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The Trump Environmental Setbacks You Didn't Know About

Pres. Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Jan. 9, 2020, announcing measures weakening the National Environmental Policy Act.


(Image: Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images.)

“Donald Trump is the worst president for the environment in our history and he is working every day to double down on that fact.” Adam Beitman, Sierra Club National Press Secretary.

During his term, President Trump has successfully gutted or reduced an estimated 125 environmental regulations, ranging from vehicle emissions to mercury levels to drilling on federal land and water. The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a former coal lobbyist, bragged in an op-ed that his agency had created “...five cost-saving deregulatory actions for every one regulation implemented.” Implemented regulations that cleaned up America's air, water, and land, compared to 50 years ago.


On Wednesday, regardless of who wins the presidency, the United States is formally out of the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. On Oct. 28, Trump permitted trees to be chopped down on 9.3 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Tongass removes more global-warming carbon out of the atmosphere than any other forest in America. Earlier this fall, Trump appointed a climate-change denier, David Legates, to deputy assistant secretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which measures the warming of the earth, tracks hurricanes and fossil fuel emissions. Legates has argued that the NOAA data indicating global warming is faulty.


But Trump’s anti-environment strategy goes further, according to a former high-level official of the EPA. The former official believes the Trump administration took away a key tool for poor communities, especially communities of color, to fight the pollution that afflicts them.

The former official told TYT that the EPA is “curtailing the ability of environmental justice communities (the communities who are disproportionately impacted) to be able to meaningfully participate in EPA's permitting decisions."

The former official specifically pointed to the fundamental altering of the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB).

The EAB is part of the EPA. Before the Trump administration, three independent judges of the EAB reviewed projects approved by the EPA and sometimes ruled against their own agency. Courts sided with the EAB rulings the majority of the time. So the EAB was like an appeals board for the poor, because petitioning it did not require expensive teams of lawyers or lobbyists. It was used by poor communities of color often battling large companies, says the former EPA official.

But under the present Trump-appointed EPA administrator, the EAB rules were altered, making it harder for poor communities to use it. For example, one simple rule change was speeding up the review process, which meant more lawyers (and more money) would be needed to draft legal briefs quickly enough.

The former EPA official remarked that the EAB is easier to use now by corporations than by poor communities.


One example is a decision on Sept. 30. EAB judges turned down a request from the Navajo Nation and environmental activists to stop the utility company, Arizona Public Service, from discharging wastewater from a steam power plant into a lake on Navajo land. The permit was revoked during the Obama administration, but upheld under the Trump administration.


The former EPA official also cited Trump’s weakening of what some call the “Magna Carta” of environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Since 1970, NEPA has required all projects with federal funding to conduct an environmental impact study. The new rule changes include, again, speeding up the review process and limiting to 150 pages the length of the environmental impact statement.

Defend Our Future, a project of the activist Environmental Defense Fund, mobilizes young people for climate action. It responded to TYT’s request for a comment on the NEPA rollback.

“Time and time again – and during a global pandemic, no less - the administration has placed the interests of corporate polluters before the health and safety of the Americans while ceding climate leadership on the world stage..” --Jonathan Soohoo, Manager, Defend Our Future.


Joe Biden has stated that if he is elected president he will restore the NEPA rules and rejoin the Paris Accord. But just as leaving the Paris Accord was a nearly four-year process, it will be a lengthy process to re-enter it.

This same scenario is expected for other environmental regulations. Some estimate It could take years to restore the environmental protections established in the 46 years before Donald Trump became president. And that is if a President Biden chooses to do so, despite possible pressure from some business interests enjoying the more polluting, relaxed environmental regulations.

TYT Investigative Reporter Ti-Hua Chang is an award-winning journalist who has worked for CBS News and other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @TiHuaChang.

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