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Published on January 9th, 2020 | by Carolyn Fortuna

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Do You Think The Trump Administration Should Have Dismantled These 10 Environmental Regulations?

January 9th, 2020 by  


The Trump administration has a serious mandate to modify or even eliminate environmental regulations that it sees as burdensome to the fossil fuel industry and other big businesses. States, municipalities, and NGOs have responded to these changes by filing lawsuits to block the administration. But many executive orders have been enacted, while others are pending.

These environmental deregulatory policies are already having a substantial impact on the people and habitats that experience them. The Trump actions have been cast as ways to counter the Obama-era “anti-growth” framework. Yet the Obama administration’s carefully developed rules were constructed to ease pollution, mitigate the climate crisis, and set up barriers against harmful chemicals.





The Environmental & Energy Law Program at Harvard and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School have compiled data on these recent changes in environmental policy, and the New York Times analyzed their data. The results?

More than 90 environmental rules and regulations have been modified, dismantled, or eliminated since Trump took office. The New York Times suggests that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department rule changes have touched nearly every aspect of environmental protection, including air pollution caused by power plants and the oil and gas industry, water pollution caused by coal mines, and toxic chemicals and pesticides used by farmers nationwide. The Trump administration push to weaken environmental regulations tells us a lot about the “leaders” of the US executive branch.

In this article, we zoom in on the 10 most egregious environmental regulation rollbacks and proposals, doing a deep dive into how these policy shifts could have long-term consequences if not overturned through voter mandate in the 2020 election. And we’d really like it if you would weigh in by offering your opinion about which environmental regulation tampering could have the most serious consequences. Click here for the 1-question survey.

Photo by Carolyn Fortuna/ CleanTechnica

The Trump Administration changed the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, making it more difficult to protect wildlife from long-term threats posed by climate change. Photo by Carolyn Fortuna/CleanTechnica

1) Submitted notice of intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. The process of withdrawing cannot be completed until November 2020.

200 nations have pledged to cut greenhouse emissions and to help poor countries cope with the worst effects of an already warming planet. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the accord would impose intolerable burdens on the American economy. “The U.S. approach incorporates the reality of the global energy mix and uses all energy sources and technologies cleanly and efficiently, including fossils fuels, nuclear energy, and renewable energy,” Pompeo said.

Why this is really, really bad: So-called “intolerable burdens on the American economy” is code for the richest individuals in the US becoming much, more richer — at the expense of the very world that nurtures and supports human life.

2) Announced intent to stop payments to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help poorer countries reduce carbon emissions.

President Trump said the US would stop contributing to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program that he claimed could eventually cost the country “billions and billions and billions” of dollars. Industrialized countries have voluntarily pledged $10.3 billion since 2013 to help poorer nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the effects of climate change. The US has pledged by far the most — $3 billion, twice that of the second-largest pledger, Japan. But on a per-capita basis, many other countries have offered more than the US, such as Sweden, which will contribute nearly $60 per person.

Why this is really, really bad: The refusal to contribute to funds that helps impoverished people to fight the ravages of the climate crisis is much more than an isolationist stance — it is an inhumane, regressive, and debilitating approach to the common good. I guess Trump has never attended a theater production of A Christmas Carol, eh?

3) Replaced the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have set strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants, with a new version that would let states set their own rules.

The Trump administration replaced former President Barack Obama’s effort to reduce planet-warming pollution from coal plants with a new rule that would keep plants open longer and undercut progress on reducing carbon emissions. The rule represents the Trump administration’s “most direct effort to protect the coal industry, “according to the New York Times. It is also another significant step in dismantling measures aimed at combating global warming, including the rollback of tailpipe emissions standards and the planned withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

The move largely gives states the authority to decide how far to scale back emissions, or not to do it all, and significantly reduces the federal government’s role in setting standards. The Obama plan would have set national emissions limits and required the reconstruction of power grids to move utilities away from coal.

Why this is really, really bad: The Natural Resources Defense Council outlines that, by 2030, the Clean Power Plan could have saved the country $20 billion in climate-related costs and delivered $14 billion to $34 billion in health benefits. The shift to energy efficiency and cleaner power would also have save the average US family $85 on its electricity bills in 2030.

4) Revoked an Obama executive order that set a goal of cutting the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% over 10 years.

The order requires federal agencies to comply with statutory requirements related to energy and environmental performance “in a manner that increases efficiency, optimizes performance, eliminates unnecessary use of resources, and protects the environment.” Under the order, agencies are directed to “prioritize actions that reduce waste, cut costs, [and] enhance the resilience of Federal infrastructure and operations.”

The order revokes Executive Order 13693: Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade (signed by President Obama on March 25, 2015), which set a goal of cutting the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% over 10 years. It required federal agencies to develop plans for reducing emissions and periodically report on their progress.

Why this is really, really bad:  To reduce GHG emission, we need to move away from using fossil fuels. But those who are beholden to the fossil fuel industry aren’t budging — the fossil fuel industry has paid for career politicians to spout the coal + oil + fracking party line. But we all know that decarbonizing electricity production is the key to decarbonizing the whole economy, because once we have carbon-free electricity, we can have carbon-free electric vehicles and carbon-free electric space, water, and process heating. Direct efforts to protect the coal industry don’t protect US citizens. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, air pollution from coal-fired power plants is linked with asthma, cancer, heart and lung ailments, neurological problems, acid rain, global warming, and other severe environmental and public health impacts.

