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 May 24, 2018.
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 national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) 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. The EPA missed the October 1, 2017, deadline for issuing attainment and nonattainment designations, prompting several environmental and public health groups to announce their intent to sue to enforce the deadline. On November 16, 2017, the agency issued a rule designating more than 2,600 counties as in attainment with the ozone standards; however, it avoided making designations on hundreds of others, including Los Angeles, Houston, and other areas that are likely in nonattainment. Environmental and health groups along with 14 attorneys general filed suit over the missed October 1 deadline for these delayed designations. On December 21, 2017, the EPA finally released the remaining designations, including designations for portions of the country out of attainment. On March 12, 2018, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration violated the law when it failed to meet the October 1 deadline to designate nonattainment areas. The court ordered the agency to complete all designations by April 30, 2018.
Undermining the process for setting health-based air quality standards. The Trump administration has issued several new policies to change the process for setting and implementing the NAAQS.
- On April 12, 2018, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum directing the EPA administrator to facilitate industry compliance with the NAAQS and review existing rules and guidance related to the NAAQS in order to determine whether they “should be revised or rescinded to ensure more timely permitting decisions.” Moreover, the memorandum directs the EPA to evaluate whether the Clean Air Act Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) should provide nonscientific advice to the administrator on the negative effects of implementing a revised NAAQS. The memorandum does not specify which effects CASAC should consider, but industry groups have long advocated for allowing the EPA to consider compliance costs when setting the NAAQS—even though a 2001 Supreme Court case ruled that the agency cannot factor costs into the NAAQS-setting process.
- On May 20, 2018, Pruitt issued a memorandum directing the CASAC to advise him on the “adverse public health, welfare, social, economic, or energy effects which may result from various strategies for attainment and maintenance of such NAAQS.” The administrator noted that the CASAC’s advice on these issues could inform his decisions on “reviewing, revising, and implementing the NAAQS” and provide “important policy context.” As noted above, in an opinion written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA cannot consider implementation costs when reviewing and revising the NAAQS.
Toxic air pollution from power plants. On April 18, 2017, the EPA asked the U.S. 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.
Air pollution from new and modified industrial facilities. Administrator Pruitt has taken several actions to modify the New Source Review (NSR) program, which requires owners of new industrial facilities to install modern pollution control equipment during construction or when modifying an existing facility in a way that significantly increases emissions.
- On December 7, 2017, Pruitt sent a memo to the agency’s regional administrators informing them of an internal review of the preconstruction permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act. Based on an initial assessment, Pruitt informed regional administrators that the agency would no longer punish companies that underestimated how much new pollution a facility would generate, thereby skirting NSR permitting requirements. Stakeholders warn that this policy will sabotage ongoing enforcement cases and encourage polluters to make false projects in order to avoid NSR requirements.
- On March 13, 2018, in order to ease certain air permitting requirements, Pruitt issued a memo offering a new interpretation of the Clean Air Act. Under the new policy, a facility could avoid installing state-of-the-art pollution controls if the owner were to show that increased pollution at one part of the facility would not result in a net emission increase at the facility as a whole.
- On April 30, 2018, Bill Wehrum, the assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, issued a memorandum revising the EPA’s interpretation of when two neighboring facilities should be aggregated for air pollution permitting purposes. According to the new policy, the EPA will treat nearby facilities as one facility for permitting purposes only if they are operated by the same entity. This policy change reduces the likelihood that a facility will qualify, under the NSR program, as a major source that is subject to pollution control requirements.
Toxic air pollution from major industrial facilities. On January 25, 2018, Bill Wehrum, the assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, withdrew a policy that permanently classified industrial polluters as “major sources” if they annually released or had the potential to release more than 10 tons of a single toxic air pollutant or 25 tons of any combination of hazardous pollutants. Major sources are subject to strict maximum achievable control technology (MACT) air pollution standards under the Clean Air Act. In order to prevent backsliding, the now-eliminated policy—dubbed the “once in, always in” rule—stated that MACT standards would continue to apply to facilities even if their emissions fell below the thresholds for major sources.
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 U.S. 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.
Air pollution from onshore oil and gas drilling. On December 15, 2017, the Trump administration released its “Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.” In that plan, the EPA revealed that it is taking the first step toward repealing “control techniques guidelines” to curb smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from existing oil and gas operations. In October 2016, the Obama administration finalized these guidelines to provide state and local air agencies with cost-effective measures to limit VOC emissions from the oil and gas sector in parts of the country that struggle to meet national ambient air quality standards for ozone. On March 1, 2018, the EPA formally proposed withdrawing these critical pollution guidelines.
