The Trump Administration, A New Republican Majority, and the Environment

 

President Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017. With his inauguration, Republicans gained control of American government: the Presidency and both seats of Congress. As of early April, conservative ideology regained its majority on the Supreme Court.

Republicans have for decades regarded environmental protection measures as anathema to American economic wellbeing. Whenever Republicans talk about keywords like job growth or economic security, the answer seems to always be eliminating harmful environmental regulations. Sometimes I play a game; I listen to a Republican in a debate or stump speech, I listen whenever economics are brought up, and inevitably they say something about regulations and environmental regulations in particular. The new administration has mostly governed in a way that reflects this sentiment.

This is truly a fascinating time to study environmental policy. For the past two months, I have collected what I believe to be the most important federal-level environmental policy changes coming out of Congress and the Trump Administration. In this post, I break down the environmental politics and policy of today’s Republican Party. I explore the why and how of Republican anti-environmentalism, outlining the strategies Republicans have utilized since January as well as the motivations underlying those strategies. I believe that by better understand exactly what it is that Republicans are doing, environmentalists and conscious policymakers can better mobilize and oppose harmful policy.

 

Big Executive Orders Attempt to Undo Obama’s Environmental Legacy

Similarly to under President Obama, the direction of US environmental policy has largely been determined by the executive branch. American presidents are in charge of a vast bureaucracy, and determine how their agencies work in two ways by (1) appointing political allies to top spots within those agencies, including the lead administrator for each agency, and (2) directing agencies to do certain things and act a certain way, which tends to come from interagency directives or from executive orders.

President Trump has made major splashes with executive orders in the last couple of months, many not related to the environment. However, he has issued a number of significant orders that direct EPA to rollback and reconsider President Obama’s most significant environmental policy victories. The most significant order was an omnibus order that directs EPA to reevaluate the Clean Power Plan (which would mandate that states reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over a period of time and remains the cornerstone of America’s commitments to the Paris Agreement), as well as a number of other actions, including directing agencies to reconsider the social cost of carbon (SCC) metric. SCC essentially is a number (currently set at $36/ton) that justifies the costs and benefits of federal regulations that reduce carbon emissions. Other executive orders issued by the Administration include an order that directs EPA to reevaluate the Waters of the United States Rule (which expands the definition of what “waters’ are protected under the Clean Water Act), and executive orders speeding up the permitting process for controversial oil pipelines in the upper midwest.

These actions, I argue, make up the core of what any Republican would do to limit the reach of EPA over the private sector. However, with some exceptions, these are not actions that can be carried out immediately, and they are by no means a sure bet to actually happen. The reason for this is simple: most direct agencies to change rules that have already been instituted by previous administrations. Rule changes are not a sexy topic, but they are vastly important and crucial to understand. Agencies do not just issue new rules with a snap of a finger. Rather, these processes are massively drawn out, and the process of revising or withdrawing existing rules are equally complicated and painstaking.

Let’s use the Clean Power Plan as an example. The Clean power Plan is an agency rule. Trump can not and did not just repeal it with a stroke of his pen. He asked EPA to revisit the Plan – essentially to find a way to reduce its regulatory burdens on states and industry. EPA now has to go through a process where they must justify why a proposed alternative is legally sound, and justify why their proposed alternative is a better course of action. It will take years to complete, as the agency will have to formulate a strategy, prepare numerous environmental impact statements (EIS’s), and do the challenging work of making policy. Furthermore, each step of the process will accompany with them numerous environmental impact statements and lawsuits. There are some excellent pieces, like this one written by Vox’s Brad Plumer, that detail how difficult it will be for the Trump administration to revoke this rule. Basically, federal rulemaking does not exist in a  vacuum. There exist legal precedents and other agency work that find that greenhouse gases are a danger to human well-being and establish that EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases (meaning that EPA pretty much must regulate GHGs). The administration cannot just change this, and it will be interesting to observe the approach that EPA takes to diminish the Clean Power Plan. Regardless, there will most certainly be plenty of litigation challenging Trump’s directives. The same story is mostly true of other executive-directed rule changes.

