bears Ears National Monument. On June 12, 2017, Secretary Zinke announced that he will recommend reducing the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. The recommendation is an affront to the sovereign tribal nations who worked to protect this special place. Moreover, President Trump does not have the legal authority to eliminate sections of Bears Ears.

Fossil fuel industry loophole. On April 3, 2017, the Interior Department announced it would reopen a rule that closed a loophole that had allowed coal, oil, and gas companies to dodge royalty payments owed to U.S. taxpayers. On August 7, 2017, Secretary Zinke repealed the rule and allowed the loophole to remain open. The Department of the Interior estimates the loophole will cost taxpayers $75 million per year. Following Zinke’s announcement, on August 30, 2017, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found that the Interior Department had violated the law by postponing the rule.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On May 31, 2017, Secretary Zinke signed an order directing his staff to update the assessments of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas in Alaska’s North Slope, which includes the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—one of the last untouched wild places left in America.

National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. On May 31, 2017, Secretary Zinke called for the BLM to ignore the years of public input that went into developing a 2013 plan placing 11 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) off limits to oil and gas drilling, while allowing for leasing and development in the remainder of the reserve. On August 7, 2017, the BLM began soliciting industry to nominate tracts for drilling in the protected 11 million acres.

Hydraulic fracturing on public lands. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the BLM to review—and potentially revise or rescind—a 2015 rule to set well integrity and other safety standards for oil and gas wells using hydraulic fracturing on public lands. The Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit delayed oral arguments in a legal challenge to the rule. On July 25, 2017, the BLM proposed rescinding the rule.

Oil and gas leasing on public lands. On July 6, 2017, Secretary Zinke signed a secretarial order directing the BLM to hold quarterly oil and gas lease sales and to expedite permitting approvals, which could encourage the agency to cut corners on important environmental reviews. The industry is already sitting on nearly 8,000 unused permits, and less than half of federal acreage under lease is currently producing.

Coal leasing on public lands. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that resumed issuing new leases on public lands for coal mining without addressing critical flaws in the federal coal program. This action reversed the Obama administration’s 2016 temporary pause on new coal leases while the administration conducted an overdue, thorough review of the program.

Mitigating impacts from development. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to rescind or remove mitigation policies that help balance impacts to natural resources from development. The next day, Secretary Zinke ordered his land management agencies to review their mitigation policies to ensure they do not “burden” oil and gas development.

Methane waste on public lands. On June 15, 2017, the BLM stated it would be delaying compliance with the methane rule that Congress already failed to repeal. Secretary Zinke indicated in a Senate hearing that his intention is to rewrite the rule that would have prevented an annual $330 million worth of taxpayer-owned gas from escaping into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands. In August 2017, the BLM sent a proposal to the OMB that would delay implementation of all provisions until July 2019.

Greater sage-grouse. On June 7, 2017, Secretary Zinke announced a review of federal greater sage-grouse conservation plans to determine if they are hindering energy production on public lands. On August 7, 2017, against the wishes of governors, ranchers, and scientists in the West, Zinke announced that he is directing his staff to revise the conservation plans that protect critical habitat for the greater sage-grouse—potentially undermining years of collaborative work that successfully avoided an endangered species listing for the bird.

Undermining conservation on America’s public lands

Public lands management. On March 27, 2017, President Trump signed a congressional resolution, introduced under the CRA, nullifying a BLM rule to improve land use planning. This limits opportunities for local communities to provide input on land use plans, reverts the BLM’s planning process to an outdated and inefficient system, and de-emphasizes the importance of the landscape around the land that the BLM manages.

Hunting in Alaska’s wildlife refuges. On April 3, 2017, President Trump signed a congressional resolution—introduced under the CRA—nullifying a rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prohibit certain types of hunting in Alaska’s wildlife refuges. This action will allow hunters to use baiting, trapping, airplanes, and other extreme techniques to lure and kill wolves and bears, as well as their pups and cubs.

Hunting of bears and wolves in Alaska. In July 2017, the Department of the Interior ordered a review of federal rules that prevent hunters from killing bears and wolves “using techniques many people consider extreme: baiting the animals with greasy doughnuts, ambushing mothers with pups in dens and shooting animals from boats while the bears are swimming.”

Lead bullets in wildlife refuges. On March 2, 2017, Secretary Zinke reversed the Obama administration’s ban on using lead bullets and lead-based fishing tackle in national parks and wildlife refuges. Lead bullets and fishing tackle can poison wildlife and contaminate water supplies.

Border wall construction. In August 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the agency would waive dozens of environmental laws along a 15-mile border segment in the area of San Diego. Laws that no longer apply include the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and many others. Following the waiver for the San Diego segment, on September 12, 2017, the DHS announced that it would issue an additional waiver for more than a dozen environmental laws. This would allow the department to replace several miles of fencing on the Mexican border near Calexico, California. Building the border wall could block wildlife migration routes, increase flooding, and traverse Big Bend National Park.

