How the Biden administration can reverse Trump’s environmental policies

And what actions the President-elect should prioritize.

 

Mather Point is one of the most popular and busiest viewpoints on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona. For visitors entering the park, Mather Point is the first place to stop and see the canyon.
Michael Quinn/NPS

This article was originally published on The Conversation and is republished here with permission.

The Trump administration has waged what I and many other legal experts view as an all-out assault on the nation’s environmental laws for the past four years. Decisions at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and other agencies have weakened the guardrails that protect our nation’s air, water and public lands, and have sided with industry rather than advocating for public health and the environment.

Senior officials such as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler assert that the Trump administration has balanced environmental regulation with economic growth and made the regulatory process less bureaucratic. But former EPA leaders from both Democratic and Republican administrations have called this administration’s actions disastrous for the environment.

Rolling back laws and hollowing out agencies

The Trump administration has used many tools to weaken environmental protection. For example, Trump issued an executive order in June 2020 to waive environmental review for infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways.

The EPA has revised regulations that implement the Clean Water Act to drastically scale back protection for wetlands, streams and marshes. And the administration has revoked California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own standards for air pollution emissions from cars, although California is pressing ahead.

The Trump administration has also changed agency procedures to limit the use of science and upended a longstanding approach to valuing the costs and benefits of environmental rules. It has cut funding for key agency functions such as research and overseen an exodus of experienced career staff.

A quick about-face

I expect that the Biden administration will quickly signal to the nation that effectively applying the nation’s environmental laws matters to everyone – especially to communities that bear an unfair share of the public health burden of pollution.

With a closely divided Senate, Biden will need to rely primarily on executive actions and must-pass legislative measures like the federal budget and the Farm Bill to further his environmental agenda. Policies that require big investments, such as Biden’s pledge to invest US$400 billion over 10 years in clean energy research and innovation, can make a big difference, but may be challenging to advance. Coupling clean technology with infrastructure and jobs programs to build back better is likely to have broad appeal.

I expect that officials will move quickly to restore the role of science in agency decision-making and withdraw Trump-era policies that make it harder to adopt protective regulations. A Biden EPA will end efforts to impede states like California that are moving ahead under their own authority to protect their residents, and will make clear to career staff that their expertise is valued.

The agency is likely to withdraw or closely scrutinize pending Trump proposals, such as the ongoing review of the current standard for fine-particle air pollution. Officials also will review pending litigation, much of which involves challenges to Trump administration rule revisions and policies, and decide whether to defend any of them. There likely won’t be many.

In their final campaign debate, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden offered sharply contrasting views of how environmental protection affects the economy.

One area where EPA can quickly change course is enforcement. Biden’s climate and energy plan pledges to hold polluters accountable, and his administration reportedly plans to create a new division at the Justice Department focused on environmental and climate justice. Biden has promised greater attention to environmental justice communities, where neighborhoods are heavily affected by concentrations of highly polluting sources such as refineries and hazardous waste sites.

Many of these actions can be done quickly through new executive orders or policy changes. Regulatory changes will take longer. In my view, Biden’s biggest challenge will be deciding what to prioritize. His administration will not be able to do (or undo) everything. Even with a revitalized career workforce and political staff all rowing in the same direction, there won’t be enough bandwidth to address all the bad policies enacted in the past four years, let alone move forward with a proactive agenda focused on public health protection and environmental justice.

Janet McCabe served as Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) from 2009 to 2013, and as Acting Assistant Administrator for OAR from 2013-2017. She is Director of the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute and Professor of Practice at the IU McKinney School of Law.

The Conversation

High Country News Classifieds
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • COMMUNITY FORESTER
    The Clearwater Resource Council located in Seeley Lake, Montana is seeking a full-time community forester with experience in both fuels mitigation and landscape restoration. Resumes...
  • GUNNISON BASIN ROUNDTABLE
    The Gunnison Basin Roundtable is currently accepting letters of interest for ten elected seats. Five of the elected members must have relevant experience in the...
  • PCTA TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS IN WASHINGTON'S NORTH CASCADES
    Seasonal Positions: June 17th to September 16th (14 weeks) - 3 positions to be filled The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Salary: Up to $65,000/year DOE Benefits: Generous benefits package — health insurance, Simple IRA and unlimited...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS MANAGER
    Who we are: Since 1985, the Grand Canyon Trust has been a leading voice in regional conservation on the Colorado Plateau. From protecting the Grand...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Walker Basin Conservancy Reno & Yerington, NV Background The Walker Basin Conservancy (Conservancy) leads the effort to restore and maintain Walker Lake while...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Small home, 2 barns (one has an apartment), and more. Approx. two acres just in the City limits. Famously pure air...
  • TAOS HORNO ADVENTURES
    A Multicultural Culinary Memoir Informed by History and Horticulture. Richard and Annette Rubin. At nighthawkpress.com/titles and Amazon.