 

Bring on the Congressional Review Act

Where executive orders and rule changes are slowly changing dynamics of American environmental politics, Republicans in Congress have been invoking a rarely used piece of legislation called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to eliminate recent agency rules and to do it very quickly. The CRA was passed in 1996 and empowers Congress to use an expedited Joint Resolution to review and nullify recently issued agency-level rules and regulations. It had only been used on time prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump. However, once there was a Republican President favorable to deregulation (President Obama was not likely to sign bills that would eliminate rules his own agencies created), the Republicans in Congress began to pass bill after bill that eliminate last-minute environmental rules created by the Obama administration. Since January, Congress has passed and Trump has signed 11 “Joint Resolutions of Disapproval” under the CRA that eliminate last-minute regulations. While the CRA acts undo regulations having to do with  everything from internet privacy to the ability to buy guns, the majority of the actions are environmental in nature. A full list of regulations struck down by the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress can be found here. Politico notes that Trump’s signing of CRA bills remain his only major legislative accomplishments since his inauguration.

Invoking the CRA to undo regulations makes it VERY difficult for another administration and its agencies to issue a similar rule. Pundits see the actions as Republicans winning political victories, and coming through on campaign promises.

 

How to Hamstring Regulatory Agencies in Two Months

In February, Stephen Bannon took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference and told the gathered right-wingers that one of the primary goals of the administration is the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. The use of the CRA is part of a larger deregulatory story playing out in Washington that includes but transcends the use of the act and regulatory rollback.

Since taking control of the government, Republicans have pursued legislation and executive orders have been invoked to reduce the future regulatory power of the federal government. The core of the strategy has been, it seems, to create oversight over federal agencies. In late February, Donald Trump signed an executive order that mandates that each agency appoint a “Regulatory Reform Officer” who is empowered to identify certain regulations that may be detrimental to job growth or “outdated”, and recommend to the agency administrator and the President that they be removed. Also in February, Congress did a very similar thing. The House passed the SCRUB Act (which has not made it out of committee in the Senate), which would create a Congressional regulatory review commission, which would be able to identify and recommend to Congress that those rules be eliminated.

In addition to regulatory overview, Republicans have utilized strategies to make future regulation much more difficult. From the executive branch, President Trump has issued (very ambiguous) orders, such as one that requires that for every new regulation, the cost-equivalent of two others be repealed by a federal agency. This kind of order is rife with complications and uncertainties, but executive directives to agencies have power, and without revoking this order, any new regulation must invoke this process. This has the potential to both backfire on the Trump administration attempting to regulate really anything, but also will slow down the regulatory process.

In Congress, Republicans have used a different strategy to make future regulatory endeavors more difficult: changing how agencies can use information – scientific information in particular.

In early April, the House passed two bills, the HONEST Act and the “EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act”. The bills come out of Republican sentiments, displayed in the language of the bills and multiple hearings including one entitled “Make EPA Great Again”, that past Obama-era EPA regulatory decisions have been political decisions rather than scientific decisions. This is reminiscent of conservative claims that environmentalists interested in responding to climate change are pushing an ideological or political agenda rather than a scientific one. Which is, of course, ridiculous. Anyway, both bills limit the way EPA can use science. The HONEST Act in particular, authored by Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX-21), mandates that EPA can not use scientific knowledge if it is now the “best available science, specifically identified, and publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results”.

Finally, Republicans will use budgeting to hamper the work of EPA and other regulatory agencies. This is not a new strategy. Republicans in Congress under President Obama used funding appropriations and riders (stipulations attached to funding bills) as one of the main ways to limit what EPA could do. I will not go into the details of Donald Trump’s proposed EPA budget, but needless to say, it would cut a sizeable amount of the agency’s operating budget. I do not think that all of the budget cuts will come into effect, as even conservative Republicans will balk at the dramatic reductions, but it is very reasonable to expect still-sizeable cuts to EPA’s budget. These cuts, including possibly closing EPA regional branches, have the potential to severely limit what EPA does and slow its work, but in a non-regulatory manner.

These mechanisms represent a more subtle, but forward looking approach to dealing with environmental protection. They are removed from the straight-forward rollbacks of existing environmental regulation. Rather, they deal with, and limit, the ways that agencies can regulate moving forward as well as challenging the wisdom of environmental regulation more generally.

