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Published on March 27th, 2017 | by Carolyn Fortuna

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Trump Executive Order Practices Are Dismantling Decades Of Environmental Protections

March 27th, 2017 by  


The executive order is a quick and effective tool for President Donald Trump as he begins rewriting the 2015 regulation that “limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing electric utilities” and he orders “the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing.” One after the other, each Trump executive order erodes environmental protections, with catastrophic effects on the natural world.

The first 100 days of the Donald Trump presidency have been all about dismantling mechanisms that support ecojustice. Blaming environmental regulations on a diminished national workforce, the Trump administration has taken a full assault on many Obama era rules and regulations. The Trump team is supporting House actions “to nullify unnecessary regulations imposed on America’s businesses,” citing how “burdensome compliance requirements” have created a dismal business climate in the United States. The executive order is becoming the #1 tool for Trump as he repositions the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from a mechanism to fight global warming to a device to boost business — at significant costs to the environment.

executive order

Jan. 24. As one of his first acts as the new US Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke repealed the lead ammunition ban, called officially the “Revocation of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Director’s Order No. 219 (Use of Nontoxic Ammunition and Fishing Tackle).”

Previously, the Obama administration had provided guidance to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges by 2022. Lead poisoning occurs when scavengers eat shot fragments or they are absorbed into the nearby ecosystem; it is calculated to kill between 10 and 20 million birds each year, along with other species. Objections to the administration’s guidance came from gun rights and hunting groups, who pointed to the increased cost for non-toxic copper and steel shot.

Jan 25. Request for 120-day Extension of Comment Period Related to Proposed “Financial Responsibility Requirements… for Classes of Facilities in the Hardrock Mining Industry.” 

This rule would have required hardrock mining companies to prove that they could clean up their mines, especially in the event of bankruptcy. Generally, mines would hold onto financial bonds as insurance in case of mine catastrophe. Environmental groups argue that the rule ensures that mines are not abandoned, that polluters pay the costs for their actions, and that taxpayers need not be laden with the billions of dollars that the federal government would otherwise be forced to spend on hardrock mine cleanups. Hardrock comprises gold, silver, copper, and lead. The reason that a host of mining companies and their organizations dispute the need for this rule? You guessed it: it would unnecessarily increase costs. Same old, same old. Scott Pruitt agreed to extend the comment period, which allows hardrock mining companies to stall the rule in legal paperwork piles.

Feb. 3. The House has passed a rule to uphold the “Resolution Disproving the Bureau of Land Management’s Final Rule Relating to Waster Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation.”

We know that powerful greenhouse gasses are linked to climate change. Where better to take a federal stand about climate change than on Bureau of Land Management lands, right? That’s exactly what the Trump administration intends — except they want to throw out a rule aimed at curbing fugitive emissions of methane that occur during the course of oil and gas operations on federal land. Fugitive emissions, which are potent greenhouse gasses, occur when gas seeps out through accidental leaks. It can also happen during venting and flaring, which is that intentional process of burning off gas as it rises up from a well. The rule was originally aimed to prevent waste that reduced taxpayers’ return on oil and gas operations, and new revisions would require tighter oversight of these emissions, including a reduction in flaring and an increase in inspections for leaks. Critics described that revision as unnecessary and redundant, just one more set of restrictions on energy development.

Feb. 16. President Trump signs an executive order which disapproves the rule known as the “Stream Protection Rule.” 

In order to  improve interagency coordination and cooperation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Programmatic Biological Opinion. It was intended to ensure that proposed, threatened, and endangered species and proposed and designated critical habitat are adequately protected from all surface coal mining and reclamation operations and coal exploration. These would be operations conducted under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, including initial permit issuance, permit renewals, and significant permit revisions. In support of the executive order, Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said, “This is one very, very important step to get coal back on its feet and stop the hemorrhaging of jobs that we’ve seen.”  The coal waste rule was intended to protect 6,000 miles of streams and large areas of forests over the next two decades.


Feb. 17. Fossil fuel extraction companies successfully pushed the Interior Department to delay a new rule that would revisit how they pay royalties, called the “Consolidated Oil & Gas and Federal & Indian Coal Valuation Reform Final Rule.”

