The Trump administration is preparing to usher in a new era of U.S. federal environmental policy. Last week, the Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt’s appointment as head of the EPA. The Oklahoma Attorney General is a famous opponent of EPA regulations, having brought lawsuits against the agency 14 times.
Pruitt is a darling of the energy sector. As such, he made a mission out of combating EPA activism. It is possible that under his watch, various industries will experience a miniature golden age of regulatory freedom.
For Pruitt, regulations are, apparently, a bit like fiber in one’s diet, and not much else. He has said that they, “ought to make things regular.” He has also argued that, unfortunately, the Obama administration’s EPA provided for an unpredictable business climate.
It is not surprising that he has entered this new position with the backing of quite a few major corporate and industry figures. Pruitt has yet to take firm positions on several key environmental issues, including climate change.
Senate Democrats have been anxious about his appointment. At one point, during his confirmation, raising concerns that he was unable to provide a substantial set of answers to 252 pages of more than 1000 questions. They seized every opportunity to state their disapproval as Republicans pushed his confirmation through.
Pruitt will be an accessory to the administration’s approach to environmental policy. Some of the intended changes may take some time to implement. Others could take effect immediately. President Trump has already signed an executive order, as promised, aimed at reducing regulation and regulatory costs.
The order mandates that, “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process.”
This order has taken blunt, catchy, oversimplified campaign rhetoric and made it into a federal reality. President of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ken Kimmell, issued a statement about the order, saying:
“This executive order is absurd […] imposing a Sophie’s choice on federal agencies. If, for example, the EPA wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury exposure, will it need to get rid of two other science-based rules, such as limiting lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?”
The following is a short list of actions that the Trump administration may pursue in the future:
1) Donald Trump has expressed an interest in leaving the Paris Agreement on climate change. The agreement has, as its objective, a global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It also includes percentage determinations of necessary contributions by member parties. So far, the agreement has been signed by 194 member parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 132 of the signatories have ratified the agreement so far including the United States, the European Union, China, India, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and South Africa. The Russian Federation has not ratified the agreement.
2) Trump could do away with the Social Cost of Carbon by way of executive order. He could also initiate a recalculation of the figure. The cost of carbon, which is currently calculated by scientists, is used in the application of regulations. It is recalculated every few years and was most recently calculated in 2015.
3) According to administration officials, Trump is preparing to sign an executive order that would either significantly alter or get rid of the Clean Power Plan, which established power plant carbon pollution standards. Its objective is to reduce the carbon emissions of the electricity generation sector by approximately 30 percent by the year 2030. For some time Trump has actively promised to reevaluate the plan.
4) The same executive order will also allegedly remove a moratorium on new leases for coal mining on federal lands. This order could become active right away. Additionally, Trump could open up government lands to oil exploration and extraction. Over the last five years the U.S. coal industry has lost thousands of jobs. This helps to explain why the Trump campaign won in Kentucky and West Virginia by such significant margins. It also sheds light on some of Hillary Clinton’s losses among mining communities in key battleground states, like Pennsylvania. There are many causes of the industry’s woes and they aren’t all government regulations. One of the most important is competition between coal and other energy sources, like natural gas.
5) Trump may sign another executive order aimed at altering the Waters of the United States Rule. It allows for greater federal control over bodies of water. It also allows for the protection of waters that are sometimes dry. Trump has promised to do away with this rule since he was on the campaign trail. Since its implementation, the rule has been highly controversial. Some of the measure’s most vocal opponents are farmers who have criticized it as confusing. On the other hand, conservation activists have argued that, despite the increased capability for environmental protection that it allows, it does not do enough to protect species that may be threatened or endangered.
Many of the things that the administration is doing were promised long ago. It is for this reason that they should not be surprising. Much of this effort is driven by corporate interests and Trump has done little to hide that fact.