 

The Case of the Endangerment Finding, and, Republican Environmental Strategies in 2017

I think that the questions remains: what strategies are and will the Republicans take on environmental protection policies? And, why? I have outlined the general executive-guided rollback approach approach that I have noticed throughout my two months of observation. However, the case of the endangerment finding I think gives us some insight into the actual environmental politics behind the administration’s policy choices. When Donald Trump issued his omnibus executive order on climate and energy, the order omitted any mention of revising or reconsidering the endangerment finding. I alluded to the endangerment finding earlier, but essentially it is a 2009 finding by EPA that carbon dioxide emissions are bad and bad for America. The endangerment finding, coupled with the 2009 Supreme Court decision Massachusetts v EPA, make up the core of the legal authority of the government to regulate GHG emissions. If the Trump administration is truly opposed to climate protection measures, why would it not attempt to challenge or reconsider one of the primary justifications for US climate policy?

According to a Politico article (yes I am using Politico a lot), Scott Pruitt and other higher-ups in Trump’s EPA believed that it would be too legally difficult to adequately challenge the endangerment finding. This concession essentially amounts to admitting that the weight of scientific inquiry and logic is behind the argument that carbon emissions, and associated climate change, is a bad thing and should be stopped.

This makes the other things that the administration has been doing that much more important. With an understanding of this administrative finding, and the reasons why the administration has not done anything to change it, the strategy that the Republicans are taking on the environment becomes clear. On one hand, they are attempting to roll back whatever they can using the politically and legally low-hanging fruit of executive orders, agency practices, and CRA regulation reviews However, it seems they have made a choice to not challenge every little piece of specifically climate-change related piece of administrative law or court precedent. Another prominent example can also be seen in the handful of extremely anti-EPA and anti-environment bills coming out of Republicans in Congress, that never had a chance of becoming law, but were simply proposed by Republican legislators eager to appease their voting base. Political grandstanding, like proposing a bill that would eliminate EPA, are political tools, but these kinds of radical policy proposal are not the core of modern-day Republican anti-environmentalism.

Effectively opposing environmental offenses depends on recognizing exactly what Republicans are doing on climate and the environment and why. The Republican Party is unfriendly to environmental protection as to them, it represents the public sector reigning in business and innovation. However, the core of Republican strategy is not to simply deny the existence of climate change or try to stop certain regulations. Republicans do not feel that they need to challenge every little thing about climate policies in the US to do the work of deregulation. Rather, Republicans can rely on the rollbacks that they can easily achieve, while gutting and reorganizing the federal bureaucracy to hamstring the work of federal agencies. Environmentalists would do well to remember this into the contentious future. 

 

April 4, 2017: House Republicans attempt to alter EPA’s use of science

House passes two bills to limit EPA use of science, decision-making

On Wednesday March 29 and Thursday March 30, the House of Representatives passed two separate bills that seek to change the ways that EPA can use science in informing regulations.

On Wednesday, the House passed the HONEST Act, or “The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017”. The Act was introduced by Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. For a number of years, Rep Smith has consistently introduced similar legislation to the House via his committee, although it never progressed.

The HONEST Act follows the heels of a hearing held by Rep Smith on February 7th entitled, “Making EPA Great Again” (the title of which should ring some alarm bells). The Hearing, and the House bill, both deal with the ways that EPA can use science, and come out of conservative concerns that EPA pursues a “political agenda, not a scientific one”. The bill makes it so any regulatory decision that EPA makes must be based on science that is “publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction”. Essentially, the bill makes it so the agency must rely solely on data that is open and available. The language sounds really nice- but it didn’t fool the 194 Congresspeople, mostly all Democrats, who voted against the bill. The HONEST Act would tie the hands of the agency in decision-making, further complicating and slowing down the work of the agency. This is an anti-EPA bill and it comes out of the conservative tradition of questioning the scientific legitimacy of environmental issues.

On Thursday, the House passed the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act. This Act reforms the selection process for EPA’s Science Advisory Boards (SAB), which is a group of individuals that is empowered to give EPA advice on scientific problems and on the best ways to utilize scientific knowledge. The bill mandates that scientific “points of view” (which is a thing, I guess) on the board be “fairly balanced”, and pave the way for industry representatives to be appointed to the board under an industry-friendly EPA administrator. The language of the bill, similarly to the HONEST Act, is couched in friendly language about transparency in the regulatory process. Make no mistake, the purpose of the bill is certainly not to enhance the level of scientific integrity employed by EPA. It is a political mission to ensure EPA cannot regulate.

