Environmental Policy (or Lack of It) under Trump

Truman Project
Jul 1 · 10 min read

Despite widespread consensus among climate scientists that human activities exacerbate climate change and its effects, the Trump Administration is reluctant to acknowledge this reality in their policies. Since the outset, the administration has worked diligently to roll back actions taken by past administrations that focused on the reduction of carbon emissions, the promotion of clean energy sources, and other tactics designed to slow the rising tide of a changing climate for both the United States and the world. Below is a comprehensive and chronological guide to significant actions they have taken since President Trump’s inauguration.

February 2017

March 2017

  • Withdrawal of information request for oil and gas industry. The Trump Administration withdrew a request made by the Obama Administration that operators in the oil and natural gas industry provide emissions information from their existing plants. This withdrawal was effective immediately.
  • Executive Order on Clean Power Plan. President Trump signed an executive order which directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), then led by President Trump appointee Scott Pruitt, to consider a formal repeal of the 2015 Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce carbon emissions from existing natural gas, coal, and oil power plants. This executive order also lifted the Department of the Interior’s moratorium on using federal land for new coal mine leases. President Trump justified this act by referring to his campaign promises to end the “war on coal,” a term used by opponents of Obama-era climate and energy regulations.
  • Elimination of “social cost of carbon” calculation. In an executive order, President Trump directed federal agencies to cease their use of the Obama Administration’s “social cost of carbon” calculation. This calculation was designed to help legislators estimate the long-term economic benefits of reducing carbon emissions. Other executive orders passed during this time also revoked restrictions on minimizing environmental effects when starting development projects.

April 2017

  • Revocation of Bering Sea climate resilience plan. In an executive order, President Trump revoked a previous executive order of Obama’s which made local waters unavailable to oil and gas leasing and which established a council made up of local tribe members to consult on environmental issues in the area.

June 2017

  • Withdrawal from Paris Climate Agreement. President Trump announced the United States’ official withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. This agreement required a pledge from signatory countries to reduce carbon emissions to aid in the limitation of human-caused climate change. President Trump’s reasoning for the withdrawal was that the agreement was unfair to the United States, would reduce job opportunities, and would not have the desired effect on global temperature and sea levels if it were fully implemented. At the time of withdrawal, President Trump also said that he would be willing either to renegotiate the agreement or help draft another agreement that was more favorable to the United States. In addition to the withdrawal, President Trump also halted further U.S. payments to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, which supports efforts to mitigate climate change in developing countries.

August 2017

  • EPA reviews auto emissions standards. The EPA announced that it would examine its own policies and consider loosening emissions standards for cars, as well as debate whether to apply new standards for cars produced in 2021. The Obama-era plan to reduce emissions would have required a fuel economy standard across the auto industry of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Even today, this rollback is still in contention, with the Trump Administration pushing for an end to this mandate and states like California (who want to be able to mandate higher mpg standards for cars on its roads) pushing back.
  • Repeal of Obama-era flood and infrastructure standards. President Trump signed an executive order to change the requirements for environmental review and permitting of infrastructure projects. This concerned projects like oil and natural gas pipelines as well as electricity transmission projects. The order repealed an Obama directive from 2015 that required any projects receiving federal funding to meet specific standards to mitigate flood risk. These standards were designed to be implemented to combat the rise in flooding expected to occur in the future due to the effects of climate change.
  • Repeal of bottled-water restrictions in national parks. The Department of the Interior reversed an Obama-era policy designed to encourage national parks to sell less bottled water and cut back on plastic litter.
  • Repeal of climate-change focused national parks order. The chief of the National Park Service rescinded an Obama Administration order to consider climate change when managing natural resources in national parks.

September 2017

  • Length limit on environmental papers. The Department of the Interior released an order limiting the length of studies performed under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) to under one year and under 150 pages, citing a need to reduce the amount of paperwork in the Department.

October 2017

  • Reclassification of copper filter cake. The EPA removed copper filter cake, a byproduct of electronics manufacturing consisting of various heavy metals, from a list of hazardous waste materials.
  • Proposal to repeal Clean Power Plan. Then Administrator of the EPA Scott Pruitt proposed to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan on the grounds that ignored the concerns of states and eroded key partnerships that would, in fact, be necessary to keep in order to improve environmental standards. This repeal was something President Trump had asked the EPA to consider during the first 100 days of his presidency. Multiple attorneys general sued the EPA, claiming that this repeal violated the law and put the special industries of the United States ahead of the safety and health of America’s citizens and its environment.
  • Withdrawal of proposed sewer treatment pollution rule. The EPA withdrew a rule that had been proposed regarding the reduction of pollutants emanating from sewage treatment plants.

