LAWSUITS ARE CHALLENGING ALMOST ALL TRUMP’S ENVIRONMENTAL OFFENSIVES

By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change

On Thursday, President Trump made international headlines by announcing his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement—a landmark decision that was met with outrage and dismay from climate activists and environmentalists. But while the gesture carries great symbolic significance, signaling the president’s disinterest in international climate efforts, any hope of actually achieving our domestic climate goals pledged under the agreement had already long since vanished.

Since January, the Trump administration has taken swift steps to dismantle numerous climate and environmental priorities established under the Obama administration, including the repeal of multiple environmental regulations. And environmentalists are fighting back—by way of the courts, that is. Just about every environment-related action the Trump administration has taken has been met with a legal challenge.

Trump is no stranger to litigation—reports suggest he was sued thousands of times as part of his career in real estate before ever becoming president. But since assuming office, he’s also been met with record-setting numbers of legal challenges. In his first two weeks as president alone, his administration was sued more than 50 times, mostly over the travel ban he implemented shortly after his inauguration. By March, reports suggest the number of lawsuits had risen above 100.

A major reason for the high rate of litigation has to do with the president’s generous use of executive orders, often in ways that environmental and social groups feel oversteps his authority, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. The travel ban is perhaps the most high-profile example of these.

What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies.

“Executive orders tend to be directives from the president to administrative agencies to carry out internal tasks,” he said. “On occasion, they’re used to set broader policy agendas. But what we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies. And some of the policies that these executive orders are seeking to create are at direct odds with the statutes that provide the executive branch with its authority to take any action at all.”

To date, several dozen of the lawsuits currently filed against the Trump administration are directly related to climate and environmental issues. A number of them, although certainly not all, are related to executive orders.

In regard to Paris, White House advisers had actually cited potential lawsuits as an extra reason the president should withdraw from the treaty. Prior to Thursday’s announcement, they’d suggested that if the U.S. remained in the treaty while failing to enforce greenhouse gas-reducing regulations—namely, the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration has been actively working to unravel—environmental groups could pin new lawsuits advocating for climate regulations on the commitments laid out in the Paris agreement.

But as The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips recently pointed out, Trump’s getting sued for his environmental policies either way. He’s already facing a handful of cases over major policy points—and now that the Paris announcement has dashed hopes that the administration will make climate action a U.S. priority, more may be coming in the future.

We’ve put together some of the major examples of recent federal actions and the lawsuits they’ve inspired so far.

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What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies

The promised border wall

A cornerstone of President Trump’s campaign, from its earliest days, was the promise of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And a January executive order on the topic of immigration sealed his intent, calling for the immediate construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

The idea has been met with resistance from a wide array of social communities and organizations, but it’s also been challenged by environmentalists concerned about its effect on the natural landscape. In April, conservation group Center for Biological Diversity and Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration that would block the project’s construction, claiming that the government failed to adequately assess the wall’s potential environmental impact. The plaintiffs express concern that the wall could have a negative impact on water systems and native species, particularly endangered ones like jaguars.

The revival of the coal industry

Another key Trump campaign promise involved the reinvigoration of the declining coal industry. And in March, the Trump administration took a step in that direction by lifting an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on public lands. This directive was also issued in an executive order.

Almost immediately, the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana, along with a group of environmental organizations, sued the Trump administration for lifting the ban without completing an environmental review of the coal-leasing program. The plaintiffs suggest that the government should have first evaluated the program’s “significant environmental, health, and economic impacts—including impacts from climate disruption caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, and socioeconomic and environmental impacts to local communities.”

Another chance for Keystone XL

Among the most controversial environmental issues that arose during the Obama administration was that of the Keystone XL pipeline. This proposal called for a new pipeline branch between Alberta and Nebraska, running through parts of Montana and South Dakota in the process. The idea was met with fierce protests from Native American, social justice and environmental groups, and it was ultimately rejected by President Obama.

But in January, Trump signed an executive order aimed at advancing the project, and in March the administration officially approved the pipeline’s construction. In response, multiple environmental organizations sued the administration, arguing that the approval of the project relied on an outdated environmental assessment and ignored new information about the pipeline’s potential impact. A separate lawsuit was also filed by conservationists and representatives of indigenous groups.

Tough breaks for wildlife

In yet another reversal of an Obama-era rule, Congress voted in February to undo a regulation aimed at protecting certain Alaskan wildlife from predator control operations on public lands, prohibiting the shooting of denning mother bears and wolves as well as certain types of trapping and aerial hunting. President Trump signed the reversal into effect.

In April, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the strategy Congress used to repeal the regulation—a little-known law that allows Congress to overturn federal regulations within a limited amount of time after they’re finalized. The case challenges an aspect of this law that stipulates that after a rule has been repealed in this manner, no substantially similar regulation may be enacted again without congressional approval. The case argues that “this constraint on future rulemaking violates the separation of powers that must be maintained between the legislative and executive branches under the U.S. Constitution.”

At the time it was filed, Reuters reported that the lawsuit—the first of its kind to make such a challenge—stood little likelihood of success.

