There is a reason the Trump administration hasn’t been able to make significant progress in rolling back pieces of Obama-era environmental policy: the courts say their efforts are violating federal law.
On Wednesday, a judge in Northern California ruled that the Department of Interior cannot delay compliance with rules curbing “flaring,” a technique used by oil and gas companies to burn off leaking methane, a practice found to contribute to climate change.
This was the third ruling in the last three months that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Interior Department has been found to have acted illegally in their efforts to reverse environmental regulations.
In three other cases the Trump administration has reversed course before a judge has had a chance to rule. They have done this in response to lawsuits filed against the administration by countless environmental groups and Democratic state attorneys general.
The administration hasn’t given up, though. When it comes to environmental protections, the Trump administration is trying numerous ways to roll back, or kill, the same rules if one of their efforts meets a dead end.
As Kelly Love, a White House spokeswoman said in a statement, “The Trump administration is confident in its legal positions and looks forward to arguing – and winning – before the federal judiciary. This is in stark contrast to the previous administration, which may be the worst win rate before the Supreme Court since the Taylor administration in the early 1850s.”
Environmentalists disagree. As John Walke, the director of the Clean Air Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council says, “It shows serial lawbreaking and sloppiness by a Trump administration bent on rollbacks. It is sad they have to have their comeuppance in courts rather than doing what was right.”
And Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, who has been the most aggressive in fighting the Trump administration rollbacks, says, “No man, no woman is above the law. You have to follow the rule of law. It makes no difference if you are in the White House or not.”
Previous administrations have been met with obstacles in trying to modify environmental regulations for their own agenda. The George W. Bush administration attempted to loosen air pollution rules and lost 27 court rulings against environmentalists. The Obama administration lost in a case where environmentalists fought against a two billion tons coal lease on federal land. In that case, the court ruled the leases were “arbitrary or capricious,” because the administration did not adequately consider their effects on climate change.
Hard work on the part of environmentalists and activists seems to have won out in many cases. Hopefully, their efforts will be enough to stop an aggressive administration from halting what progress the United States is making in fighting climate change.