Water bottle ban. On August 17, 2017, following a vocal campaign by the International Bottled Water Association, the NPS ended a ban on selling bottled water in national parks. The Obama administration had enacted the ban in 2011 in order to reduce waste and minimize the parks’ environmental footprint. In September 2017, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the NPS released a previously nonpublic report showing that the bottled water ban had offset the use of 2 million water bottles each year.

Oceans

New offshore drilling. On June 29, 2017, President Trump and Secretary Zinke announced that the Interior Department would be taking the first step toward rewriting and replacing the existing five-year offshore drilling plan in place for 2017 to 2022. Trump administration officials have made clear the new planning process is oriented toward dramatically expanding the areas open for offshore drilling. The review process will take at least two years.

Drilling in the Arctic and mid-Atlantic. On April 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing Secretary Zinke to “give full consideration” to offering new oil and gas lease sales in areas currently off limits to leasing, including the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean off the mid-Atlantic and southern coasts. On July 12, 2017, the BOEM conditionally approved Eni US Operating Co. Inc.’s Beaufort Sea exploration plan. Eni intends to drill four exploration wells in the Beaufort Sea during the winter months. Drilling is expected to start in December 2017.

Drilling in protected areas. On April 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order revoking protections that President Obama had given to portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and to underwater canyons in the Atlantic Ocean. President Obama had used Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to withdraw these areas from mineral leasing.

Offshore oil drilling safety. On April 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing Secretary Zinke to review the final rule issued by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to improve the safety of offshore oil and gas drilling operations. The BSEE issued this rule to strengthen well control and blowout preventer requirements in the wake of the devastating BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Offshore oil drilling safety in the Arctic. On April 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing Secretary Zinke to review a rule finalized in July 2016 to “help ensure the safe, effective, and responsible exploration” of offshore oil and gas resources in the Arctic, “while protecting the marine, coastal, and human environments, and Alaska Natives’ cultural traditions and access to subsistence resources.”

National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments. On April 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order telling the secretary of commerce to “refrain from designating or expanding any National Marine Sanctuary” unless the designation or expansion includes an accounting of any energy or mineral resource potential within the designated area and “the potential impact the proposed designation or expansion will have on the development of those resources.” It also directed the secretary of commerce to review all designations and expansions of National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments. The order says that this review must analyze the cost of managing each area; the adequacy of stakeholder consultation before the designations; and the “opportunity costs associated with potential energy and mineral exploration and production from the Outer Continental Shelf.”

Marine mammals. On April 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the secretary of commerce to review—and potentially rescind—a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) technical guidance for assessing whether the sound from certain underwater activities, including seismic testing for oil and gas exploration, might harm marine mammals, such as whales. On June 6, 2017, the NMFS requested comment on a proposal to allow five companies to use seismic air guns to search for oil and gas beneath the Atlantic Ocean floor. Seismic testing may harm certain marine mammals and other wildlife, as well as impair fisheries.

Overruling science and state authorities to allow overfishing. In July 2017, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in an unprecedented use of federal power, overruled a science-based fishery quota established by the 75-year-old Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that allowed recreational fishermen in New Jersey to land what fisheries scientists conclude is an unsustainable quantity of summer flounder. It was the first time in the commission’s history that its policy determination was overruled by the secretary of commerce. Secretary Ross also gave recreational anglers in the Gulf of Mexico permission to overfish red snapper by extending the length of the season in federal waters, contravening the ruling of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Reactivating the dangerous Pebble Mine proposal. On May 11, 2017, the EPA completed a legal settlement with the company behind the controversial Pebble Mine proposal, abandoning a decision by the Obama administration and allowing the mine proposal to move forward. EPA scientists have said that the proposed strip mine imperils the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, risking 15,000 commercial fishing jobs and Alaska Native subsistence hunting and fishing. On July 11, 2017, the EPA announced it would hold a 90-day comment period on its proposal to withdraw restrictions on mining.

Eliminating Alaska Native tribal governance in the Bering Sea. As a component of the America First Energy Plan executive order, President Trump eliminated the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area and its accompanying tribal advisory council, which were established by President Obama in 2016 at the behest of a coalition of Alaska tribes. The Climate Resilience Area and advisory council were designed to ensure that federal natural resource managers worked with Alaska Native communities on decisions across the 112,000-square-mile ocean area. The council would have consisted of up to 11 members from coastal communities across the delineated area.

