If you are an environmental manager at a major corporation, what can you expect out of the Trump administration and specifically from the Environmental Protection Agency’s presumptive new head come January, Scott Pruitt? According to some experts, the incoming folks at the White House might be able to rollback some rules just enacted but others that have already passed a legal threshold will be a lot tougher.
Most people know very little about Pruitt, who battled the US EPA on regulatory grounds on a number of issues that include those having an effect on oil and gas operations as well as the coal sector: read, methane rules and the Clean Power Plan. Recognize that he has represented the oil and gas producing state of Oklahoma as its attorney general. But as the head of federal agency charged with protecting the nation’s air and water, he will have a different role. No crystal balls here but his opening statement is revealing:
“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,” Pruitt said in a statement.
To be clear, Donald Trump ran on a platform of rolling back what he has deemed to be burdensome environmental regulations and it should not be that much of a shock that his choice for EPA administrator would hold similar views. But just how effective the White House will be changing the regulatory landscape is out for question.
Experts say that the most flexibility that the incoming powers-that-be will have is with respect to last-minute law or those regulations enacted just before President Obama would leave office under the Congressional Review Act. They point to the recent methane rules, which have long been under review but which the Obama administration signed off on in November.
In that case, the administration wants oil and gas producers who operate on public lands to capture methane releases from flaring unused natural gas or those that escape during the piping process. The Obama administration said that it will significantly cut those heat-trapping emissions while also allowing producers to harness the methane for sale to manufacturers and chemical makers. Trump’s team, however, has called the rules onerous and expensive.
The “new regulations are unnecessary, redundant, technically flawed and could stifle the innovations that have led to our nation’s environmental successes,” says Eric Milito, a director for the American Petroleum Institute, in a statement.
While Trump’s team might have luck getting that one tossed, legal experts say that getting the Clean Power Plan will be a much harder fight. That’s because this particular ruling has already wended its way through the court system and is now on its second lap, all over a period of years. The biggest victory as far this regulation has been the one by the US Supreme Court that said in 2007 the EPA could oversee carbon dioxide emissions if they deem such releases harmful to human health and the environment.
EPA did so in 2009. And it’s so-called “endangerment finding” was also largely upheld by the courts — the standard by which the EPA has determined that carbon is a risk. Even more, the district court that takes on all air and water cases before they hit the High Court is the DC Court of Appeals, which has taken a progressive posture on just about all environmental cases.
Pruitt’s EPA could weaken the regulatory environment by acts of omission, or simply refusing to defend regulations in court. But both private interests and the individual states could then file suit to force action. To that end, such states as California and New York are on record saying that they will step up if that is to become the case.
“If the EPA under Scott Pruitt fails to uphold our nation’s environmental laws, I stand ready to use the full power of my office to compel their enforcement by the agency,” says New York’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, in a statement. “As New York’s top law enforcement officer, I am proud to be leading a coalition of states that is already aggressively fighting back against efforts to reverse the progress this country has made in combating climate change over the past eight years.”
Elections have consequences. And no where is the difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton more evident than in the area of the environment. While there may not be many new rules to come into effect, there may not be a total repudiation of existing ones: Just as it is a long road to get new environmental regs on the books, it is an equally tough to get them off the books, especially those that have tested in the courts.