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.
Haze in Arkansas. 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. In January 2018, Pruitt approved revisions to the Arkansas Regional Haze State Implementation Plan for nitrogen oxide, replacing the federal plan imposed by the Obama administration. The newly approved plan scraps requirements that the coal-fired power plans install pollution controls.
Haze in Utah. 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.
Haze in Texas. 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. On October 17, 2017, the EPA released a final rule that allowed several Texas coal-fired power plants to use an intrastate trading program instead of adding the best available pollution controls.
Emissions standards for brick and tile manufacturers. On October 5, 2017, the EPA asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to delay all proceedings in litigation over toxic air pollution emission standards for facilities that manufacture brick and structural clay products. The EPA told the court that it “will be closely scrutinizing the entire Brick/Clay Rule to determine whether it should be maintained, modified, or otherwise reconsidered.” The court denied the EPA’s request. On November 3, in light of concerns raised by the Brick Industry Association and others, the EPA informed the court that it planned to reconsider the standards and finalize the revised standards by 2019. In 1992, the EPA first identified the need for these standards, which would limit emissions of mercury, heavy metals, and acid gases.
Emissions standards for publicly owned sewage treatment plants. On October 26, 2017, the EPA backed off a proposal to reduce hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from large, publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), or sewage plants. In December 2016, the Obama administration had proposed several measures to limit HAP emissions during the treatment of wastewater from residential, commercial, and industrial sources. However, in its October decision, the EPA concluded that the “risks resulting from emissions from the POTW source category are acceptable.”
Carbon pollution and climate change
Carbon pollution from new 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, modified, and reconstructed power plants—which were finalized in 2015—and determine whether to rescind or revise them. On April 4, 2017, the EPA announced that it was reviewing the new source standards in order to determine whether to suspend, revise, or rescind them. On August 10, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit 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 this rule.
Carbon pollution from existing power plants. On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the EPA to review the agency’s carbon pollution standards for existing power plants—which were finalized in 2015—and determine whether to rescind or revise them. On April 4, 2017, the EPA announced that 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 U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to hold litigation related to the Clean Power Plan in abeyance. On April 28, 2017, the court granted the EPA’s request, and on August 8, it extended the abeyance for another 60 days until the agency could complete its review of the Clean Power Plan. On October 16, 2017, the EPA proposed a full repeal of the Clean Power Plan. On December 18, 2017, the agency issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to solicit information for the EPA to consider when developing a potential replacement for the Clean Power Plan. Notably, while he was serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA to block this rule.
Proposed rule to subsidize coal power plants. On September 29, 2017, Energy Secretary Rick Perry issued a proposed rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that would subsidize coal and nuclear power plants under the guise of providing a reliable and resilient grid. By claiming that the grid is facing a reliability crisis, Perry disregarded a Department of Energy (DOE) study that he had requested as well as the testimonies of grid operators, who have identified no significant reliability concerns. His proposal would use ratepayer dollars to prop up coal and nuclear power plants that are losing market share to cheaper natural gas, efficiency, and renewable generation.
Methane pollution from existing 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 5, 2018, 15 attorneys general sued the agency for failing to issue regulations, as required by the Clean Air Act, to limit methane pollution from existing oil and gas wells.
Methane pollution from new oil and gas facilities. On April 18, 2017, the EPA announced that it planned to reconsider its 2016 rule that set the first-ever new source performance standards (NSPS) for methane pollution from new oil and gas wells and equipment. On June 5, 2017, the EPA published its plan to reconsider the NSPS 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. On March 1, 2018, the EPA announced two amendments to the NSPS. One of the amendments eliminates a requirement that oil and gas operators repair methane leaks during unscheduled or emergency shutdowns. Instead, oil and gas operators would have up to two years to fix these leaks.
Methane pollution from solid waste landfills. On May 31, 2017, the EPA announced a 90-day stay on 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. The 90-day stay expired on August 29, 2017, so the methane standards remain in effect. The EPA has not yet released a formal proposal to rescind or modify the rules.
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.
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 (DOT) 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.” On April 2, 2018, the EPA announced that the greenhouse gas emissions standards for model years 2022 through 2025 are “not appropriate and should be revised.”
Penalties for failing to meet fuel economy standards. On July 7, 2017, the NHTSA announced that it was reconsidering a 2016 rule that increased the civil penalty for automakers that failed to meet vehicle fuel economy standards. The 2016 rule simply adjusted the civil penalty for inflation. The NHTSA indefinitely delayed the effective date of the new civil penalties pending reconsideration of the rule. On March 27, 2018, the NHTSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to revoke the planned inflation adjustment and retain the original penalty amount for automobile manufacturers that do not meet fuel economy standards—$5.50 per tenth of a mile per gallon. On April 23, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the indefinite delay and reinstated the Obama-era penalties until the new rulemaking is finalized.
