EPA Continues Transformation Under Trump

While Axing Pollution Regs, Pruitt Restricts Membership on Advisory Boards

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Posted: Wednesday, November 1, 2017 8:00 am

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its "final report" on how it plans to implement President Trump’s executive order curbing environmental regulations in order to promote energy production and economic growth.

Required by law to issue a request for public comments when considering changes to environmental regulations, the EPA reported receiving more than 460,000 comments, including a record-breaking 63,346 individual responses.

"These general themes included a need for streamlining complex permitting programs, restoring EPA’s coregulatory relationship with the states, increasing transparency pertaining to the economic impact of agency actions, and enhancing EPA’s understanding of the entities it regulates," according to the report.

"EPA is committed to President Trump’s agenda," said Administrator Scott Pruitt in announcing the report. "We can be both pro-jobs and pro-environment. At EPA, that means we are working to curb unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens that do not serve the American people, while continuing to partner with states, tribes and stakeholders to protect our air, land and water."

But just who qualifies as a "stakeholder" is now up for renewed debate as Pruitt on Tuesday announced plans to exclude certain scientists from serving on EPA science panels and advisory boards. As reported by the Washington Post, the unprecedented move will bar any researcher who receives EPA grant money – typically academic scientists not affiliated with private companies - from serving as an adviser. But he has no similar plan to bar scientists and consultants working for corporations that have a financial interest in EPA decisions.

The move has environmental groups up in arms.

"Pruitt’s purge has a single goal: get rid of scientists who tell us the facts about threats to our environment and health," said Jennifer Sass, senior scientist in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Health program. "There’s a reason he won’t apply the same limits to scientists funded by corporate polluters. Now the only scientists on Pruitt’s good list will be those with funding from polluters supporting Trump's agenda to make America toxic again."

Sass said these recent steps by the EPA are widely seen as a continuation of the Trump Administration's effort to dismantle environmental protections in deference to corporate profits and job creation in the chemical, coal and oil industries.

As early as December 2016, when then President-elect Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Pruitt as administrator of the EPA, Trump was promising to target the agency's restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution and other environmental hazards.

In a post on his campaign's Facebook page, Trump laid out his rationale for making sweeping changes to the mission and focus of the agency:

“For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn. As my EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, the highly respected Attorney General from the state of Oklahoma, will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe,” Trump said.

Pruitt was quoted as saying, “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt established the state’s first “federalism unit” to combat unwarranted regulation and overreach by the federal government, elevating him to national prominence in what he called "the EPA's job-killing war on coal."

Pruitt shares Trump's rejection of the scientific consensus that human activities are a primary contributor to climate change. Earlier this year, the new administration removed the EPA's climate change web site, which has existed since the 1990's, although an archived version of the site is still accessible.

On March 28, President Trump signed Executive Order 13783 "promoting clean and safe development of the United States’ vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth and prevent job creation," according to an EPA press release announcing its latest report.

To that end, Section 2 of EO 13783 required an immediate review of "all agency actions that potentially burden the safe, efficient development of domestic energy resources." Section 2 required the heads of agencies to review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any similar agency actions that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy resources.

The EPA report discusses nine actions on energy-related regulations covered by Trump's order, including the following four initiatives EPA plans to undertake to implement the order:

  1. New Source Review reform – EPA is establishing an NSR Reform Task Force to review and simplify the NSR application and permit process.

  2. National Ambient Air Quality Standards reform – EPA plans to use the newly formed Ozone Cooperative Compliance Task Force to review administrative options to meaningfully improve air quality as it relates to ozone. EPA will also work to streamline the approval of state air pollution plans, and eliminate EPA’s backlog of state pollution plans.

  3. Robust Evaluations of the Employment Effects of EPA regulations – Regulations impose high costs on American workers, particularly in the energy sector. Five environmental statutes state that EPA conduct continuing evaluations of potential shifts in employment that may result from implementation of these statutes. The agency historically has not conducted these assessments. EPA intends to conduct these evaluations consistent with the statutes.

  4. Reestablishing the Smart Sectors Program – EPA recently relaunched the Smart Sectors program to re-examine how it engages with American businesses to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, while protecting human health and the environment.

As one of the other key agencies charged with regulating the nation's energy industry, the Department of Energy also announced its recommended initiatives under EO 13783.

"From our review, we have identified several hurdles to domestic energy development and use, and offered recommendations to eliminate those burdens," said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

These recommendations are to:

  1. Streamline natural gas exports;
  2. Review national laboratory policies;
  3. Review National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations; and
  4. Review the DOE Appliance Standards Program.

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