Taken together, these bills represent a Republican-led Congress that is both skeptical of and ideologically opposed to the work that EPA does. By pushing these bills through, Republicans show that they are not interested in supporting an agency that has the tools to respond to modern environmental challenges, and perpetuate a insidious myth about the rigor of present-day scientific evidence that only helps them delay action on climate change.

March 29, 2017: Explaining Trump’s new executive order on coal and climate

I have been a little slow to produce writing this week, because I was waiting for the executive order to be signed and to explore more in depth the details and significance. The next section of this post explains the administration’s new policy on climate change and the most extreme rolling back of president Obama’s climate change policies to date.

 

Trump signs executive order rolling back Obama-era climate protections

President Trump signed an “Energy Independence” executive order on Tuesday, March 28, that rolls back a significant portion of President Obama’s climate change legacy. This is the single-biggest piece of environmental policy move of his nascent presidency. The executive order is a massive document- the Atlantic refers to as an “omnibus” order.  It tackles a number of different issue areas within the same, big, order. While signing, Trump celebrated an end to the so-called “war on coal” via federal regulation.  

The executive order does a number of things:

  • Directs EPA to re-write Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). CPP is the center of President Obama’s climate change mitigation efforts. The Plan would have mandated states reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by a flexible, but gradually increasing amount. It has been held up in Court since February 2016, but now it seems that EPA administrator Pruitt will attempt to eliminated.

Entirely eliminating the CPP will be a daunting task. Vox’s Blad Plumer wrote an excellent piece on the difficulty that the administration and EPA will face in revoking the rule. Essentially, this is a federal rule that is backed up by both the legal authority of EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, and a finding by EPA that carbon dioxide endangers public well-being; the “endangerment finding”. To eliminate or even weaken a rule, the administration will have to go through a laborious process with numerous opportunities for legal challenges, and it will have to justify in court why any proposed changes to the rule (including its elimination) is allowable or desirable. Essentially, the EPA has an authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and that authority has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and it is now difficult legally for the agency to not regulate greenhouse gases. This will be the most interesting and consequential legal/administrative battle in the coming years on climate. In a very plausible scenario, EPA issues a new rule that keeps some of the original provisions of the CPP, but in a much weaker way.

  • Orders DOI and EPA  to reconsider regulations on fracking and methane emissions from natural gas. These regulations, like the re-writing of the CPP, will take time to complete.
  • Directs DOI to begin allowing the leasing of federal land for coal extraction in the West.
  • Orders a review of the social cost of carbon metric (SCC). SCC, currently set at $36/ton, is used by regulatory agencies to justify climate change regulations. This is a BIG DEAL. The administration will likely now explore ways to eliminate or reduce the SCC metric. However, like any redrawing of the Clean Power plan, reconsidering the SCC metric is complicated by EPA’s established regulatory authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Formally reducing or eliminating the metric will certainly incur lawsuits, which I would guess the agency is bound to lose.
  • Rescinds an order that guides agencies how to properly take into account climate change in the NEPA process. It is unclear how exactly this will affect NEPA and agency decision-making. Agencies are still required to take into account potential environmental harms, of which climate change is one, but this order will make how they deal with the subject far less clear.
  • A lot of other stuff: basically rescinding any presidential order or memorandum Barack Obama ever issued on climate change.

 

There is a lot to say about this order. This course of action certainly will not produce the stated goals of (1) promoting American energy independence, and (2) bringing back coal jobs. Both of these problems have their roots in a shifting economic landscape.

Furthermore,  this is a half direct-policy order and half a guiding order to federal agencies. This is important to keep in mind. Some of the order immediately changes the federal environmental policy landscape. Most of the order, however, including the reconsidering the CPP and the SCC, are long term directives for agencies that guide them towards certain outcomes. They cannot be changed immediately, and they cannot be changed with a stroke of the president’s pen. I think that it is easy to cry wolf about all of the things the Trump administration is doing here, and in the process miss a lot of the opportunities that NGOs, civil servants, and the public have to engage with the process and push back. Long term-directives, however, are also insidious in that they can impact the regulatory authority of agencies in the long term.

