Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Status of Trump Administration Environmental Regulatory Rollbacks

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Jul 02, 2019

ScenerySince President Trump took office, I’ve written in this space a number of times describing specific executive and regulatory initiatives to freeze or reverse environmental regulations. They’ve largely conformed with the President’s antipathy for such regulations, and his appointees’ vigor. Environmental and health advocates have challenged all these changes, continuing to yield court decisions confirming the limits of executive and administrative authority to impose changes (In January 2017 I summarized the limits on various approaches here).

Early in June, the New York Times released a compilation of the Trump Administration’s formal efforts to date, providing a detailed status check on 83 rules. Most involve the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – including efforts I’ve written about; others involve the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of the Interior (DOI). Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Some appear in Executive Orders issued directly by President Trump. The Times provides three categories: efforts completed; efforts still underway; and efforts reversed by court action. The remainder of this note identifies the specific efforts; the Times article provides additional detail, and links to relevant agency and organizational websites.

Which “Air Pollution And Emissions” Policies Are Under Revision?

The largest category contains 22 “air pollution and emissions” policies, many of which may be relevant to our readers:

  • Completed:

    • Canceled a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions. (EPA)

    • Revised and partially repealed an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions on public lands, including intentional venting and flaring from drilling operations. (DOI).

    • Loosened a Clinton-era rule limiting toxic emissions from major industrial polluters. (EPA).

    • Stopped enforcing a 2015 rule prohibiting the use of hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs), in air conditioners and refrigerators. (EPA)

    • Repealed a requirement that state and regional authorities track tailpipe emissions from vehicles traveling on federal highways. (DOT)

    • Reverted to a weaker 2009 pollution permitting program for new power plants and expansions. (EPA)

    • Amended rules for refinery monitoring of pollution in surrounding communities. (EPA)

    • Directed agencies to stop using an Obama-era calculation of the “social cost of carbon” when estimating long-term economic benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. (Executive Order)

    • Withdrew guidance that federal agencies include GHG emissions in environmental reviews. (Executive Order; Council on Environmental Quality)

    • Lifted a summertime ban on the use of a gasoline blend made of 15 percent ethanol (E15). (EPA)

  • In Process:

    • Proposed weakening Obama-era fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, and challenged California’s ability to set more stringent standards, which other states can choose to follow. (EPA and DOT) (I wrote about this here)

    • Announced intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. (Executive Order)

    • Proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would have set strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants. (Executive Order; EPA) (I wrote about this here)

    • Proposed eliminating Obama-era restrictions on CO2 emissions from newly built coal power plants. (EPA)

    • Proposed a legal justification for weakening an Obama-era rule that limited mercury emissions from coal power plants. (EPA)

    • Proposed revisions to CO2 emission standards from new, modified and reconstructed power plants. (Executive Order)

    • Began review of emissions rules for power plant start-ups, shutdowns and malfunctions. EPA has filed an order reversing a requirement that 36 states follow the emissions rule. (EPA)

    • Proposed relaxing Obama-era requirements that companies monitor and repair methane leaks at oil and gas facilities. (EPA)

    • Proposed changing rules aimed at cutting methane emissions from landfills (under court review and order). (EPA)

    • Announced a rewrite of an Obama-era “regional haze rule” meant to reduce air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas. (EPA)

    • Weakened oversight of some state regional haze rule implementation plans for reducing air pollution in national parks. (EPA)

    • Proposed repealing leak-repair, maintenance and reporting requirements for large refrigeration and air conditioning systems containing hydrofluorocarbons. (EPA)

Which “Toxic Substances And Safety” Policies Are Under Revision?

