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The Insider

States Cite Trump’s Deregulatory Agenda To Push Environmental Policies

Democratic states are citing President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda to justify their increasing push for stricter state-level environmental and energy policies to fill what they perceive as a gap in federal regulation, saying states need to protect the environment in lieu of EPA.

The state efforts affect a broad range of policies, from climate change to contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and from lead exposure to water permits.

Among the most recent actions, recently inaugurated Democratic Govs. Gretchen Whitmer (MI) and Tony Evers (WI) have joined the United States Climate Alliance. The move commits their states to reducing emissions in accord with the Paris Climate Agreement, though legislatures in both states could still block changes necessary to comply with the pact.

And a commission supporting new Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D-IL) transition faults the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda in a recent report setting ambitious environmental goals including committing to 100 percent renewable energy and investing in drinking water improvements.

“These problems are exacerbated by a federal abdication of environmental and energy leadership,” the report Powering Illinois’ Future says.

Midwestern States' Strict Environmental Policies Fight Trump Deregulation
Newly inaugurated Democratic governors in Midwestern states are pursuing strict drinking water protections and promotion of clean energy as they fight President Donald Trump's deregulation of federal environmental policy, with the states saying their policies will address regulatory gaps created by undoing Obama EPA rules.

The Midwestern governors’ proposals follow through on environmentalists’ claims that Democratic victories in the November mid-terms would spur progressive state leaders to compete for clean energy and environmental solutions to climate change and other pollution challenges, given the roll-back of federal policies on those issues under Trump.

But an industry source has said that those same Democratic victories could tamp down environmentalists’ opposition to the Trump administration’s push for greater cooperative federalism, because many states receiving greater autonomy would be perceived as more pro-active in advancing environmental protections.

Democrats' State-Level Gains May Test EPA's 'Federalism' In Trump Era
Democrats' state-level gains are likely to drive new efforts to strengthen climate, water and other rules in the face of the Trump EPA's deregulatory agenda -- potentially easing environmentalists' concerns about the agency's push to shift more responsibility to states and testing the Trump administration's commitment to cooperative federalism, sources say.

Bipartisan groups such as the Association of Clean Water Administrators are also stepping up opposition to certain Trump administration policies, such as administration officials and GOP lawmakers’ efforts to limit states’ authority to review federally permitted pipelines and other energy projects under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

CWA Section 401 generally gives states authority to review and impose conditions on federal actions that may adversely impact water quality.

But the Trump administration, industry officials and some GOP lawmakers have sought to amend the program, charging that some primarily northeastern states have abused the authority to block construction of natural gas pipelines and other projects.

Those efforts are drawing push back from states, who are threatening to deny certifications needed for permitting if the administration continues to advance plans limiting state authority.

States Threaten 'Vast Increase' In CWA 401 Denials As Corps Speeds Reviews
State water regulators are threatening a “vast increase” in the number of federal permits for pipelines and other projects they plan to block under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in response to a recent Army Corps of Engineers memo directing that Corps' district officials limit states’ reviews under the law to 60 days in most cases.

Other state groups have recently opposed President Donald Trump’s consideration of a possible executive order directing federal agencies to limit 401 reviews, and EPA water chief David Ross’ suggestions that the agency is considering changes to the review process.

Western Governors Urge Trump To Preserve CWA 401 Permit Powers
Western governors are urging President Donald Trump to preserve states’ Clean Water Act (CWA) section 401 authority to review federally permitted pipelines and other energy projects in any future executive order, calling the review power “vital” to the cooperative federalism that Congress incorporated in the water law.

EPA Plans Update To CWA 401 Program But Faces Strong State Pushback
STOWE, VT -- EPA is launching an effort to revise its Clean Water Act (CWA) section 401 program that governs states' approval of federally permitted pipelines and other projects, but is facing major pushback from state regulators, including at least one GOP official, who question the need for changes and oppose any diminution of their power.

Disputes between state and federal regulators over possible changes to states’ review authority under CWA section 401 come as Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler this fall advanced a Trump administration push to streamline EPA regional offices’ reviews of state permitting and other programs, generally by granting greater deference to state decision making.

New EPA Policy For Reviewing State Programs Calls Intervention 'Last Option'
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has quietly issued new guidance that limits agency oversight of states' delegated programs and calls federal intervention a “last option” even when states allow for significant noncompliance, an approach that is drawing criticism from environmentalists who say it ignores statutory mandates to review some permits.

Meanwhile, slow implementation of federal restrictions on chemicals under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has prompted numerous states to pursue their own policies, with some arguing that the Trump EPA’s implementation is part of the reason states are seeing a need to fill the gaps in federal regulation.

States Ramp Up Chemicals Management Legislation Despite TSCA Reform
At least 22 states are ramping up efforts to approve chemicals management legislation despite the sweeping overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that some proponents hoped would end a patchwork of state chemicals rules, with observers saying states are “filling in” regulatory gaps EPA cannot address under the toxics law.

Trump’s deregulatory agenda is also hindering EPA efforts to sell as adequate its efforts to protect against some harmful chemicals, such as a new action plan for addressing contamination from PFAS.

Deregulatory Agenda Complicates EPA Messaging On PFAS Actions
The Trump administration's deregulatory agenda rolling back a host of EPA rules appears to be impeding the agency's messaging on its landmark comprehensive action plan aimed at setting environmental protections to address contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).