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. On October 27, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted the EPA’s motion to hold portions of the rule in abeyance. On November 9, 2017, the EPA proposed to repeal the greenhouse gas and efficiency standards for the glider industry. In May 2017, Administrator Pruitt met with Fitzgerald Truck Sales, the glider kit manufacturer that stands to gain the most from the rule’s demise.
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 Obama administration’s valuation of 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. During the Obama administration, the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon worked to develop the technical and economic basis for the social cost of carbon.
Social cost of methane. On November 8, 2017, the EPA issued a notice of data availability and supporting memorandum revising the “social cost of methane,” which—similar to the metric for the social cost of carbon—communicates the economic value of 1 ton of methane pollution. The EPA deflated the estimated benefit of cutting methane pollution from oil and gas drilling operations by focusing only on the domestic impacts of climate change rather than the global impacts.
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. On October 24, 2017, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rescinded a permanent instruction memorandum that directed the agency to weigh the greenhouse gas impacts of BLM planning and activities related to energy development and production.
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.
Community resilience toolkit. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has failed to release a community resilience toolkit commissioned by the Obama administration and finalized in April 2017. The toolkit was designed to provide guidance to local officials on how to consider climate risk when spending HUD grants.
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.
Scrubbing climate change from agencies’ strategic plans. On February 12, 2018, the EPA released its final five-year strategic plan for fiscal years 2018 through 2022. Although climate change topped the agency’s agenda in the years prior to Trump’s election, the new plan does not mention climate change or the EPA’s mandate to regulate greenhouse gases. In February, the DOT also released its five-year strategic plan, which eliminated the Obama-era goals of reducing carbon pollution from vehicles and preparing the nation’s transportation sector for climate change. On March 15, 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—the federal government’s first responder to floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters—dropped all references to climate change from its strategic planning for the next four years. Though the document addresses that disaster costs will only continue to rise due to “rising natural hazard risk,” “decaying critical infrastructure,” and “economic pressures that limit investments in risk resilience,” it does not say what could be contributing to the preceding issues.
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.” On December 18, 2017, President Trump released a new national security strategy that failed to recognize climate change as a national security threat—a decision that contradicts the consensus opinion of military experts. Instead, the strategy identified U.S. leadership as critical in “countering an anti-growth energy agenda.” On January 19, 2018, the Department of Defense also removed climate change from its National Defense Strategy.
Declaring biomass carbon neutral. On April 23, 2018, Administrator Pruitt declared that emissions from forest-based biomass are “carbon neutral.” For years, many scientists and environmental groups have questioned the forest products industry’s assertions that cutting down forests to generate electricity can be carbon neutral, arguing that burning forest biomass is a net negative for air quality and the climate.
Clean energy and energy efficiency
Repealing federal clean energy and efficiency targets. On May 17, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to review and subsequently replace, modify, or rescind targets for renewable energy use, including installations or purchases of renewable electricity from third parties; energy efficiency; water efficiency; recycling and waste reduction; and other sustainability initiatives. The order slows progress toward reducing carbon pollution from federal buildings, which roughly equaled the amount produced by 8.1 million cars in 2016.
Ceiling fans. On January 31, 2017, the 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. On February 15, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California concluded that the DOE was in violation of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and ordered the agency to publish the rules. On April 13, however, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Trump administration’s request for an emergency stay while the DOE appeals the order.
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 U.S. 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. On November 20, 2017, the EPA informed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that it intends to reconsider 10 separate provisions of the coal ash regulations, even though states are already implementing them. On March 1, 2018, the EPA proposed to weaken more than a dozen of the 2015 rule’s requirements, including standards related to the frequency of groundwater monitoring.
Limiting 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’ 2015 Clean Water Rule and determine whether to revise or rescind it. The Clean Water Rule would define the “waters of the United States” covered by the Clean Water Act and protect smaller streams and wetlands that 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. On November 16, 2017, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposed to delay the effective date of the Clean Water Rule—currently stayed by the courts—by two years to allow for enough time to fully reconsider the definition of “waters of the United States.” On January 31, 2018, the EPA and USACE finalized the two-year delay, while the agency continues to reconsider the 2015 rule.
