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The Face of EPA May Change. But its Mission Will Continue

carbon footprintNow that Donald Trump is President-elect and will be sworn into office next January, will he follow through with his promises to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its prowess and will he pull out of the climate deals and laws that his predecessor has already committed?

“I will also cancel all wasteful climate change spending from Obama-Clinton, including all global warming payments to the United Nations,” Trump said in October when he announced his plans for the first 100 days in office. “These steps will save $100 billion over 8 years, and this money will be used to help rebuild the vital infrastructure, including water systems, in America’s inner cities.”

The early signals are he will do just that, having indicated that Myron Ebell will be his climate advisor or future EPA chief — a man well known for being a skeptic of manmade climate change. He works now at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He has also appointed Steve Bannon as his chief strategist — the former publisher of Breibart News, which created these incendiary headlines and which denied popular views of climate science. His paper has written that Trump’s victory represents a real setback to the climate cause.

It may be right. But it won’t be easy to just rollback back the clock for a number of reasons. For starters, Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote and it will be impossible to just quell the voices of those who supported her. And, legally, it is a process — one that is long and arduous, and purposefully so.

To do so, Congress would have to pass laws to override existing rules and regulations. And that is a hard feat, given that the Republicans do not have a supermajority in the US Senate to beat back a filibuster by Democrats. The president could also submit his own rules and regulations, which have to go through a comment period and all the assorted legal challenges. What Trump and the Republicans can do is to peel back EPA’s reach through the budgetary allocations.

With respect to the Clean Power Plan, Environmental Leader addressed that issue here. And with respect to the Paris climate treaty, Environmental Leader did the same here. In the case of the former, it is now in the courts. As for the latter, it requires advanced notice. In both cases, the United States is on its way to fulfill both obligations with or without the treaties. Thus, participation is a matter of setting an example for the rest of the world.

“While Trump may try to rescind a number of regulations, the process would be long, arduous and only partially successful,” writes Jody Freeman, Harvard Law professor on her blog. “Moreover, any broad legislative attack on environmental statutes is unlikely to succeed without a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, which the Republicans do not have.

“In addition, a Trump White House could also initiate a more sweeping review of agency rules, even those that were not adopted in the waning days of the Obama administration, to consider which to rescind and revise,” the professor adds. “He could also ask Congress for a skeletal agency budget to starve EPA of funds, but he can’t zero out agency budgets on his own either.”

Ms. Freeman notes that while incoming presidential administrations may pound the tables and say that things will change, such threats are often more blusterous than real. She points to a previously done study that says President Clinton repealed 9% of George Bush Senior’s midnight regulations and George Bush Junior repealed only 3% of Clinton’s; 82% of Clinton’s midnight rules were not even amended by Bush.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration is not letting up. “As I’ve mentioned to you before, we’re running—not walking—through the finish line of President Obama’s presidency,” Gina McCarthy wrote to her staff, as reported by the Washington Examiner.

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