The Trump administration finished its year of rolling back an unprecedented number of environmental regulations by slipping in another handful in the final days of 2017 while we were on vacation.
This long — and successful — year for President Donald Trump on environmental deregulation happened with the help of several industry-aligned execs he appointed to head up government agencies, who’ve undone much of the regulatory work put forward by former President Barack Obama.
In the final stretch of the year, the administration made a push to get rid of federal regulations on fracking and offshore drilling, left migratory birds more vulnerable, and piled on the climate change denials.
Here’s what you might have missed:
Fracking on federal lands
On the final business day of 2017, the Department of the Interior announced it would repeal a contested 2015 rule put forward by the Obama administration, that added a layer of federal regulations to any fracking that took place on federal lands.
Under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, those rules were deemed to impose “administrative burdens and compliance costs that are not justified.”
The regulation required frackers to disclose things like what chemicals they were using and aimed to regulate the fracking process to prevent groundwater contamination.
Never enacted because of litigation against it, the rule only applied to federal lands, which isn’t where the majority of fracking takes place.
Still, the majority of Americans oppose the opening up of federal lands for oil and gas exploration, according to a March 2017 Gallup poll.
It could be harder to prevent another Deepwater Horizon
Also rescinded at the 11th hour of 2017 was a set of regulations aimed at preventing another disastrous spill in offshore drilling operations.
The regulations in question had required oil companies to more closely monitor their equipment, in an effort to proactively prevent the types of malfunctions that lead to disasters like the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2011, which killed 11 workers and spilled some 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing marine life and exposing Gulf-area residents and cleanup crews to toxic chemicals.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement got rid of rules that called for independent inspectors, licensed by the government agency, to inspect safety equipment. Instead, drillers will abide by a set of safety standards set by industry groups. They also did away with a rule that required companies to conduct testing within 120 days of any equipment failure. There’s now no time limit for inspecting shoddy equipment, the Washington Post reports.
Mining lease is back on for Ivanka’s landlord
A Chilean mining company got a late Christmas present from the Trump administration: a new lease on its land, which sits on the border of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The copper and nickel mining lease for Antofagasta PLC was rejected by the Obama administration in late 2016. And when Trump's Department of the Interior renewed it, they didn’t issue a press release to reporters — they didn’t even tell Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, a Democrat who opposes the leases. Instead, the Interior Department told Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican, who broke the news in a press release on Dec. 22.
The Chilean oil baron who’ll profit off the mines rents a mansion to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in Washington, D.C., according to the Washington Post.
Corporations can kill birds again
The Obama administration said the federal government could prosecute oil, gas, wind, and solar companies for killing migratory birds. But the Friday before Christmas, the Department of the Interior issued a new interpretation of a law, essentially freeing companies of liability for accidentally killing birds in uncovered oil pits or by putting up unmarked power lines.
One last helping of climate change denialism
If there’s anything Trump knows, it’s how to tell his audience what they want to hear. In one of his final tweets of the year, Trump highlighted how cold it is outside, saying it’s evidence that we could “use a little bit of that good old Global Warming,” an end-of-year effort to rile up his base around his deregulatory agenda.
Despite the mountains of evidence that climate change is real and a threat to humanity, there’s still a wide party-line split in public opinion on how important it is to address. According to a March 2017 Gallup poll, 66 percent of Democrats reported that they “worried a great deal about climate change.” Only 18 percent of Republicans polled said the same.