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Environmental Regulation One Year into the Trump Administration

A major focus of the Trump administration in 2017 was rolling back and repealing various federal regulations. Rolling back environmental regulations got specific attention. The Trump administration views environmental regulations as stifling the fossil fuel and manufacturing industries, and holding up economic growth. This contrasts with the prior administration's focus on passing regulations to slow and prevent climate change, protecting water and air, and enforcing environmental protection regulations.

Some of the important regulations that the Trump administration rolled back in 2017 include those regarding: requirements for environmental review and flood standards of federal infrastructure projects; pesticides; endangered species and marine life protection; bans on hunting in certain areas; and many others. In addition, we are seeing a rollback of efforts to combat climate change, including the repealing of regulations, a push for increased fossil fuel development, and limiting the work of energy regulators. The Trump administration has been a friend to the fossil fuel and mining industries, and has approved the Keystone XL pipeline, the Dakota Access pipeline, and has rolled back reporting requirements, repealed a ban on off-shore drilling, lifted restrictions on mining and the mining industry more generally, and lifted a freeze on new coal leases. It has announced several proposed high-profile climate action rollbacks such as repealing the Clean Power Plan, and withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. It also has rescinded regulations related to the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, and has repealed regulations related to fracking, among others.

There are many rollbacks that have been challenged to a varying degree of success in court by environmental groups. Several of the successful challenges focused on the Trump administration’s attempt to circumvent rule-making requirements and other violations of administrative laws. These violations were a result of the Trump administration attempting to rush through rollbacks in its first year. The Trump administration, however, often tries a number of different approaches to rolling back the same regulations, so that early setbacks do not necessarily mean that the rollbacks will not proceed.

The final determination of various lawsuits challenging the administration’s efforts to repeal and roll back could be months or years away. In the meantime, several states like California and New York have stepped up their regulatory and rule-making efforts in an attempt to negate the administration’s changes, and in some instances have sued the administration. As some states consider issuing regulations to fill the gaps created by the rollbacks of the federal regulations, many other states will sit back and follow the administration’s lead where they see economic benefits. This will lead to a patchwork of state environmental regulations. It may shift certain industries and jobs away from states that seek to impose more stringent regulations, and create economic disparities among states and regions. Equally significant, the lack of uniformity will mean states will have complaints about pollution impacts from upgradient and upwind states with less stringent environmental regulations.

If you have questions about how the federal rollbacks, or the states’ regulatory actions meant to protect the environment in the absence of federal protections, will impact your industry, business, or development project, please contact Miriam Villani.

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