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The 12 biggest changes Trump has made to U.S. environmental policy

Leaving the Paris deal was only the beginning

by Alex Lubben
Dec 28 2017, 8:51pm

As 2017 winds to a close, many are touting President Donald Trump’s tax reform bill as his first major legislative achievement. But the Trump administration has made huge strides on one of the president’s other central priorities: the effort to roll back what it sees as Obama-era government overreach on environmental regulations.

During Trump’s first year in office, his administration has successfully reshaped the U.S. domestic and international environmental policy, from pulling out of the landmark Paris climate deal to paving the way for the fossil fuel industry to continue to burn greenhouse gases.

Here’s a list — and not a comprehensive one — of many of the most significant ways that Trump’s policies have succeeded in shaping U.S. environmental policy, ranging from large structural changes to the way regulations are written to smaller, more symbolic gestures:

Pulling out of the Paris climate deal

The Paris climate agreement, which is nonbinding for the signers, aims to hold the Earth to warming fewer than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. But it didn’t square with Trump’s America First agenda, and he saw it as unfairly punishing the U.S. while allowing other, less developed nations to continue to pollute, as well as an attack on the American coal industry.

Trump simultaneously announced that the U.S. will no longer contribute to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund, a fund of more than $10 billion designated for projects that help poorer nations develop economies that don’t rely on fossil fuels.

Dismantling the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan was the Obama administration’s effort to keep the U.S. in line with the Paris climate deal by proposing state-by-state emissions reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions. The plan was tied up in the courts since it was first proposed in 2015, and never fully implemented. And though it was proposed prior to the signing of the Paris deal, it was the only regulation that would have kept the U.S. within the targets outlined in Paris. Trump, through the Scott Pruitt–led Environmental Protection Agency, is looking to rescind it.

In order to justify their repeal of the Clean Power Plan, the EPA recalculated what’s called “the social cost of carbon calculation,” a regulatory tool that puts a dollar amount on how much a ton of carbon pollution costs humanity. It’s used to prove the economic benefits — like reduced healthcare costs or the fewer and less frequent extreme weather events that would take place if the earth stays cool — of many environmental regulations. Changing the calculus here could have a wider impact on how the federal government approaches environmental regulation.

READ: EPA chief is using MAGA math to justify the repeal of the Clean Power Plan

Rolling back the Waters of the United States rule

The Waters of the United States rule, another controversial Obama-era guideline, was meant to clarify what bodies of water are under the EPA’s jurisdiction, by effectively extending the reach of the Clean Water Act to two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands, according to ThinkProgress, which were previously unprotected by the Clean Water Act.

The 1972 law covered only “navigable waters” — but not necessarily the streams that flowed into them. Ohio Republican John Boehner called it “tyrannical” government overreach, claiming that it would force small farmers to jump through regulatory hoops anytime they dug a drainage ditch.

The rule pitted industry against the EPA, and Pruitt has opted to rescind it, claiming they plan to introduce a clearer alternative to the rule, but hasn’t said what it will be yet.

READ: EPA head Scott Pruitt is the new star of a Big Beef video

Plastic water bottles and lead are back in state parks

Trump’s Department of the Interior has rescinded the rule that keep plastic water bottles out of federal parklands, and has allowed the use of lead munitions in hunting on federals lands as well as lead sinkers for fishing.

The EPA’s budget looks set to shrink, by a lot

In March, Trump proposed cutting the EPA budget by over 30 percent. In the meantime, budgets for research the EPA have been slashed, and much of the staff is taking buyouts. All told the agency has lost more than 700 employees in 2017, including 200 scientists. Meanwhile the agency is providing strange and costly accommodations, like a 24-hour security detail and a soundproof booth, for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

READ: Demoralized EPA employees brace for wholesale war on the environment

The Alaskan arctic is now open for drilling

New exploratory drilling operations have been greenlighted through the GOP tax bill in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. And seismic airgun blasting, a method used to find oil on the seafloor, is being used in the Atlantic, a practice that’s known to harm whales. There have been no drilling operations off the Atlantic coast since the 1980s.

Oil is flowing through pipelines

The Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to southern Illinois and sparked months of protests, has been fully operational since June after the Trump administration approved the last phase of its construction. The Keystone XL pipeline’s construction application stood in limbo for five years while the Obama administration wavered on it, before finally rejecting it. It’s moving forward now, after the Trump administration approved a new application for its construction.

The Department of Energy wants to subsidize coal

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry plans to subsidize fading and dirty electricity sources, like nuclear and coal, for the stability that they provide to the grid. The plan would compensate facilities that store fuel on-site for the benefit that they provide to our economic and national security. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide on January 8, 2018, whether to approve the plan.

The U.S. relies less on coal and nuclear energy than it ever has before as the energy market has gravitated toward renewable sources in recent years. Perry’s plan would cost taxpayers $10.6 billion a year, according to a joint analysis from the non-partisan Climate Policy Initiative and Energy Innovation groups. “I think it’s really important for people to understand, in general terms, there is no free market in the energy industry,” Perry told a meeting of the group Veterans for Energy, according to The Hill.

Shrinking national monuments

The Trump administration removed more land from federal protection than any other president. In fact, no president has ever before rescinded any land’s monument status, which only presidents can designate. Some two million acres of land in Utah is now open for development.

The land in question is in Utah, and was previously protected as part of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. A number of tribes and environmental groups are suing to try to keep the lands protected: it’s clear that presidents can designate monuments, but, since no president has ever tried to rescind it, these groups are alleging that Trump’s move was illegal.

Greenlighting use of a controversial pesticide

Chlorpyrifos, a chemical that’s commonly used as an insecticide for crops, is known to cause brain damage in developing children. For years, some members of the scientific community have been trying to get the EPA to ban its use and in 2016, it appeared they had succeeded. The EPA was finally considering a regulation to limit the chemical’s use.

But the Trump administration in March tabled any discussion of a ban on the chemical, openly contradicting the recommendations of federal scientists. EPA scientists found levels more than 140 times what’s considered safe on fruits and vegetables.

Deregulating methane leaks

Natural gas drilling operations often result in leaking methane, a greenhouse gas that’s about twenty five times better at trapping heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. A regulation, finalized while Trump was already president-elect, requires natural gas drilling operations to find and fix methane leaks.

Try as it might, the Trump administration hasn’t yet been able to successfully delay the rule’s implementation, with members of his own party refusing to vote the regulation out of existence. The EPA will try to rescind to rule, but the agency might have trouble as the rule is on solid scientific footing, an unnamed senior EPA official told Axios.