Politicizing protections for streams and wetlands. On March 30, 2018, Pruitt issued a memorandum to the assistant administrator for the Office of Water and to regional administrators; it informed them that the EPA administrator will make all final decisions about whether certain streams, ponds, and wetlands merit protections under the Clean Water Act. This decision minimizes the role of career staff and staff scientists in determining whether a project could have a significant impact on a waterway or wetland, thus limiting opportunities to mitigate potential damage before it happens.
Dumping mining waste in waterways. On February 12, 2018, President Trump unveiled his infrastructure plan, which proposes to eliminate the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into U.S. waters. The plan also proposes to eliminate the agency’s authority to veto permits to discharge dredged or fill material—such as waste from mountaintop coal removal mining—if the agency determines that the pollution would have an unacceptable adverse impact on fisheries, wildlife, municipal water supplies, or recreational areas.
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
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.
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. On October 26, 2017, the BLM announced that it planned to make all unleased tracts in the NPR-A available for bidding at a December 6, 2017, lease sale. Despite Secretary Zinke’s claim that the “large and unprecedented sale in Alaska will help achieve our goal of American Energy Dominance,” the BLM only received bids on 0.8 percent of the acres offered for lease.
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 U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit delayed oral arguments in a legal challenge to the hydraulic fracturing rule. On July 25, 2017, the BLM proposed rescinding the 2015 rule. On December 28, 2017, it announced a final rule to rescind the 2015 rule, which would have updated decades-old well-drilling regulations that predated the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies.
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. On October 24, 2017, Zinke reported that the BLM has begun rescinding its master leasing plans (MLP) policy, which increases transparency and public input from the earliest stages of energy project siting on public lands. Instead, the administration will rely on another process—known as “resource management plans”—that limits nonindustry stakeholder engagement. On January 31, 2018, the BLM issued an instruction memorandum to field offices, discontinuing the use of MLPs for oil and gas development and effectively ending work on the development of the Tres Rios MLP in southwest Colorado, which aimed to balance conservation as well as oil and gas development near Mesa Verde National Park.
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.
Fast-tracking permitting for oil, gas, and coal extraction. On October 25, 2017, Secretary Zinke released a report on Interior Department policies that allegedly hamper oil, gas, and coal extraction on public lands; he also signed a secretarial order establishing the Executive Committee for Expedited Permitting. The stated goal of this committee is to help achieve American “energy dominance” through faster development of fossil fuels on public lands.
Gas pipelines in national parks. On February 12, 2018, President Trump put forth an infrastructure proposal that, if enacted, would no longer require congressional approval to allow oil and gas companies to construct pipelines across NPS lands. Instead, the secretary of the interior would have the power to greenlight rights of way for pipelines in parks.
Prioritizing fossil fuels over renewables. On February 12, 2018, the Trump administration released its 2018 budgetary wish list, which included a boost for mining and drilling on public lands while slashing the budget for developing renewable energy on publicly owned lands and waters. If enacted, the Interior Department programs that promote and facilitate fossil fuel development would have seen increased funding despite the fact that the department would have suffered a 16 percent cut overall. The same proposal would have cut nearly 2,000 park rangers from the NPS while nearly zeroing out the Land and Water Conservation Fund. On Friday, March 23, 2018, Congress refused to implement Trump’s lopsided proposal when it passed its omnibus spending package.
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. On December 22, 2017, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed a sweeping secretarial order that scrapped directives and policies for Interior employees to minimize environmental harm done on federal land and waters—from exacerbating climate change to imperiling wildlife.
Methane waste on public lands. On June 15, 2017, the BLM stated it would be delaying compliance with the methane rule that Congress 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. On October 4, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the Trump administration acted unlawfully when it delayed the rule in June. One day later, on October 5, 2017, the BLM proposed delaying the methane waste rule until January 17, 2019, while it reconsiders and weakens the rule. On December 7, 2017, the BLM announced that, until January 2019, it would be delaying implementation of certain requirements in the 2016 rule and even suspending requirements that were already in effect. The bureau claims that it needs more time to review the 2016 final rule and consider whether to revise or rescind it. On February 22, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the decision to postpone core provisions in the 2016 rule was “untethered to evidence.” Therefore, the Obama-era rule will remain in effect until the BLM can finalize the replacement, which it proposed on February 12, 2018. The proposal would rescind most of the new waste prevention standards and leave decades-old standards in their place.
Drilling and mining America’s special places
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, on December 5, 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a report that called for gutting protections for 10 national monuments: Bears Ears; Grand Staircase-Escalante, Cascade-Siskiyou; Gold Butte; Katahdin Woods and Waters; Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks; Rio Grande del Norte; as well as Northeast Canyons and Seamounts; Pacific Remote Islands; and Rose Atoll marine national monuments. The report recommends modifying and shrinking boundaries as well as removing protections against mining, logging, grazing, and off-road vehicle use.
Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. On June 12, 2017, Secretary Zinke announced that he planned to recommend reducing the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. On December 4, 2017, President Donald Trump traveled to Utah and announced plans to eliminate protections on more than 1.1 million acres of Bears Ears National Monument—an 85 percent reduction in area—and more than 876,000 acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument—a 41 percent reduction. This announcement represents the largest rollback of protections from federal lands in U.S. history. Both areas targeted by the Trump administration are rich in oil, gas, and mineral resources. The recommendation to shrink Bears Ears is an affront to the sovereign tribal nations who worked to protect this special place.
Leasing near protected places. On March 21, 2018, the BLM auctioned off parcels of public land in Utah for oil development; the for-sale land is adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and near Bears Ears and Hovenweep national monuments. The previous week, on March 13, the BLM leased a controversial 200-acre parcel in Montana, next to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, for the statutory minimum of $2.00 per acre.
Uranium mining in the Grand Canyon. On November 2, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a report recommending that the administration lift a 20-year ban on uranium mining in the Grand Canyon watershed. The Obama administration enacted the uranium mining ban in 2012 after a thorough environmental review concluded that mining in the watershed could endanger the drinking water for 25 million people.
Drilling in the 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. On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law a tax bill that included a provision to open 1.5 million acres of the wildlife refuge’s coastal plain to oil and gas drilling. On April 20, 2018, the BLM announced that it would take the first step toward drilling by preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for an oil and gas leasing program within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. The BLM requested public comments on the scope of the EIS.
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. On October 10, 2017, the BLM announced that it is withdrawing protections for 10 million acres of sage-grouse habitat in six Western states so that it can open the land to mining. On December 27, 2017, the BLM issued a memorandum reversing an Obama-era policy that encouraged agency field offices to prioritize and encourage oil and natural gas leasing in areas outside of sensitive sage-grouse habitat management areas. On May 4, 2018, the BLM proposed new rollbacks to conservation plans for sage-grouse habitat in northeastern California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Wyoming. The proposed rollbacks would allow for more oil and gas drilling in prime sage-grouse habitat.
Mining near the Boundary Waters wilderness. On December 22, 2017, the BLM issued a legal memorandum that concluded that a Chilean mining firm has the right to renew two leases for a proposed copper and nickel mining operation in the Superior National Forest near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. One year earlier, the Obama administration had denied the firm’s request to renew its expired leases pending a thorough review of the mining operation’s impact on the environment. On January 26, 2018, the Trump administration canceled the full environmental review and announced plans to do an abbreviated environmental assessment of the potential impacts of mining on 1,200 miles of streams. On May 2, 2018, the BLM reinstated the mineral rights leases, allowing the Chilean company to resume exploration activities.
Excluding the public from public lands
Park fees. On October 24, 2017, Secretary Zinke proposed raising fees at 17 of the most popular national parks. Zinke claims that the fee increases are necessary to address the national park maintenance backlog, yet his proposal comes at a time when the Trump administration has suggested cutting the NPS’ budget by 13 percent. In April 2018, Zinke backed off his proposal to increase fees by as much as $45 at certain parks. Instead, his department will institute a much smaller increase.
Royalty policy committee. On September 5, 2017, Zinke announced the makeup of a committee tasked with advising the federal government on its multibillion-dollar revenue collection program from energy development on public and tribal lands. The committee is heavily weighted in industry’s favor and does not include any advisers to ensure that taxpayers receive the full and fair value for publicly owned resources.
Outdoor recreation committee dominated by industry players. On March 26, 2018, Zinke appointed 15 industry representatives to the “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, which he created to advise him on various public lands matters. The new panelists include representatives from companies with NPS contracts, concessionaires, and the manufacturing, fishing, boating, and all-terrain vehicle industries. Many of these interests have pushed for the privatization of services within the National Park System. Notably absent is representation from the Outdoor Industry Association, the trade association for the outdoor recreation industry.
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.
Politicizing resource advisory councils. On May 5, 2017, the Department of the Interior suspended operations of its resource advisory councils (RACs) pending a review of their charters. RACs—which generally consist of 10 to 15 representatives from local communities, including ranchers, environmental groups, tribes, and state and local government officials—have traditionally served as local sounding boards for BLM initiatives. In March 2018, Secretary Zinke renewed the charters for 21 of the RACs. However, RAC participants have raised concerns that Zinke has infused political bias into the charters by directing the RACs to implement the Trump administration’s agenda rather than offer broad stakeholder input. The new charters, for example, instruct the RACs to identify regulations for “repeal, replacement, or modification.” They also direct the RACs to identify “additional steps to enhance exploration and development of Federal onshore oil and gas resources and Federal solid mineral resources.”
