This was the year in which many of our worst fears about the Trump administration came to pass. Racial unrest reached a boiling point. The GOP’s attacks on our democracy leading up to and after the election will take decades to fix. And of course, tens of thousands of lives have been needlessly lost to an unprecedented pandemic.
It was an ugly year. Not surprisingly, most of 2020’s top regulatory policy stories were ugly too. In general, policy developments aligned against the goals of CPR’s new Policy for a Just America initiative: a sustainable future, a responsive government, and strong, effective protections for all people and the environment. The incoming Biden-Harris administration can put us back on the right track, but they have a lot of work ahead of them.
Here are the first five of this year’s 10 most significant developments affecting regulatory policy and public protections:
In my last post, I began counting down the top ten most significant developments affecting regulatory policy and public protections from the past year. This post completes the task. The good news is some of these developments offer some hope on realizing the goals of CPR’s Policy for a Just America initiative: a sustainable future, a responsive government, and strong, effective protections for all people and the environment. Others, however, suggest that the task of realizing those goals will be an arduous one.
President-elect Joe Biden is set to name Michael Regan to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Regan is currently the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and his past experience includes earlier stints at EPA and the Environmental Defense Fund. He would be the first Black man to serve as EPA administrator.
Donald Trump and the industry allies he appointed to head this critical agency — Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler — harmed it through a series of air, water, pesticide, and chemical safety rollbacks. Pruitt and Wheeler also imposed damaging procedural rules on the agency that, if left in place, will make it next to impossible to use the best science to craft environmental protections — or to justify them in the first place. Adding insult to injury, the agency significantly accelerated the long-term trend of reducing enforcement of our nation's environmental laws.
President-elect Joe Biden is set to name Brenda Mallory to lead the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the White House office that coordinates environmental policy across federal agencies. Mallory has more than three decades of environmental law and policy experience, served as CEQ general counsel under President Barack Obama, and is currently director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Though somewhat dormant during Donald Trump's early tenure, CEQ ramped up its attacks on environmental policies and protections during the second half of Trump’s term.
It focused its assault on how agencies review the environmental impacts of their actions. Congress required such environmental review beginning in 1970 with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Whenever an agency funds or issues a permit for a big project like an oil pipeline, a bridge, or a highway, NEPA requires that agency to assess its environmental harms …
President-elect Joe Biden tapped Deb Haaland to head up the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees our nation's public lands, wildlife conservation, and key aspects of energy development. Currently a House representative from New Mexico, Haaland has led the national parks, forests, and public lands subcommittee on the House Natural Resources Committee. She would be the first Native American to lead the department.
If confirmed, Haaland will oversee an agency the Trump administration systematically worked to dismantle. Secretaries Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt did everything in their power to make the department as industry friendly as possible — shrinking national monuments, gutting endangered species protections, throwing open the doors to fossil fuel extraction, and more.
Though Haaland will face significant challenges, she can begin to reverse harmful policies and ensure our public lands are conserved and used in ways that benefit us all.
Here are five …
President-elect Joe Biden is poised to name Jennifer Granholm to lead the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees key energy efficiency standards, research, and development. Granholm is a former two-term governor of Michigan and a champion of using a clean energy transition to spur economic growth.
During the Trump years, the department repeatedly tried to defund important clean energy research programs. The department also weakened energy efficiency standards for appliances, light bulbs, and other consumer products. These actions damaged our country’s ability to reduce carbon pollution, combat climate change, and help those most burdened by high energy bills.
The Biden administration and Granholm must make energy justice a focus of their policy agenda. Here are five top priorities they can start on right away:
Donald Trump prided himself on his contempt for established norms of presidential action. Whole books have been written about how to restore those norms. Something similar also happened deeper down in the government, out in the agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that do the actual work of governance. Trump appointees have corrupted agencies and trashed the norms that support agency integrity. It will take hard work to undo the harm. White House leadership is important, but success will require dedicated effort by the agency heads appointed by Biden.
Scientific integrity. The role of science is the most obvious example of norm busting under Trump. Whether it is EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Trump …
In the midst of a global pandemic and increasingly desperate attempts by the Trump administration to subvert the results of the 2020 election, it would be easy to miss a slew of recent news stories on individuals the media has termed "climate refugees."
These are people who have been displaced due to catastrophic climate change, or who will be forced to flee as their homes become too hot, too cold, or too dry, or if they become regular targets of massive storms or end up underwater. As many of these stories have highlighted, among those most at risk are the Indigenous peoples of the United States.
The scale of climate-induced displacement boggles the mind. According to many reports — including one by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees — well over 100 million people will be forced to flee their homes as a result of climate change …
A recent Ninth Circuit ruling overturned approval of offshore drilling in the Arctic. The ruling may directly impact the Trump administration's plans for oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). By requiring agencies to consider emissions when fossil fuels are ultimately burned, the Court of Appeals' decision may also change the way agencies consider other fossil fuel projects, such as gas pipelines.
In Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, environmental groups challenged the Interior Department's approval of an offshore drilling and production facility on the north coast of Alaska. In its environmental impact statement, the agency refused to consider the effects of the project on carbon emissions outside the United States.
On its face, as the court was quick to point out, the agency's position makes no sense. It's like assuming that if you …
Ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a dangerous (and now-rescinded) policy relaxing enforcement of environmental protections in March, the Center for Progressive Reform has watchdogged responses from state environmental agencies in three states in the Chesapeake Bay Region — Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
While the EPA essentially gave companies a free pass to hide pollution violations during the pandemic, most states set up processes to handle COVID-19-related noncompliance. Environmental agencies in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania received dozens of waiver requests related to water, land, and air quality protections, pollution controls, sampling and monitoring, inspections, and critical infrastructure deadlines.
A majority of these requests were related to the pandemic. But others, such as those seeking to delay important deadlines for construction projects, were not. This suggests that some polluters are using COVID-19 as an excuse to subvert or delay deadlines that prevent further air or …