The Times identifies 5 policy revisions in this category:

  • Completed:

    • Narrowed the scope of safety assessments for potentially toxic chemicals, mandated by 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to focus on direct exposure and exclude air, water and ground contamination. (EPA)

    • Reversed an Obama-era rule that required braking system upgrades for “high hazard” trains hauling flammable liquids, like oil and ethanol. (DOT)

    • “Delisted” copper filter cake generated at a particular Sony plant as an electronics manufacturing byproduct, from the “hazardous waste” list. (EPA)

  • In Process:

    • Rejected a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, a potentially neurotoxic pesticide. In August 2018, a federal court ordered the EPA. to ban the pesticide, but the agency has appealed. (EPA) (I wrote about this here)

    • Announced a review of an Obama-era rule lowering coal dust limits in mines. (Mine Safety and Health Administration)

Which “Water Pollution” Policies Are Under Revision?

The Times identifies 7 policy revisions in this category:

  • Completed:

    • Revoked a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams. (Congress, using the Congressional Review Act)

    • Withdrew a proposed rule aimed at reducing pollutants, including air pollution, at sewage treatment plants. (EPA)

    • Withdrew a proposed rule requiring groundwater protections for certain uranium mines. (EPA)

    • Weakened federal rules regulating the disposal and storage of coal ash waste from power plants. (EPA)

  • In Process:

    • Proposed reversal of expanded authority over certain tributaries and wetlands in “Waters of the United States” rules adopted during the Obama administration but stayed by litigation. (EPA) (I described this latest round, and referenced earlier rounds, here)

    • Delayed by two years rule regulating limits on toxic discharge, which can include mercury, from power plants into public waterways. (EPA)

    • Ordered EPA to re-evaluate a section of the Clean Water Act and related guidance that allows states to reject or delay federal projects that don't meet local water quality goals. (Executive Order; EPA)

Which “Drilling And Extraction” Policies Are Under Revision?

Several agencies have also pursued rule changes to facilitate oil and gas extraction efforts, and to reduce regulatory requirements on ongoing activities. The Times lists 9 completed actions, plus 9 more in process. These rules are administered by DOI, FERC, and NOAA.

Which “Animals” Policies Are Under Revision?

The Times identifies 6 completed actions that affect protected animals, including one that opens 6 million acres inhabited by sage grouses to oil and gas drilling. Two proposals are identified; one would reduce protective aspects of threatened and endangered species reviews; and the other reduces protections for salmon and smelt in California’s Central Valley.

Which “Other” Environmental Policies Are Under Revision?

In addition to the categories above, the Times adds 3 completed and 5 pending revisions:

  • Completed:

    • Prohibited funding environmental and community development projects through corporate settlements of federal lawsuits. (Department of Justice)

    • Announced intent to stop payments to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help poorer countries reduce carbon emissions. (Executive Order)

    • Reversed restrictions on the sale of plastic water bottles in national parks. (DOI)

  • In Process:

    • Proposed limiting the studies used for rulemaking to only those that make data publicly available. (The move was widely criticized by scientists, who said it would effectively block the agency from considering landmark research that relies on confidential health data.) (EPA)

    • Proposed repealing an Obama-era regulation that nearly doubled the number of light bulbs subject to energy-efficiency standards set to go into effect next year. (Department of Energy)

    • Proposed changes to the way cost-benefit analyses are conducted under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental statutes to reduce co-benefits. (EPA)

    • Proposed withdrawing efficiency standards for residential furnaces and commercial water heaters designed to reduce energy use. (Department of Energy)

    • Initially withdrew then delayed a proposed rule that would inform car owners about fuel-efficient replacement tires. (DOT)

Which Additional Proposed Or Adopted Changes Have Been Reversed?

The Times article identifies 10 more proposed or adopted revisions that have been reversed, usually by court order. These include plant safety requirements under EPA’s Accidental Release Prevention rule (which I wrote about here).

What’s next?

The Trump Administration shows no sign of slowing its efforts to make drastic revisions to environmental regulation. The New York Times article provides a handy compilation of the present status of these efforts. Readers can review these to help establish your own lists of what to track … and keep reading my blogs!

Where can I go for more information?

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. 

Like What You've Read? Subscribe to Our Blog Now

About the Author

Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. 

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:


photo credit: `James Wheeler Madeira Park Slope via photopin (license)

Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, Oil & Gas, clean water