Environmental review and public participation

Shortcutting environmental review for infrastructure projects. At the expense of the environment and public participation, on August 15, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to expedite the permitting process for infrastructure projects. The order requires the OMB to set a governmentwide goal of limiting environmental review to no more than two years, regardless of the complexity of the project, and to establish procedures for holding agencies accountable to that goal. On September 14, 2017, the Council on Environmental Quality announced plans to review, revise, and modify all of its regulations and guidance on NEPA implementation, with the goal of shortening environmental analyses.

Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. On August 15, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order related to the environmental review and permitting of infrastructure projects. As part of that order, he revoked the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS), which President Obama established by executive order in 2015. The FFRMS directed federal agencies to ensure that new federally funded infrastructure projects were able to withstand severe flooding, which could become more frequent as the climate continues to warm. Trump’s order will put taxpayers on the hook, requiring them to pay to repair and rebuild infrastructure not designed to withstand floods.

Arbitrary deadlines for environmental reviews. On August 31, 2017, Secretary Zinke signed an order prohibiting his agencies from spending more than a year to complete an environmental impact statement for major infrastructure projects. The order also set a limit of 150 pages for final reports. Many groups have raised concerns about these arbitrary requirements and have criticized the move for cutting out local groups and the general public from the decision-making process.

Political oversight of environmental reviews. On September 7, 2017, the media reported that the EPA had moved the Office of Federal Activities (OFA) into the Office of Policy, which is overseen by EPA political appointees. An EPA spokesperson told reporters that the OFA will house a new permitting policy division to help expedite the environmental review and the approval of federal infrastructure projects.

Political oversight of environmental justice outreach. On September 7, 2017, the media reported that the EPA had moved the Office of Environmental Justice into its Office of Policy, which is overseen by Pruitt’s political appointees. Some former EPA officials and environmental groups have raised concerns about the motives behind this move, as the Trump administration has already proposed eliminating all funding for the environmental justice office.

Toxic chemical safeguards

Chemical accident prevention. On June 12, 2017, the EPA delayed critical updates to the agency’s Risk Management Program (RMP) until February 2019. In January 2017, the EPA had finalized changes to the RMP to require facilities using and storing potentially toxic or dangerous chemicals to mitigate risks and help workers and local emergency responders plan for and respond to potentially catastrophic chemical accidents. The Obama administration had directed the EPA to improve safety requirements after a 2013 explosion at a fertilizer storage facility in West, Texas, killed 15 people, including 12 firefighters.

Neurotoxic pesticides on food. On March 29, 2017, the EPA reversed a previous decision to ban chlorpyrifos, a common agricultural pesticide. This decision was made in spite of significant scientific research supporting the ban. The agency’s scientists had completed an extensive risk assessment and concluded that this pesticide can damage the neurological development of children and cause acute symptoms in those exposed to even small amounts. Following the agency’s decision to reverse the ban, a dozen farmworkers in California fell ill after being exposed to a chlorpyrifos-based pesticide that was being used in nearby orchards.

Pesticide application safety. In January 2017, the Obama administration’s EPA finalized a rule to protect workers from the most toxic pesticides on the market. In addition to strengthening the certification standards for pesticide applicators, the final rule established training requirements and a nationwide minimum age of 18 for those handling and applying these pesticides, along with people working under their direct supervision. On June 2, 2017, the EPA delayed the implementation of this rule until 2018 in order to allow the agency to review and potentially reconsider it.

Toxic chemical safety regulation. On June 22, 2017, the EPA issued new rules implementing the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, a 2015 law enacted on a bipartisan basis. It aimed to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and to improve the EPA’s process for reviewing chemicals for their potential impacts on the environment and on public health. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and EPA career employees raised concerns that Nancy Beck—a former American Chemistry Council lobbyist who now works for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention—changed the rules so that they would be friendlier to the chemical industry. The National Resources Defense Council argued that the rules include “loopholes that could allow EPA to ignore important exposure routes and chemical product uses.” On August 7, 2017, the EPA announced new “operating principles” for the review of new chemicals. Some organizations warned that these principles deviate from the approach outlined in the TSCA reform law. According to these principles, if the EPA determines that a chemical is safe for a particular use, then it can allow it to proceed to market even if experts raise concerns about the risks of other uses.

Formaldehyde emissions from wood products. On December 12, 2016, the EPA finalized a rule to reduce formaldehyde emissions from certain wood products produced domestically or imported into the United States. Exposure to formaldehyde, which is used as an adhesive in furniture, flooring, cabinets, and other wood products, can cause health effects ranging from eye, nose, and throat irritation to cancer. On May 24, 2017, the EPA proposed delaying the compliance dates for several components of this rule.

Pipelines

Dakota Access pipeline. On January 24, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order expediting the federal review of the Dakota Access pipeline, despite concerns raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. On February 7, 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers granted the final easement needed to complete the pipeline.