March 24, 2017: Keystone XL is back

State Department approves Keystone XL Pipeline

On Friday, March 24, the State Department issued cross-border permits to developer TransCanada, that allow the company to build its controversial $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline. The decision reverses an Obama administration move to not issue the permits in 2015. Keystone XL is remarkable in that it has been a rallying cry for environmentalists and their campaigns to combat global climate change. The Trump administration’s decision is not surprising, as all signs pointed towards the administration green-lighting the project. Still, this move is a symbolic and material defeat for environmental groups and the planet, and a political win for President Trump. The President, when announcing that the permits had been issued, stated that this was a “great day for jobs and energy independence”.

 

Senate marches forward repeal of predator hunting moratorium in Alaska refuges

Senate passed H.J. Res 69, which would waive the “Alaska National Wildlife Refuge Rule”, which essentially bans the hunting of predators in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge System. Sponsor Don Young (R-AK) said in a statement that the Rule “fundamentally destroys a cooperative relationship between Alaska and the Federal Government”. This is essentially an argument about state sovereignty and the ability of states to make decisions about their own natural resources. The rule passed mostly along party lines 52-47. The bill already passed the House, and now heads to the President’s desk. Trump is likely to sign the measure, although I doubt this is a priority of his administration. 

March 21, 2017: Saying goodbye to fuel economy standards, CRAZY proposed budget cuts for EPA

 

EPA announces that it will revisit standards on auto emissions and fuel economy for cars and light trucks

Under President Obama, EPA issued a rule that mandated that cars and light-duty trucks reach 54.5 mpg by the year 2025. This was a key part of the Obama administration’s approach to combating climate change and was often forgotten relative to EPA’s Clean Power Plan. On March 15, EPA and DOT issued a statement announcing that their agencies would work on rewriting that rule. EPA administrator Pruitt called the previous auto standards “costly for automakers and the American people”. All signs point to the administration nixing any mandated increases in fuel efficiency standards.

The status of the State of California greatly complicates this move. California has a special waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to exceed federal standards on automobile emissions. It is possible that the waiver will be rescinded, but if California is able to mandate higher-efficiency vehicles, the market power of the state has the potential to inflate fuel-economy standards everywhere. Therefore, the Trump administration’s regulatory re-evaluation may not matter if California is able to keep its higher standards.

EDIT:

On Friday March 24, the California Air Resources Board approved a review of its current automobile standards, which will remain in place through the year 2025. The auto standards, according to Scientific American, mandate that automobile manufacturers looking to sell cars in the state must “produce an increasing percentage of zero-emissions vehicles… and cut tailpipe greenhouse gas and particulate emissions”. Unless Trump’s EPA acts to challenge this assertion, California will likely continue to inflate auto emissions standards nationwide. 

 

Trump’s desired budget cuts to EPA, Interior clarified… but will they happen?

On Thursday, March 16th, the White House released a 62-page budget outline for FY2018. The budget includes draconian cuts to EPA, the Interior Department, and the USDA coupled with significant increases in military & defense spending.

The budget proposes a $2.6 billion cut to EPA. This includes the elimination of 3,200 jobs and the closure of two district offices, which are instrumental in overseeing and implementing federal policies in coordination with the states. The cuts are aimed at a number of key EPA programs: it would “discontinue” funding for Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, dramatically reduce money for Superfund cleanup sites (which Scott Pruitt listed as an EPA priority), reduce money for EPA enforcement (likely to allow states more leeway over certain issue areas), along with the elimination or reduction of a large number of other national and regional programs. This is a radical policy proposal, and has received a LOT of push back from civil society and from Democrats. The DOI faces a smaller, but still significant 12 percent reduction in its budget.  The proposed budget slashes programs acquiring new public lands, various land management programs, and smaller land conservation departments. This all seems to be a path towards less federal control over public lands via a weakened Interior Department.

This budget, as it stands, will not pass.

Congressional Republicans do love to cut EPA and they will cut EPA. However, this is an incredibly radical slash to EPA, an agency that must carry out basic environmental enforcement measures. It will be very interesting to watch the budget as it gets passed back and forth between Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House. Republicans may try to take the middle ground and appear to be sane by rejecting Donald Trump’s proposed budget plans. However, I fully expect to see significant cuts to climate change and renewable programs so long as Republicans hold power in Washington. What they choose to leave out of the budget will be the real story.