What’s at stake here? Changing the value of material royalties. Creating a local value for materials extracted. Costs to deliver coal far from the extraction site. Valuing coal in conjunction with the cost of electricity it produces. Not having alternate valuation systems for coal, like oil and gas have. Not giving automatic lease allowances. Not giving enough notice for reversing subsea transportation allowances for offshore oil and gas. Refusing to recognize long-standing existing leases for oil, gas, and coal. Requiring companies to pay what they see as unattainable index prices for federal gas. Supporters of the original rule suggest that these are good business practices that fluctuate as alternative energy sources become more practical and popular. Let’s just say it: fossil fuel extraction processes have been given preferential treatment and business sway over other, more sustainable energy production processes for a century. And it looks like, at least for the time being, that will continue, as the Interior Department has bowed to the extraction companies and their vast network of litigators.

Feb. 28. President Trump issues an executive order asking the EPA to begin the process of revoking the so-called “Waters of the United States” rule.

Insisting that they support clean water, the California Farm Bureau (CFB) objects to a rule that is directed at protecting the nation’s drinking water supplies. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers had wanted to expand the kinds of water bodies that fall under the federal government’s jurisdiction as part of an overall picture to oversee the health and safety of US drinking water sources. The CFB says that the definition of these waters is unclear, with mapping and identification processes being problematic and lacking detail. They say a complex permitting process places excessive economic burdens on landowners, farmers, and ranchers. Originally meant to clarify which streams and wetlands fall under federal clean water protections, the rule has been controversial. Donald Trump has signed an executive order that asks new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to begin the long process of repealing the rule and replacing it. That will be a long and arduous judicial process, especially because determining which bodies of water deserve protection is quite complex.

Mar. 7. The Senate passes a decree and negates a land management rule known as “Planning 2.0.”

This rule was designed to shorten and streamline the process for making federal land use decisions, modernizing the management of public lands. That rule governs all planning for future uses of 250 million acres of federal public land that is concentrated in the West. BLM officials developed the rule to enhance community involvement and adapt recent data and technology to determine whether and where drilling, mining, and logging would take place on public land. President Trump has indicated his intent to sign the decree in keeping as one more slash of his pen, another version of an executive order in which populist campaign promises were a facade and big business wins out again.

Mar. 15. President Trump agreed to the “Petition for Reconsideration and Request to Withdraw Final Determination on the Appropriateness of the Model Year 2022-2025 Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards under the Midterm Evaluation,” otherwise known as the 2025 CAFE standards review.

Automakers argued that raising the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 from 27.5 mpg in 2010 was inherently unfair and unrealistic. Trump’s acquiescence to a strict fuel economy regulation re-evaluation is a win for automakers. They had petitioned the executive branch and cried out that the demands for high fuel efficiency would increase costs and threaten jobs. A counternarrative from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) says that the actual cost of compliance with CAFE standards could actually be 40% lower than previous estimates.

Mar. 21. The Senate voted to abolish the final rule of the Department of the Interior relating to “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.”

The rarely called-for Congressional Review Act measure, which allows Congress to repeal a federal regulation with simple majority votes, has been used to dismantle a rule that had restricted specific hunting practices on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. These practices, which included trapping, baiting, and aerial shooting, were abolished on the grounds that state officials should be able to set the terms for wildlife conservation on public land within their own borders. The 52-to-47 vote was almost entirely along party lines. Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine) joined Republicans in backing the measure. Significant differences of opinion exist within Alaska over the rule, based on whether it is good practice at all to target predators as well as who should have control over the practices on refuges. Activists who oppose the rule say that a predator control policy allows unfair practices to kill predators in order to artificially inflate game populations  like moose and caribou.

Mar. 24. The State Department grants a permit for construction of the “Keystone XL Pipeline.”

President Trump revealed that the permitting process has been completed for construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. He described it as “the first of many infrastructure projects” that he would approve as part of his overarching plans to employ more people in the US. Trump proclaimed that “government too often failed its citizens and companies over the past long period of time. Today we begin to make things right.” The $8 billion project is intended to span 1,200 miles and connect Alberta’s massive tar sands crude with pipelines and refineries on the Texas gulf coast. “This project will not get built,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We will defeat this pipeline in the courts and in the court of public opinion.” Just days after entering office, Trump signed an executive order that began the process of reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Photo credit: Dilan Damith Prasanga’s via Foter.com / CC BY

Sources: New York Times and The Washington Post

 
 
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About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. As part of her portfolio divestment, she purchased 5 shares of Tesla stock. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.



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