Keystone XL pipeline. On March 24, 2017, the State Department issued a presidential permit to TransCanada to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast for export. President Obama had denied this permit based in part on concerns about the climate impacts of Canadian tar sands.

Budget cuts

On March 16, 2017, President Trump announced a preliminary budget proposal that would slash environmental programs at several agencies:

  • The budget proposal would cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, lay off 25 percent of its employees, and eliminate 56 programs. Programs on the chopping block include regional programs to protect waterways such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay; programs to reduce children’s exposure to lead paint; the agency’s Office of Environmental Justice; and all work related to climate change.
  • The budget proposal would cut 12 percent from the Department of the Interior’s budget, which could affect operations at national parks, undermine successful wildlife conservation programs, and take environmental cops off the beat at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which is tasked with overseeing the safety of offshore oil and gas drilling.
  • The budget proposal for the DOE would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. It would also reduce funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, while zeroing out its advanced vehicle technology program.
  • The budget proposal would reduce funding for climate change and oceans research conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At particular risk are coastal research programs that study the potential impacts of climate change—including sea level rise—and the Sea Grant programs, which work with universities in 33 states to study, manage, and preserve coastal, marine, and Great Lakes resources.
  • The budget proposal would cut combined funding for the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development by 28 percent. It also specifically calls for eliminating funding for the Green Climate Fund and the Climate Investment Funds—two principal channels through which the United States has supported clean energy and climate-resilient development. Climate aid accounts for only a small fraction of overall U.S. spending but is vital both for vulnerable developing countries and for U.S. economic and security interests.

Scientific integrity

EPA Board of Scientific Counselors. On May 5, 2017, Administrator Pruitt notified nine members of the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors that they would not be invited to serve a second three-year term, as is standard. An EPA spokesman said, “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.”

Political sign-off for EPA grants. On September 4, 2017, the media reported that the EPA had placed John Konkus—a political appointee in the EPA Office of Public Affairs—in charge of vetting grant applications and solicitations. As reported by The Washington Post, “the agency’s new system has raised concerns among career officials and outside experts, as well as questions among some in Congress that the EPA grant program is being politicized at the expense of their states.”

Health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. On August 18, 2017, the Department of the Interior directed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to stop all work on a study examining the significant health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. In a letter to the National Acadamies, the department said that it would be canceling the research due to “an agency-wide review of its grants and cooperative agreements in excess of $100,000.”

Interior climate science advisory council. In August 2017, the media reported that the Department of the Interior had not renewed the charter for the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. As Environment and Energy News reported, the department canceled an April 2017 council meeting and updated the website to refer to the committee in the past tense. The council was comprised of 25 government scientists; experts on state and local policy; and representatives from environmental groups and the private sector.

Disbanded federal advisory committee on climate change. On August 18, 2017, the Trump administration disbanded the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment. This committee, comprised of 15 acadmics, local officials, and representatives from corporations, was created to inform policymakers and other officials on how best to incorporate the scientific findings from the National Climate Assessment (NCA) in both the public and private sector. The announcement that the committee would be disbanded came just a week after a draft version of the NCA was leaked to The New York Times by scientists concerned that the report would be suppressed by the Trump administration.

Debating settled climate science. In June 2017, the EPA announced that it plans to develop a “red team, blue team” exercise to provide “back-and-forth critique” of climate science. The military, and other entities concerned with physical and cybersecurity, often use red team exercises to test complex systems’ resilience to attempted penetration or sabotage. Scientists and others have cautioned that applying this exercise to climate science will exaggerate scientific uncertainty where there is little and could give disproportionate voice to climate change skeptics. The EPA has asked the Heartland Institute—an organization infamous for comparing climate scientists to the Unabomber—to help recruit scientists for this project.

Other attacks

Arbitrary attacks on public interest safeguards. On January 28, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that directs agencies to repeal two current regulations for every new proposed regulation. It also sets a regulatory budget of $0 for 2017, which means that the costs of any new regulations must be offset by rescinding existing rules. This order does not appear to take into account the benefits of the rules for public health and the environment.

More arbitrary attacks on public interest safeguards. On February 24, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order directing each federal agency to establish a Regulatory Reform Task Force to identify rules for repeal or modification. On April 11, 2017, the EPA announced it was soliciting public comments on which environmental regulations to eliminate or modify.

Promoting fossil fuel development. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing all agencies to “review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions” that “burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.” The order required agencies to produce a final report based on this review within 180 days.

Oil industry anti-corruption rule. On February 14, 2017, President Trump signed a congressional resolution, introduced under the CRA, nullifying the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s anti-corruption and anti-bribery rule that required Exxon Mobil Corp. and other oil companies to report their payments to foreign governments in order to obtain access to oil and other resources.

Share this: