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The Insider

Trump Claim Of Environment ‘Leadership’ Spurs Environmentalists’ Scorn

President Donald Trump’s pivot from aggressive deregulatory actions undoing Obama EPA rules to claiming pro-environment “leadership” is prompting a swift rebuke from environmentalists, who say the administration’s actions undermine the president’s claims.

At a White House event earlier this week, Trump touted what he said were pollution reduction gains since he took office -- but opponents note a disconnect between those claims and a series of actions this month that include opting against new financial assurance rules for power plant cleanups, rules to implement the revised toxics law that critics say are inadequate, renewable fuel production goals that advocates say won’t adequately promote biofuels, and more:

In Election Preview, Trump Seeks To Blunt Vulnerability On Environment
In a preview of the 2020 election, President Donald Trump and his top aides are trying to blunt his vulnerability on the environment, highlighting improvements that began mostly prior to his tenure, reframing deregulatory initiatives as reducing pollution, touting various lands policies and defending rollbacks as consistent with economic growth.

Trump, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler and other top officials held the White House event July 8, focusing on the administration’s environmental record. Their claims focused largely on air, water and waste cleanups, though many of the trends they touted began well before Trump took office.

The officials mostly avoided direct discussion of climate change, though Wheeler sought to argue that EPA’s rollbacks of Obama-era climate rules would nonetheless “reduce” pollution.

Environmentalists sharply criticized the event. “It must be opposite day at the White House if President Trump is dubbing himself an environmental leader,” the World Resources Institute said. The group says U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have dropped -- and clean energy has continued to grow -- “in spite of President Trump’s policies, certainly not because of them.”

While some observers see the White House’s new focus on environment issues to be geared toward the 2020 election, most do not expect EPA and other agencies to deviate from their aggressive deregulatory agenda.

However, experts are voicing significant uncertainty about whether Trump’s deregulatory policies will be durable:

Ahead Of 2020 Election, Trump Deregulatory Efforts Remain Uncertain
The Trump administration’s ability to issue durable deregulatory policies remains unclear given judicial and Hill scrutiny, as well as whether agencies can quickly complete such rulemakings and President Donald Trump wins a second term in the 2020 election, according to several experts.

Several participants at a recent American Bar Association event faulted Trump officials for a bad start in justifying their rollbacks, while warning of a long-term blowback in the courts.

“This administration, at least initially, has shown unparalleled ineptitude in figuring out what the law is and how to comply with it,” said George Washington University law professor Richard Pierce.

In addition, former Bush administration regulatory chief Susan Dudley -- who now runs the Regulatory Studies Center at GWU -- said agencies face the risk of having some policies scrapped by the Congressional Review Act (CRA) if Trump loses re-election.

If Democrats take over the White House and the Senate, rules that go final in mid- to late-2020 could be vulnerable.

“The time to finalize their activities isn’t Jan. 19, 2021, it is June [2020],” Dudley said, drawing parallels to Republicans’ partially successful efforts use of the CRA to rescind just over a dozen regulations issued during roughly the last six months of the Obama administration.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats in the House are completing their consideration of amendments to the annual defense authorization bill, with one high-profile measure focused on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS):

House Poised To Debate PFAS Superfund Listing, Sparking GOP Criticism
The House is gearing up to debate an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would require EPA to list perfluorinated chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, a move that is already prompting strong opposition from a top Senate Republican opposed to the measure.

While the Senate included a bipartisan legislative PFAS package in its version of the defense bill, House Democrats want to go further and require EPA to list the chemicals as hazardous under the Superfund law.

That amendment, which the House approved July 12, drew strong criticism from Senate environment committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), who vowed that the plan imposed major liabilities on a range of businesses and that it “won’t become law.”

Speaking of Superfund, EPA recently declined to set financial assurance rules for the power sector under the waste law:

EPA Declines To Set CERCLA Financial Assurance Rule For Power Sector
EPA is proposing to decline financial responsibility requirements for the electric power generator sector under the Superfund law, saying the existing regulation of coal combustion residuals (CCR), the financial stability of the sector and other factors suggest a low level of risk that does not warrant a mandatory federal regulatory requirement.

The agency argues that existing regulatory programs and the power sector’s voluntary practices reduce risks that the industry cannot pay for future cleanups.

However, environmentalists are already criticizing the proposal as “polluter welfare.” Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, argued: “We know the risk this toxic waste poses to our communities. EPA is blatantly ignoring its duty to protect people over billion-dollar corporations polluting our backyards. The polluters should foot the bill for the toxic mess they create, not the public.”

This week we also offered this wide-angle take on the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which Congress overhauled in 2016 to give EPA a host of new authorities to regulate industrial chemicals:

Three Years After TSCA Reform, EPA Struggles To Provide Hoped-For Certainty
Three years after Congress reformed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), handing EPA a host of new authorities to regulate industrial chemicals, agency staff are struggling to meet the law’s deadlines, many rules face litigation, and states and retailers continue to lack confidence that the new regime will provide the certainty they are seeking.

Lynn Goldman, the former Clinton EPA toxics chief, told a recent conference that the whole goal of the revised law was to “provide the entire system with a bit of predictability.”

But she sees it as a “bad sign” that Walmart recently announced that it is “continuing its process of identifying chemicals as things that should not be in its process.”

This shows “that the retail industry is not convinced that all of this is simply going to move forward and they’re not going to have to regulate themselves. You know, there was a hope of actual government regulation rather than one company at a time.”

In climate change policy, EPA’s formally published its Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP) with a much narrower measure, and critics wasted little time in challenging the rule:

Health Groups Waste Little Time Suing Over EPA’s Final ACE Climate Rule
Two major public health groups have wasted little time suing over EPA’s final Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, the Trump administration’s limited approach to controlling power plant greenhouse gas emissions, the same day the rule was formally promulgated and the first day of a 60-day period petitioners have to sue.

“In repealing the [CPP] and adopting [ACE], EPA abdicates its legal duties and obligations to protect public health under the Clean Air Act, which is why we are challenging these actions,” said a statement from the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association.

Expect many more lawsuits to be filed ahead of a Sept. 6 deadline, including from Democratic states and environmentalists who argue the rule is unlawfully weak, as well as from conservative groups who charge that EPA lacks any authority to regulate carbon emissions from the power sector.

Another EPA policy likely to drive litigation is the agency’s annual biofuel blending targets under the renewable fuel standard (RFS):

Proposed 2020 RFS Raises Tough Questions For EPA In Expected Lawsuit
EPA’s proposed 2020 renewable fuel standard (RFS) raises tough questions for the agency to address in expected litigation once it issues the final version of the program’s fuel production goals for next year, including the legality of its approach to setting fuel blending volumes that fall short of targets established by statute.

The agency’s latest annual RFS rule is already drawing opposition from biofuel groups faulting it for not accounting for millions of gallons of biofuel blending that EPA waived for small refiners that claimed economic hardship, as well as its expected decision to discount millions more gallons of production if it approves some 40 outstanding waiver requests.

Biofuels groups fiercely oppose the waivers, which the agency under former Administrator Scott Pruitt issued in far greater numbers than did his predecessors under the Obama administration.

Further, the recent plan does not increase biofuel blending volumes to account for a 2017 court remand that faulted the agency for reducing the RFS’ corn ethanol volume in 2016 by 500 million gallons to account for “inadequate domestic supply."

The rule’s targets are “a drop in the bucket compared to the demand lost due to a flood of refinery exemptions. Unless EPA restores demand destroyed through secret handouts to oil giants like Exxon and Chevron, these targets offer nothing but another year of lost opportunity and rural hardship,” biofuels group Growth Energy said.