5) Revoked California’s power to set its own more stringent emissions standards for cars and light trucks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken final action to revoke California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards that are more climate-protective than federal requirements. The EPA’s mandate to set emission standards for new motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act generally preempts states’ ability to establish such standards. However, California can seek a waiver to set its own regulations that are at least as protective as applicable federal rules, which other states may follow.

Why this is really, really bad: CleanTechnica‘s own Steve Hanley said it best. “The major automakers continue to stand on the sidelines with their thumbs up their noses hoping the hated fuel economy regulations get tossed overboard so they can continue to slowly poison every man, woman, and child in America with the pollution pouring from the tailpipes of the cars and trucks they build.”

6) Directed agencies to stop using an Obama-era calculation of the “social cost of carbon” that rulemakers used to estimate the long-term economic benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The “social cost of carbon” was developed in large part to compare long-term costs from coastal flooding and other impacts of emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide with upfront costs to the economy from curbing the burning of fossil fuels, the main source of such emissions.

The value at the end of the Obama presidency was set at roughly $40 for each ton of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, or equivalent amounts of other gases such as methane, Science reports. At that price, the benefits of Obama’s proposals to reduce emissions outweighed the economic costs.

Why this is really, really bad: Climate change causes devastating impacts: extreme weather events like flooding and deadly storms; the spread of disease; sea level rise; increased food insecurity; and other disasters. The Environmental Defense Fund says these impacts can cost businesses, families, governments and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars through rising health care costs, destruction of property, increased food prices, and more. The current central estimate of the social cost of carbon is over $50 per ton in today’s dollars.

7) Changed the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, making it more difficult to protect wildlife from long-term threats posed by climate change.

The Trump administration is changing the Endangered Species Act is applied, significantly weakening what the New York Times calls “the nation’s bedrock conservation law” and making it harder to protect wildlife from the multiple threats posed by climate change. The new rules would make it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weaken protections for threatened species, the classification one step below endangered. And, for the first time, regulators would be allowed to conduct economic assessments — for instance, estimating lost revenue from a prohibition on logging in a critical habitat — when deciding whether a species warrants protection. Critically, the changes would also make it more difficult for regulators to factor in the effects of climate change on wildlife when making those decisions because those threats tend to be decades away, not immediate.

Why this is really, really bad: The legislators who originally enacted this promised to do everything in their power to prevent the extinction of any species within the US border. The Endangered Species Coalition argues that healthy ecosystems depend on plant and animal species as their foundations. Each species that is lost triggers the loss of other species within its ecosystem. Without healthy forests, grasslands, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems, we will not have clean air, water, or land. If we allow our environment to become contaminated, we risk our own health.

8) Rescinded water pollution regulations for fracking on federal and Indian lands.

Under the Obama-era rule, companies that drill on public or Native American lands were subject to stricter standards for oil and gas wells and for ponds and tanks where toxic waste water that resulted from the fracking process is stored. The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration also sought to compel oil and gas firms to report what chemicals they use when they fracked — data that environmental groups frequently try to pry from drillers, with little success.

Why this is really, really bad: The original rule was designed to safeguard more than 700 million acres of public and tribal lands. Earthjustice describes the requirements with which the companies would need to comply:

  • Disclose the chemicals they used in fracking operations
  • Set standards for well construction
  • Limit the use of waste pits to store fracking wastes
  • Incorporate common-sense best management practices to protect both surface and groundwater from contamination

9) Proposed “streamlining” the approval process for drilling for oil and gas in national forests.

The US Forest Service proposed “updating, clarifying, and streamlining” regulations that could broadly change how the agency handles oil and gas leasing across the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. “The intent of these potential changes would be to decrease permitting times by removing regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production,” the Forest Service wrote. “These potential changes would promote domestic oil and gas production by allowing industry to begin production more quickly.” The Bureau of Land Management’s aggressive move, according to Outside, is to expedite energy development on lands the agency manages—by increasing the rate of lease sales and by reducing environmental review and curtailing public input.

Why this is really, really bad: The Trump administration has been auctioning off millions of acres of drilling rights to oil and gas developers as part of a larger plan to promote more domestic energy production. The New York Times describes how this policy “underscores the administration’s eagerness to reshape regulation at the behest of industry.” The move is generating buckets of money for the companies involved while scarring “iconic American landscapes, threatening wildlife, and endangering public health.”

10) Repealed an Obama-era regulation that would have nearly doubled the number of light bulbs subject to energy-efficiency standards starting in January 2020. The EPA also blocked the next phase of efficiency standards for general-purpose bulbs already subject to regulation.

The Trump administration plans to significantly weaken federal rules that would have forced Americans to use much more energy-efficient light bulbs, a move that could contribute to greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. The proposed changes would eliminate requirements that effectively meant that most light bulbs sold in the United States — not only the familiar, pear-shaped ones, but several other styles as well — must be either LEDs or fluorescent to meet new efficiency standards.

Why this is really, really bad: Trump’s lightbulb decision will increase energy costs by $14 billion a year and generate 38 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Lightbulb modification was a goal Congress set in 2007 when it adopted bipartisan legislation later signed by President George W. Bush. The Natural Resources Defense Council said the regulatory rollback could boost consumption by an amount equal to the output of 30 large power plants.

Final Thoughts

These 10 environmental protection reductions are only a fraction of the total that the Trump administration is attempting to dismantle. After reading this article and researching others, which ones do you think are the most significant?

Let your voice be heard! Click here for the 1-question survey. 
 

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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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