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 (FWS) 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.
Injecting politics into endangered species protection. The FWS uses the Species Status Assessment (SSA) framework to evaluate the best available information about a threatened species in order to assess its health and determine the level of protection it should receive under the Endangered Species Act. On October 13, 2017, the service revealed that state governments can now send two representatives to participate in SSA teams, including a representative from the governor’s office. Environmental groups warned that this could lead to the politicization of what should be a scientific process.
Migratory bird deaths. On December 22, 2017, the Department of the Interior issued a legal opinion determining that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 2018 does not prohibit the “incidental take,” or accidental killing, of migratory birds. This replaced an Obama-era legal opinion that drew the opposite conclusion. Due to the new legal guidance, the Trump administration will not take enforcement action against land developers, oil companies, and wind farm developers that accidentally kill migratory birds. On April 13, 2018, the Interior Department issued a guidance memo stating that “the take of birds resulting from an activity is not prohibited by the MBTA when the underlying purpose of that activity is not to take birds.” For example, under the new guidance, people can destroy
Border wall construction in California. 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.
Border wall construction in New Mexico. On January 22, 2018, the Trump administration waived environmental laws for the 20-mile El Paso sector for the proposed border wall. The DHS described the sector as an “area of high illegal entry” and wants to convert vehicle barriers into bollard walls along the border. The National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are among the waived laws. This is the third time that the Trump Administration has waived environmental laws for the border wall construction.
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.
Endangering sensitive desert ecosystems. On February 2, 2018, the BLM published a notice of intent to amend the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which was finalized in September 2016. The DRECP is the product of a multiyear collaborative effort between federal and state agencies to facilitate renewable energy production while “conserving unique and valuable desert ecosystems and providing outdoor recreation opportunities.” Stakeholders involved in the development of the plan have raised concerns that the BLM review could create significant uncertainty and result in weaker protections for fragile desert habitats. On February 7, 2018, the BLM canceled a two-year mining ban in the DRECP and a related review of the merits of a 20-year ban.
Road building in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. On January 22, 2018, Secretary Zinke approved a land transfer deal to allow Alaska to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road would connect the remote community of King Cove to Cold Bay—mostly for medical evacuations during poor weather. In 2013, the Obama administration declined the land transfer based on extensive environmental review that showed that the road would “irretrievably” damage wildlife and sensitive ecosystems.
Other attacks on wildlife
Importing elephant trophies. In May 2014, under the Obama administration, the FWS suspended the import of sport-hunted African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. In June 2016, the service increased protections for African elephants under the Endangered Species Act and banned nearly all import and export of African elephant ivory in order to combat elephant poaching. On November 14, 2017, Trump administration officials in Africa announced that the FWS would allow Americans to import legally hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. The service published a notice in the Federal Register shortly thereafter. After widespread backlash, President Trump tweeted that he had put the decision “on hold.” On March 1, 2018, however, the FWS issued a memo revealing the administration’s new policy to allow importation of elephant trophies on a case-by-case basis.
Promoting international hunting. On November 8, 2017, Secretary Zinke announced the creation of an International Wildlife Conservation Council to increase public awareness about issues surrounding traveling abroad to hunt. The majority of the council members have connections to trophy hunting, and some have connections to firearms manufacturers or the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has close political ties to Zinke.
Radical expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling. On January 4, 2018, Secretary Zinke proposed the largest expansion of offshore drilling in American history with the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas development Draft Proposed Program for 2019-2024. In a sharp deviation from policies implemented by previous administrations, Trump’s Interior Department proposed offshore drilling lease sales across 90 percent of the OCS, including the West Coast, the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida, the Atlantic Seaboard, and nearly the entirety of the Alaskan coast. Scores of coastal communities; hundreds of bipartisan elected officials at all levels of government; and trade groups representing thousands of American businesses dependent on clean coasts and productive seas have all expressed strong opposition to expanded offshore drilling.
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 due to their environmental sensitivity and extraordinary ecological value.
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 based on recommendations from the bipartisan commission convened in the wake of the devastating BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. On December 29, 2017, the BSEE published a proposal to undo portions of this rule, including requirements that drilling companies obtain third-party certification for safety-critical blowout preventers. On May 11, 2018, the BSEE announced another proposal to weaken additional offshore drilling safety requirements, such as requirements for real-time monitoring of offshore drilling operations. The agency estimates that these changes will save offshore drilling companies 986 million over 10 years.