 

Trump poised to sign a BIG executive order rolling back power plant rules, other climate change protections

All signs pointed to the signing of a new executive order rolling back climate and energy rules last week (March 13), but that didn’t happen. This strategy seems to be a hallmark of this administration; they hint at changes and then wait to execute them. Regardless, news sources predict that the order will direct EPA to rewrite Obama’s Clean Power Plan, allow coal plant leasing on federal lands, and revise the ways that climate is factored into decision-making in federal agencies (likely through a review of the incredibly important Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) metric). This will be, in my mind, the single biggest piece of environmental policy coming out of the administration to date. As this happens, i will be sure to cover the details of the administration’s approach and its implications.

Something Interesting

A handful of House Republicans introduced a Resolution that calls on the chamber to engage in “conservative environmental stewardship”. The Resolution recognizes that environmental problems like climate change exist and are bad, and calls for conservative private and public sector solutions to existing problems. This will not be passed by the House as doctrine, but it is interesting to see that there is a small constituency of Republicans favoring climate protection policies.

March 9, 2017: More deregulation!

On Thursday, March 9, 2017, the administrator of the EPA doubted that carbon dioxide causes global warming. I’ll say that again: On Thursday, March 9, 2017, the administrator of the EPA doubted that carbon dioxide causes global warming. This is obviously pretty crazy stuff. What is interesting here is that essentially nobody denies that the greenhouse effect exists. Conservatives tend to argue that we don’t know the extent of the impact or how much anthropocentric greenhouse gas emissions affect larger planetary cycles. This is different and this is radical. There are rumors of rollbacks on auto standards as well as more executive orders on climate and energy coming. Stay posted.

 

Senate votes to eliminate BLM land management regulations

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to eliminate BLM’s “Planning 2.0 Rule”. The rule attempted to increase public involvement in the process of managing land in a variety of ways, as well as to “modernize” the land management process more generally. Conservatives and industry groups have criticized the rule since its instatement towards the end of the Obama administration because it gives the federal government too much authority over management decisions better left to the states or other local governments. Interestingly, Congressional Republicans have supported other measures that enhance “public transparency” on regulations when the intended action is to prevent further regulations.

This is the third environmental-related regulation elimination ace under the Congressional Review Act to pass both chambers and make it to the President’s desk.

 

Quote of the Week:

“Even if every one of Obama’s environmental regulations—the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards; the Cross State Air Pollution Rule; the Coal Ash Rule; the Effluent Limitations Guidelines for wastewater discharge, and section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act —were all struck down tomorrow, the effect on jobs in Appalachia would still be negligible”.

– Politico

March 7, 2017: Immigration and health care dominate this week, but environmental changes coming

 

This news cycle was dominated by other high profile matters in Washington. On Monday, Donald Trump released a new version of his executive order barring migration from six predominantly Muslim countries. Also on Monday, House Republicans released their long-awaited plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. There is also big news coming out of EPA, with Scott Pruitt and the agency expected to announce that it will begin to review and reopen the auto emission standards set by the Obama administration sometime this week or next week. As the details come out, I will cover it.

 

Perry confirmed as energy secretary

On Friday March 7, the Senate confirmed Rick Perry as the Secretary for the Department of Energy. Perry was a very conservative governor, however his confirmation to the DOE was not very controversial. It remains to be seen what direction Perry will take the DOE in terms of energy policy and renewables. Perry denies the existence of climate change and sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

 

EPA withdraws pollutant information request from oil and gas producers

EPA released a statement  saying that they would no longer pursue the oil and gas industry for information related to their methane emissions. The effort to get industry to disclose emissions was a part of an Obama-era effort to quantify and regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Scott Pruitt released a statement calling the withdrawal a step to “reduce burdens on business”.

In substance, this action is very small. However, it represents yet another reversal in policy direction. Obama’s EPA had taken the first steps towards regulating a very powerful greenhouse gas, and this should be viewed as a signal that dropping clean air rules and regulations is the policy of the new administration. The media has covered this event as the beginning of Pruitt and Trump’s rollback of clean air rules. There has been much uproar over more visible policy changes like the executive orders on pipelines and draconian bills introduced in the House over the past month. I think that these large issues make smaller changes such as this less visible and easier to ignore. This represents a more subtle, step-by-step and measured approach to regulatory rollback that I think is more dangerous (in terms of protecting existing regulation) than more extreme actions.