Trump’s Environmental Deregulation Legacy

No president did more to deregulate environmental protection than Donald Trump. Environmental deregulation started early. At the beginning of his administration, Trump signed an executive order that for every new regulation issued, at least two regulations must be identified for elimination. That was a signal we were in for a long deregulatory ride, one that lasted the entire four years of his administration. 

The environmental laws the Trump administration rolled back included replacing the Clean Power Plan, gutting the Endangered Species Act, and weakening both the Coal Ash Rule and Mercury and Air Toxic Standards. Every rollback represents a giveaway to Trump’s industry cronies. The oil and gas industry and the mining industry came before the environment in his administration. 

Replacing the Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy rule 

The Obama administration proposed the Clean Power Plan in 2014 and finalized it in 2015. The CPP created carbon dioxide emission performance rates for two subcategories of fossil fuel-fired power plants. Carbon accounts for 82 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Under the CPP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that carbon emissions from the electricity sector would decrease by 32 percent below 2005 levels. Sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants were projected to drop by 90 percent, while nitrogen oxide emissions would drop by 72 percent. 

In March 2017, former President Trump issued an executive order directing the EPA to review the CPP, and in October 2017, the EPA proposed to rescind the rule. In 2019, the EPA finalized the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which rolled back the CPP. While the CPP set nationwide standards to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, ACE allows states to set their own standards. ACE will increase carbon emissions by over 600 million short tons by 2030, according to the EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis

Gutting the Endangered Species Act

The Trump administration issued a new rule in December that weakened the Endangered Species Act by making it harder to protect critical habitat areas for threatened and endangered species. The rule narrows the definition of habitat by limiting it. The problem with limiting the definition is that climate change causes habitat degradation and loss, which is one of the main causes of extinction. 

The new rule amounts to a giveaway to the fossil fuel and mining industries. It allows the oil and gas industry to explore and extract in areas of critical habitat and allows mining industries to set up shop in areas where threatened and endangered species live. 

Weakening the Coal Ash Rule and Mercury and Air Toxic Standards

Coal ash occurs after power plants burn coal to produce electricity. It is one of the biggest types of industrial waste generated in the U.S. According to the EPA, in 2012, 470 coal-fired power plants generated about 110 million tons of coal ash. In 2015, the Obama administration issued a rule to deal with coal ash. In 2018, the D.C. Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to strengthen the national coal ash standards set in 2015. Instead, the Trump administration weakened the 2015 standards. 

The Mercury and Air Toxic Standards require fossil fuel-based power plants to reduce mercury emissions and other pollutants, including arsenic, nickel, and acid gases. Power plants are the biggest emitters of mercury in the U.S. Exposure to mercury is linked to a slew of human health problems, including neurological disorders. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the EPA must consider the costs to public health and industry. The EPA published a cost finding in 2015 before issuing the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards in 2017. 

In 2018, the Trump administration proposed to revise the cost finding. The new cost finding stated that MATS is no longer “appropriate and necessary.”

In addition, the revision found the mercury and other pollutants from power plants acceptable.

In April 2020, the EPA gutted MATS. 


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The Trump Administration Roll Backs of Migratory Bird Protection

Rolling back protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is an example of the corruption and obsequious deference to Big Oil by Trump & Co.

How do you change environmental laws to favor fossil fuel and mining industries without Congress? You gut regulations by having federal agencies issue a new rule. It is a move President Trump loves to make. In four years, the Trump administration has rolled back more than 125 environmental protections. Even now, dozens more are in the works. 

The most recent new rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service involves migratory birds. On February 3, 2020, the FWS published a new rule to clarify the ban on the “take” of birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The proposed rule states that the scope of the MBTA applies only to intentional injuring or killing of birds, but conduct that results in the unintentional injury or death of migratory birds is prohibited. The FWS published an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in June and in November and announced the publication of the final EIS

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act: Doing the Bidding of Big Oil

The new rule is a major rollback of the MBTA just two months before Joe Biden takes office. Big Oil drives the move gutting the MBTA. Tellingly, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist. At least 17 of Bernhardt’s former clients received handouts from the Trump administration during his time as Interior Secretary, according to research by Western Values Project. Excluding incidental killings of birds from the MBTA shields oil companies from liabilities and penalties. The rule would “likely result in increased bird mortality,” as the final EIS acknowledges. But that does not matter as long as Bernhardt’s oil industry cronies are happy. 

Western Values Project obtained a request by Western Energy Alliance, submitted to the FWS “suggesting statutory changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” The Independent Petroleum Association of America, Berhardt’s former client, had inside knowledge of the pending rollbacks, the documents also revealed.

“Trump just keeps solidifying his legacy of the worst environmental, public lands, and wildlife presidency in history. This is yet another gift to Big Oil by corrupt Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on his way out the door. Bernhardt puts yet another favor for Big Oil before the needs of small businesses and workers during a pandemic, illustrating “everything that is wrong with the Trump administration and its priorities,” said Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill. 

The rollbacks of the MBTA extend protections to industry activities that kill birds. If the rollback was in place in 2010, BP would not have faced consequences under the MBTA for the more than one million birds killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP paid $100 million in fines thanks to the MBTA protections recently weakened. 

Why so many oppose the rollbacks

There is bipartisan opposition to the MBTA rollback, including from congressional members, more than 25 states, tribal governments, scientists, and 250,000 people who submitted comments opposing the rollback. 

One reason for the opposition is that the Trump administration sped up the environmental review process by minimizing the comment period and did not do a thorough analysis of environmental impacts and reasonable alternatives. “This environmental review process has made a mockery of the public engagement and scientific review required under the law,” as David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society stated.

Another reason for the opposition is that migratory birds need full protection. Three million birds in North America have been lost since 1970. Climate change threatens two-thirds of North American birds. Oil waste pits kill 500,000 to one million birds a year, which means the Trump administration extended protections to an industry responsible for so many bird deaths. 


Photo by Ravi Shekhar on Unsplash