Offshore oil drilling safety in the Arctic Ocean. On April 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing Secretary Zinke to review and potentially rescind a rule finalized in July 2016 designed to address the unique oil spill risks in the challenging and sensitive Arctic Ocean region. The rule’s provisions would “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.”
Canceling National Academy of Sciences’ study on improving offshore drilling safety. On December 7, 2017, the BSEE issued a “stop-work” order to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for a study requested in 2016, which aimed to help the bureau improve the effectiveness of its oversight and inspections of offshore oil and gas drilling operations. BSEE canceled this study shortly before announcing a dramatic expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling in January 2018.
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.”
Protecting marine mammals from seismic testing. 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 the Atlantic Ocean. 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.
Overruling science and state authorities to allow overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico. In June 2017, Ross extended the length of the red snapper fishing season in federal waters from three days to 42 days, contravening the ruling of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. Internal memos released in the course of litigation revealed that Commerce Department officials knew that this would result in overfishing of the red snapper stock by 40 percent. Critics contend that the Commerce Department made this decision knowing it violated the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
Reducing protections for essential fish habitat. On February 12, 2018, President Trump unveiled his infrastructure plan, which would reduce timelines for essential fish habitat (EFH) consultations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The EFH consultation process helps to ensure that publicly funded projects do not irresponsibly harm marine habitats, such as wetlands or coral reefs. Opportunities to consolidate or streamline EFH consultation—including programmatic consultations and general concurrences—already exist.
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 in the Bristol Bay watershed. On January 26, 2018, in a surprise move, Pruitt suspended the process of withdrawing the mining restrictions while the agency “receives more information on the potential mine’s impact on the region’s world-class fisheries and natural resources.” In the meantime, the administration has allowed the Pebble Partnership to move forward with its application for federal permits.
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.
Fast-tracking permitting for offshore oil and gas drilling. On October 25, 2017, Secretary Ross released a report identifying “regulatory hurdles” at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that slow offshore oil and gas production. The department pledged to review “unnecessary delays and lengthy permitting and licensing processes” under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammals Protection Act, Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and others, even though these policies help protect fish, wildlife, habitat, and other public resources from oil spills and other common accidents associated with the offshore oil and gas industry.
Reducing offshore royalty payments. On February 28, 2018, the Interior Department’s Royalty Policy Committee voted to recommend that Secretary Zinke slash the royalty rate that oil and gas companies have to pay the U.S. government for offshore oil and gas drilling. Under the committee’s recommendation, the royalty would fall from 18.75 percent to 12.5 percent—the lowest rate allowed by law. This is a giveaway of publicly owned resources to the oil industry. Zinke now must decide whether to accept the committee’s recommendation.
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 February 12, 2018, President Trump unveiled his infrastructure plan, which included significant changes to NEPA. It would reduce agency input in the review process; limit the alternatives that can be considered; limit government accountability and judicial review of projects; abdicate a portion of the federal role in permitting decisions; and prioritize industry interests over public participation.
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.
Flood risk standards for public housing. On December 22, 2017, HUD withdrew a proposed rule to reduce flooding risks in new public housing projects. The rule would have required HUD to flood proof HUD-assisted or -financed projects at 2 to 3 feet above the base flood elevation.
Arbitrary deadlines for Interior Department environmental reviews. On August 31, 2017, Secretary Zinke signed an order prohibiting his agencies from spending more than a year to complete an EIS 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 at the EPA. 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 at the EPA. 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. On May 17, 2018, Administrator Pruitt officially proposed eliminating or weakening significant provisions of the 2017 rule, including requirements that plant owners seek third-party audits to check for compliance with accident prevention rules, conduct “root cause” analyses after accidents, and provide the public with information about risks associated with the facility’s operations.
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. On March 21, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the agency violated the law by delaying the pesticide safety rule.
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.
High-risk chemicals. On December 14, 2017, the Trump administration released its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. The agenda revealed that the EPA indefinitely delayed previously proposed bans of high-risk uses of three hazardous chemicals. The Obama administration had used its authority under the TSCA to propose banning trichloroethylene for vapor and aerosol degreasing as well as ethylene chloride and N-Methylpyrrolidone in paint strippers.
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. On September 25, 2017, the EPA finalized a rule extending the compliance dates. On October 31, 2017, two organizations filed suit to compel the agency to implement the rule and enforce the original compliance deadlines. On February 16, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the agency violated the law by delaying the compliance timeline for the rule. The EPA settled the case with environmental groups and home builders, setting a new compliance date of June 1, 2018.