December 2017

  • Reduction in borders of national monuments. President Trump announced he was reducing the size of both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments in Utah by around two million acres. This was the largest federal land protection rollback in the history of the United States.
  • Rollback of Obama policy on oil train upgrades. The Department of Transportation reversed an Obama Administration rule requiring trains carrying toxic or hazardous materials to upgrade their braking systems for safety reasons, on the grounds that it would be too cost-prohibitive.
  • Repeal of fracking restrictions. President Trump repealed a 2015 rule regulating and restricting fracking. California filed suit against the administration, arguing that this was an illegal rollback as it affected both federal and Native American tribal lands.
  • Weakening of coal ash waste rules. The EPA weakened federal rules concerning the storage and disposal of coal ash waste at power plants.
  • Repeal of mining regulations. Then EPA Administrator Pruitt announced that the EPA had repealed an Obama-era regulation requiring hard rock mining operations to prove they will be able to clean up any pollution they produce in the area surrounding the mine. Pruitt justified the appeal by claiming that the regulation puts more financial burdens on mining operations in regions that are already struggling financially.
  • Repeal of Interior climate change mitigation policies. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed onto the repeal of policies designed to prioritize climate change considerations when using public land, stating that these policies could potentially hinder energy development.

January 2018

March 2018

April 2018

  • Rollback of HFC prohibition. The EPA announced that they will not be enforcing a 2015 rule that prohibits the use of powerful greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as alternatives to substances that deplete the ozone layer.

May 2018

  • Revocation of Obama executive order on emissions. President Trump revoked an Obama-era executive order which set a goal of curbing federal greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over ten years.
  • Repeal of DoT tailpipe requirement. This rollback enacted by the Department of Transportation (DoT) reverses the regulation that required regional and state authorities to track their tailpipe emissions when driving on federal highways.

June 2018

  • Repeal of Great Lakes protections. Through an executive order, President Trump replaced Obama’s regulations designed to protect and preserve the Great Lakes with his own plan that prioritizes economic growth over environmental protection.

July 2018

  • Rollback of Obama-era policy on natural resources. The Fish and Wildlife Service, a branch of the Department of the Interior, ceased the use of a policy that aimed to either maintain or improve the status of natural resources when considering new permits or projects.

September 2018

  • Methane pollution limit rollback. This rollback reversed the regulations that prevented the release of the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere as a result of oil and gas operations.

November 2018

  • Federal climate change report. The first volume of the Fourth National Climate Change Assessment was released. This report argued that human activity, chiefly the emission of greenhouse gases, was the main cause of global temperature rises. Four days afterwards, then EPA Administrator Pruitt told the press that this report would not interfere with the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

December 2018

  • Reversion to weaker pollution program. The EPA decided to revert back to a 2009 pollution-reduction program with much weaker regulations than the ones in place at the time. They also changed the standards for what is protected under the Clean Water Act.
  • Refinery monitoring changes. The EPA chose to change the requirements determining how oil and gas refineries can affect the communities surrounding them through the monitoring of the pollutants they produce.

April 2019

May 2019

  • Attempt to remove references to climate change from policy statement. Before the text of a statement on Arctic policy signed by the United States was finalized, the Trump Administration pushed to remove any references to climate change.
  • Rollback of offshore drilling regulations. Officials from the Trump Administration announced that oil drilling regulations designed to prevent another Deepwater Horizon spill would be repealed, in a move designed to benefit the oil and gas industry.
  • Repeal of seasonal ethanol fuel ban. The Trump Administration lifted a summertime ban on the E15 compound in gasoline, with the goal of helping farmers affected by the tariffs also imposed by the administration. When vehicles emit this compound, which is 15 percent ethanol, in the summertime, it can create more smog and reduce air quality.
  • Change in EPA pollution calculation. The EPA altered the way it calculates its risk of air pollution, which would make it easier to repeal key climate change rulings because of a reduction in perceived risk.

June 2019

  • White House censoring of State testimony with climate warning. White House officials blocked a State Department intelligence agency’s testimony to Congress that included warnings about the “possibly catastrophic” effects of climate change if drastic steps aren’t taken.
  • Replacement of Obama-era coal rules. In the Trump Administration’s most significant effort to protect the coal industry, the EPA replaced emissions-conscious rules of the Obama Administration with policies that will keep coal plants open longer and will undercut the emissions reduction process. This replacement plan is called the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

Although a number of rules and regulations protecting the environment have been reinstated following lawsuits or other challenges, there remain several more policy proposals designed to loosen regulations designed to protect our climate for the future. However, these actions on behalf of the Trump Administration demonstrate a clear and present threat to the conservation of the environment and efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Some may dismiss climate change as a niche issue, but there are wide-reaching effects of this slow-moving threat. For example, as extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change affect more Americans, more disaster relief funding will be required. As sea levels rise and some of the 39 percent of Americans living near coasts lose their homes, climate change will impact the real estate market. These two examples come nowhere close to an exhaustive list of the economic and human rights crisis that climate change can cause if decisive action is not taken soon.

Climate seems poised to play a large role in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. A CNN survey reported that an overwhelming majority of Iowa Democratic caucus voters want their candidate to treat climate change as the greatest current threat to humanity. As the race progresses, voters will look at the climate policies of the top contenders and will subsequently choose their preferred candidates.

The current administration has made clear their indifference about protecting the planet. Electing a candidate in 2020 who has strong and actionable ideas about climate conservation is the only sustainable way forward.

Jaden Baum is a Communications Intern at Truman National Security Project. She is majoring in Communications and Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Views expressed are her own.

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