How Trump is planning to dismantle Obama-era policies on carbon emissions and water pollution
President Donald Trump is planning to sign directives aimed at dismantling Obama-era policies governing carbon dioxide and water pollution soon after a new leader is installed at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to two people familiar with the strategy.
The measures will set in motion Trump’s campaign promises to rescind both the Clean Power Plan and the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, while signaling the start of a new era at the federal agency that President Barack Obama put on the front lines of his battle against climate change. The directives are set to compel the EPA administrator to take any needed steps to withdraw those regulations, according to the people who described the documents and spoke on condition of anonymity about internal discussions.
Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is on track to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate Friday, over the objections of most Democrats who say he is unsuited to lead the same agency he has dedicated his political career to fighting. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has said she will vote against Pruitt’s confirmation; Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota have said they will vote for him.
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“Trump is the only Republican who repeatedly promised to rein in EPA,” said Steve Milloy, an attorney with the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute, who served on the Trump transition team focused on the agency. “That’s going to be Scott Pruitt’s job -- to rein in the EPA.”
The actions could be taken during a welcome ceremony for Pruitt said to be planned for Tuesday -- mirroring Trump’s decision to sign two executive orders at the Pentagon during a Jan. 27 swearing-in for Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Other directives the Trump administration is expected to issue in coming weeks include one to suspend the government’s use of a metric known as the “social cost of carbon” until it can be reviewed and recalculated. Another would effectively nullify guidance from Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality that climate change should be factored into government agencies’ formal environmental reviews.
Trump already signed legislation Thursday to repeal an Obama-era regulation requiring coal mining companies to clean up streams after they are done with their work.
“In eliminating this rule I am continuing to keep my promise to the American people to get rid of wasteful regulations,” Trump said at a White House signing ceremony.
Environmentalists warned that these reversals would mark a major change in the role the U.S. plays internationally on climate change.
“Undermining the international leadership the U.S. has shown on climate action would be an enormous mistake of historic consequence,” said John Coequyt, global climate policy director for the Sierra Club. “If Trump does follow through, it would mean he is declaring open season on our air, water and climate while further destabilizing our role in the world.”
Both on the campaign trail and in the White House, Trump vowed to rescind the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from electricity 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Under Pruitt, Oklahoma joined more than two dozen other states in challenging that EPA rule, arguing that the agency overstepped its regulatory authority by giving states broad carbon-cutting mandates.
As long as the Washington, D.C.-based Court of Appeals has not ruled on the lawsuit, the Trump administration can ask the panel to put the matter on hold. Once it’s on hold, the EPA could begin the process of rescinding the Obama-era rule and -- possibly -- replacing it with a rule that would have negligible impact. Environmentalists who support the measure have vowed to fight such a move -- and use new lawsuits to prod the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.
The other early target is the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule, which defined waterways subject to pollution regulation. Critics, including more than a dozen states that fought the measure in court, say it unfairly expanded EPA’s Clean Water Act jurisdiction to include dry creek beds, prairie wetlands and other territory that they say strays far from the “navigable waters” subject to oversight under the law.
Repealing the rules -- much less replacing them -- would be a lengthy process that could span years.
Conservatives want Pruitt to make deep changes in the structure and approach of the EPA, including by revisiting the agency’s 2009 conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public health and environment. Former Trump adviser Myron Ebell also has called for the agency to overhaul the way it uses science to set policy.
It is not clear when -- and if -- Trump will make good on his frequent campaign promise to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, a 2015 United Nations agreement to curtail greenhouse gas emissions that was adopted by nearly 200 countries.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told senators last month that the U.S. should remain part of the Paris pact to “maintain its seat at the table.” The U.K. government also is pressing Trump to stick with the accord.
Trump has relatively wide latitude to unilaterally withdraw from the Paris deal, because it was treated as an executive agreement, rather than a treaty requiring Senate approval. Under its terms, parties to the deal must wait until November 2019 to submit a notice of withdrawal, but Trump could pull out more quickly by removing the U.S. from the underlying 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, its parent treaty.
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