Toxic pollution at mining sites. On December 1, 2017, Pruitt announced that the agency would not finalize regulations to require hard rock mining companies to prove that they have the financial means to pay for cleanup of their pollution at mining sites. The Obama administration proposed this rule to ensure that the mining companies, rather than taxpayers, would foot the bill for cleaning up mine sites that could pollute land and water. The repeal of the rule calls into question how future polluted sites will be cleaned up—if at all. Administrator Pruitt said that additional financial assurance requirements “would impose an undue burden” on mining companies.
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
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.
Censoring science in EPA rulemakings. On April 24, 2018, Pruitt proposed a rule to limit the type of scientific studies that the agency can use in rulemakings. Specifically, the proposed rule would require the EPA to make public the underlying data for scientific studies before using those studies to promulgate regulations under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other statutes. Yet, since many epidemiological studies rely on confidential health data from patients, the agency would be unable to make these data public, thereby preventing the agency from relying on studies’ scientific findings about the effect of pollution exposure on public health. Industry groups and conservative activists have pushed for this change for decades, focusing in large part on two peer-reviewed studies that link exposure to fine particles to premature death.
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.”
Blocking scientific experts from advising the EPA. On October 31, 2017, Administrator Pruitt issued a directive blocking scientists who receive grant funding from the EPA from serving on any of the agency’s 22 scientific advisory committees. Framed as an effort to avoid conflicts of interest, this directive could preclude the nation’s top experts from advising the agency while setting no similar limitations on industry representatives who serve on panels that affect their financial interests. The American Association for the Advancement of Science denounced the agency’s decision and said it was “motivated by politics, not the desire for quality scientific information.”
Loading scientific advisory boards with industry allies. On November 3, 2017, Pruitt appointed 66 new individuals to three key scientific advisory bodies: the Scientific Advisory Board, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Board of Scientific Counselors. Many of the new appointees have critiqued the agency’s scientific methods or have worked closely with the industries that the agency regulates, including Southern Company, the Dow Chemical Company, and the American Chemistry Council.
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.
Political review of Interior Department grants. On December 28, 2017, the Department of the Interior issued guidance for senior officials to ensure that discretionary grants and cooperative agreements “better align with the Secretary’s priorities.” The memo, signed by the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, directs senior officials to submit most grants and cooperative agreements to political staff for signoff and review. The memo warns that “circumventing the Secretarial priorities of the review process will cause greater scrutiny.”
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 academics, 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.
Blocking scientists from sharing expertise. On October 22, 2017, The New York Times reported that the EPA had canceled the planned appearance of three agency scientists at a conference hosted by the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program in Rhode Island. The scientists had planned to speak about the state of the Narragansett Bay, referencing a 400-page report on the health of the watershed—which they had helped to write. On November 1, 2017, the Missoulian reported that the U.S. Forest Service blocked several government scientists conducting research on climate change from attending the 2017 AFE International Fire Congress.
Shutting down a children’s health research center. In February 2018, media reports revealed that the EPA is closing down the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER), a federal office that tests the effects of chemical exposure on adults and children. The NCER is best known for providing funding through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program to Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers.
Corrupting the regulatory process
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.
Coziness with industry groups. On October 3, 2017, the EPA announced the Smart Sectors program—a new effort to make regulated industry sectors partners and to “effectively engage business partners throughout the regulatory process.” In its formal announcement, the EPA said that the Smart Sectors program would examine how the agency “engages with industry in order to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, create certainty and predictability, and improve the ability of both EPA and industry to conduct long-term regulatory planning.” The agency has not created a parallel effort to engage nonindustry stakeholders, including the environmental and public health communities.
Limiting stakeholders’ ability to enforce the law. On October 16, 2017, Administrator Pruitt released a directive establishing new procedural obstacles for stakeholders trying to use the courts to force the agency to comply with the law. Under standard practice, stakeholders can sue the EPA if it misses a statutory deadline or fails to meet any other nondiscretionary requirement. The EPA can then enter into settlement discussions with the suing party and negotiate a new deadline. A judge supervises the process and must approve any eventual settlement with the court. The settlement agreements do not direct the outcomes of the rulemakings, which must follow all relevant administrative procedures and provide stakeholders with the opportunity for notice and comment. Pruitt’s directive would make it harder to resolve these cases, thereby wasting the time and resources of the courts and all parties involved.
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. On November 2, 2017, the Department of the Interior announced that the United States would no longer implement disclosure standards set by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). EITI is a voluntary international program that fights corruption by setting disclosure requirements for government revenue generated from fossil fuel extraction.