January 3, 2017
Many of President Obama’s climate and environmental policies are unlikely to survive under President-elect Donald Trump according to a December 17, 2016 report from The Hill.
Allow more fossil fuel production
Trump promised during the campaign that he would “unleash an energy revolution,” in large part by making it easier to extract oil, natural gas and coal, even though domestic oil and gas production levels are near record highs. One of his top targets is the Obama administration’s moratorium on new leases for mining coal on federal land, which began earlier this year.
The coal moratorium falls under the purview of the Interior Department, which Trump tapped Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) to lead. Zinke has been an outspoken opponent of the moratorium, which he said has an outsized impact on Montana.
Trump also wants to make more areas available for offshore drilling. Obama recently made final a five-year schedule for offshore leases that excludes the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which prompted congressional Republicans to call for Trump to immediately expand areas for drilling.
Obama’s final years in office have brought numerous regulations on oil and natural gas drilling, including rules regarding hydraulic fracturing and methane emissions. Companies say those rules severely limit their growth and are pushing for them to be repealed. The rule on fracking on federal land, written by the Interior Department, was struck down in court, and Trump could quickly end the Obama administration’s appeal of the decision.
Obama’s regulations have been a hallmark of his environmental agenda. He frequently argued that Congress fell short of its responsibility to protect the environment and tasked his administration with filling the gap. Since so many of Obama’s policies were regulatory, Trump can use the same regulatory process to roll them back.
Any move by the Trump administration to roll back a regulation would be subject to lawsuits from environmentalists, liberal states and others. Courts are likely to give Trump wide leeway in his regulatory moves, but they might not let him roll back everything he wants to.
Stop international cooperation on climate
Last year’s Paris agreement, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to limit or cut their greenhouse gas emissions, was one of the top items on Obama’s climate agenda. Beyond the Paris agreement, Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry made climate a top diplomatic priority. In recent years they have used almost every high-level diplomatic communication to push international leaders on the issue.
Trump, by contrast, has shown no willingness to follow suit. Rex Tillerson, his nominee for secretary of State and the outgoing CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., comes from a company that supports the Paris accord, but it remains to be seen if that will inform his work as the country’s top diplomat.
Stop defending Obama’s regulations in court
Nearly every major environmental regulation from Obama garnered a lawsuit from the industries it affects and from conservative states, and much of that litigation is ongoing. Once Trump takes office, he will have the power to instruct Justice Department attorneys to stop defending the regulations.
Those attorneys could let the courts decide the cases, or could ask the courts to let the agencies go back and rewrite the rules. Since the fracking rule has been overturned by a district court and is now being appealed, the decision to stop defending it could mean that the rule is dead.
Other major regulations like the Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States could potentially be sent back to the agencies. But it is up to the courts to decide.
When the Trump administration declines to defend Obama’s regulations, environmental groups are likely to step in to defend them, whether the federal government wants them to or not.
Weaken environmental enforcement
Trump’s attorneys in the EPA, the Justice Department and other agencies will have great leeway in how they enforce environmental laws against companies that pollute or break other laws.
They could use prosecutorial discretion to decide which cases to pursue, change budgeting to devote less money to the cause or prioritize resources to certain law enforcement issues over others.
Environmental groups can at times challenge changes to enforcement policy in court. Specifically, greens can sometimes sue companies that break laws if the federal government doesn’t take action, or if they argue that the action is too weak.
What this means to you
Many of President Obama’s climate and environmental policies are unlikely to survive under President-elect Donald Trump. There are five major changes he is likely to bring.
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