The expansion of offshore drilling

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that could expand offshore oil and gas drilling, directing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review an Obama ban on drilling in certain parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. In May, a group of environmental groups responded with a lawsuitchallenging the president’s authority to make such a move.

The plaintiffs point out that President Obama initiated the ban in the first place under a law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which provides guidelines for oil and gas development leasing. They argue that this act allows presidents to withdraw certain areas from consideration for leasing—but that “neither OCSLA nor any other provision of law authorizes Presidents to undo such withdrawals.”

Attacks on energy efficiency programs

It’s not just environmental groups that are pushing back against the Trump administration’s environmental policies—states are jumping on the bandwagon now as well.

By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change.

In January, the White House directed federal agencies to place new or pending regulations on hold until they could be reviewed by incoming Trump administration agency heads. Among the regulations delayed as a result were a series of energy efficiency appliance standards introduced by the Obama administration. Energy efficiency standards are widely regarded by environmentalists as an important way to cut down on the energy consumption of individual households, businesses and other buildings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

As a result, in April a coalition of state attorneys general filed a notice of intent with the Department of Energy to sue within 60 days. The states were joined in their protest by the city of New York and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In a statement at the time, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman decried the delays as harmful to both public health and the environment. “By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change – and denying consumers and businesses some $24 billion in savings,” he said.

Written by CHELSEA HARVEY, published in FUSION 5 June 2017.

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What Does Trump’s Budget Mean for the Environment?

His proposal would gut federal enforcement and effectively halt many Superfund cleanups.

Didn’t we just go through this?

In early March, President Trump proposed a budget that would have scaled back the federal government’s stewardship of the environment beyond recognition. The budget traded historically unprecedented cuts to the EPA for $50-billion boosts to defense spending, and it shuttered long-running programs that protect wild areas outside of any one state’s dominion, like the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The budget scared environmental leaders, who also assured supporters that such a plan could never pass Congress. (Among American adults, environmental protection is really quite popular.) And they were right. After two months of negotiations, Congress approved a bipartisan spending bill that preserved nearly all of the EPA’s funding while actually increasing support for renewable-energy programs.

In other words, all those Trump proposals—slashing the EPA’s budget by $3 billion, laying off 3,500 EPA employees, and closing many regional programs—never became a reality. Congress would not accept them. Trump signed the budget on May 5.

But that bill—and that fiscal year—will expire on September 30, 2017. So now the White House and Congress must go through the entire ordeal again for 2018. And it seems neither irresponsible nor inappropriate for the average news consumer to ask: Well, will this time be any different?

Trump’s approach this time around certainly seems no different in ambition. The White House’s proposed plan for the 2018 budget, unveiled Tuesday, adopts many of the same cuts that made the previous edition. Some cuts are even more severe. The highlights include:

  • Trump wants to cut the EPA’s budget by nearly a third, reducing its overall funding level to $5.6 billion. On a percentage basis, that is the largest proposed cut to any federal agency. It would give the EPA its smallest budget in 40 years, adjusting for inflation.
  • This would cut the EPA’s workforce by 20 percent, removing 3,800 jobs.
  • Most significantly, Trump wants to cut by 40 percent the EPA’s federal enforcement office—the people who make sure corporations are complying with federal regulations. Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, has previously said that he believes that states—and not the EPA—should oversee enforcement of rules themselves. But Trump’s budget would alsocut by 45 percent the grants that allow states to do that enforcement. These changes would almost certainly ensure far less enforcement of existing environmental rules than happens now, at federal and state levels.
  • The EPA office which determines standards for the amount of acceptable pollution in drinking water will also have its budget cut by half. (Earlier this year, the same office struck the words “science-based” from its mission statement, replacing them with “economically … achievable.”)
  • Superfund, the EPA program that cleans up toxic-chemical spill sites that have become public-health hazards, will have its budget cut by 25 percent. Such a cut will halt many cleanups.
  • Trump also wants to shut down many of the same EPA programs targeted in March. He would terminate the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Puget Sound cleanup programs. He would also close Energy Star, which informs consumers which home appliances are most energy-efficient.
  • Beyond the EPA, the budget also slashes environmental-science programs throughout the government. Many of these target climate change. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, has said that he considers climate science to be a “waste of your money.” So Trump’s budget cuts $59 million in Earth-science research grants from NASA. Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research office would see its budget reduced by one-fifth.
  • But the slashed science programs go far beyond climate change. Trump proposes to end a NOAA program to research and better predict tornadoes in the south, and he also cuts $11 million from a tsunami-warning program for the Pacific coast. He also wants to slash NOAA’s weather-satellite budgetby 17 percent.
  • Finally, he proposes to savage Department of Energy programs with environmental ends. While that department’s overall budget is only reduced by five percent, he would cut many of its greenest programs. Trump wants to close ARPA-E, the government’s energy-innovation R&D lab; and many of the loan-guarantee programs that support renewable-energy companies.
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Donald Trump meets with his cabinet in early March. Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, and Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, sit together at the end of the table

These are—to state the obvious—a lot of cuts.

