The Trump administration has been in office for a little more than a year, and it’s done a lot to change the federal government’s stance on environmental issues -- from announcing the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, to opening up thousands of miles of U.S. coastline to offshore drilling.
“No president has ever cut so many regulations in their entire term, OK, as we’ve cut in less than a year.”
So said President Trump at the annual Conservative Action Conference in February.
“Trump has turned the car around, but he hasn’t gone very far down the road in the opposite direction,” says Dan Farber. He's an environmental law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he co-directs the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.
“He’s got a lot of plans. There are a lot of proposals in the works, but concrete accomplishments are a lot more limited. But of course it’s only the first year.”
Farber says there are some short-term changes already happening.
“In EPA, one of the things that we’re going to see is just less going on, right? I mean, there’s clearly not going to be any new regulations. They’re trying to do their best to put existing regulations on hold. I think the area we’ve actually seen the most real change is actually not at EPA, but at the Interior Department under Ryan Zinke.”
He notes the administration shrank the size of some national monuments, and proposed opening up new areas for drilling and coal leasing.
Farber says EPA chief Scott Pruitt has also issued a lot of proposals to undo some major accomplishments from the Obama administration.
But it’s not that simple. Most of the action this year will be in court. That’s where a lot of these issues start to get worked out.
“Getting rid of a rule is actually a complicated process, just like creating the rule in the first place,” says Farber. “You can’t just wave a magic wand and the rule goes away. So what they’ve done is started the process by putting some proposals out there to eliminate existing rules. But now they have to go through the gathering of comments, they have to write up pretty detailed lengthy explanations of exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
The administration is planning to issue the final rules for the Waters of the United States Rule and the Clean Power Plan this year. And it’s at that point that Farber says we’ll see the action turn to the courts.
“State governments and environmental groups are gonna immediately, probably within the first hour after these rules come out, they will file in federal courts to challenge the rules.”
Then, he says, it could take another year to see what the courts have to say about these actions from the Trump administration.