Taken together, they advance a sweeping—and there is no word but radical—plan to roll back the government’s stewardship of the environment and natural resources. By the standard of the last 30 years of American politics, these are unprecedented proposals for the EPA specifically. For comparison, President George W. Bush (today considered no friend of the environment) proposed to cut the EPA’s budget by only 5 percent in his first budget.

Of course, Bush ran as a compassionate conservative; Trump promised during his campaign to abolish the EPA “in almost every form.” And this budget—while not zeroing out the agency—does point to how the White House could effectively knee-cap it. You cannot cut funding for the EPA office of enforcement by 40 percent, while slashing enforcement grants for states by 45 percent, and not expect to see a dramatic increase in unlawful pollution.

And yet. Trump can be as ambitious as he fancies in this document, because his plans are still extremely unlikely to go anywhere. As my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote in March, any federal budget passed before 2021 has to meet certain criteria created six years ago as part of the Budget Control Act. That law—usually called “sequestration”—set certain automatic spending cuts into effect. It also prohibited increasing defense spending while cutting non-defense discretionary spending. This is exactly what Trump proposes to do in 2018.

Congress can get around those rules, but it would need to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate. That means that Republican leaders will need some Democrats in the Senate to help them shepherd a budget through. And Senate Democrats will not agree to a 30-percent cut to the EPA.

And there is even some mild Republican opposition to some of these cuts. Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, wants to save the Great Lakes cleanup program. And it’s unlikely the 16 senators from states that touch the lakes would let it die.

But Republicans may still try to get many of smaller cuts through. Paul Ryan said Tuesday that “the aspiration and the goal [of this budget] is right on the target.” The budget hacks so far into the social safety net—Medicaid would be cut 47 percent by 2027—that Democrats may have to cede environmental ground to preserve some semblance of anti-poverty programs. And any cuts to the EPA that Republicans propose—even if they exceed the Bush 5-percent reduction—will seem moderate compared to Trump’s proposed lopping.

And even if the budget preserves Obama-era funding for the EPA, the agency won’t necessarily go about its Obama-era work. Many of Pruitt’s goals for the agency will require plenty of policy-writing staff. And elsewhere he can accomplish his means by other ends. For instance, even if the entire enforcement division survives, Pruitt can order the agency to hinder actual enforcement. There’s evidence he’s already doing exactly that.

Which is to say: None of the disclaimers—about Congressional intent, about political reality—make Trump’s proposal any less striking. This budget proposal has a clear goal. If he had the power, Donald Trump would allow polluters to spew carbon and chemicals into the air and water, muzzle the science that identifies why that’s a problem, and cut off the research and development which is finding a more renewable way of generating power.

As I wrote last go-round, Trump’s budget remains a kind of fiduciary fan fiction for Freedom Caucus conservatives, who can fantasize about a skinnier government without ever living with the political consequences. So even if it never come to pass, it’s worth noting: This is what they want.

Written by ROBINSON MEYER, published in The Atlantic 24 May 2017

Court Gives Trump Small Victory in Push Against Clean Power Plan

A federal court said on Friday it would halt consideration of a major lawsuit over former President Barack Obama’s signature policy aimed at tackling global warming, handing the Trump administration a modest and perhaps temporary victory.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a request from the Trump administration to defer for 60 days a decision on litigation over a contested 2015 Environmental Protection Agency regulation, known as the Clean Power Plan. The rule, aimed at shutting down heavily polluting coal-fired power plants and replacing them with renewable energy sources, was the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s efforts to enact a series of ambitious regulations to reduce the United States’ contributions to global warming.

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Image taken from “How Americans Think About Climate Change”. Read the full article here.

Twenty-eight states and several major industry groups had sued the Obama administration seeking to overturn the rule, arguing that it was unduly burdensome to utilities and too costly for consumers.

The regulation was a major target for Mr. Trump, who called it “stupid” and a “job killer” on the campaign trail and has begun taking steps to repeal it. In an executive order last month, Mr. Trump directed his E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the lengthy legal process of dismantling it, and at the same time requested that the court put the lawsuit on hold while the agency came up with a new plan.

Had the court rejected Mr. Trump’s request and upheld the Clean Power Plan, it would have made it far more difficult for Mr. Pruitt to roll back the rule.

“This ruling is important, because it means it will now be easier for the Trump E.P.A. to revoke or revise the Clean Power Plan,” said Jeff Holmstead, a lawyer with the firm Bracewell, which represents many of the fossil fuel companies suing to overturn the rule. “At the very least, it means it will take less time.”

The legal hold will have little practical impact, however, upon the nation’s energy economy and coal industry. The climate change rule has never been formally put in place, after the Supreme Court last year said that states did not have to comply until all litigation had been resolved.

But the ruling comes as the environmental movement is galvanized against what many advocates for climate action have called a concerted assault on environmental protections by Mr. Trump. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators are expected to march in Washington and across the country to protest those actions.

“This further delay by the court comes even as hundreds of thousands around the country prepare to march tomorrow for the climate protection that polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans strongly support,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser for the Clinton administration who is now a lecturer at the Center for Environmental Policy of American University. “Coming on top of the unprecedented Supreme Court stay last year, it gives the appearance to average citizens that the courts are standing with the far-right wing against sensible climate action.”