This holiday season just about everything was different. Vacations were postponed. Parties and family get-togethers were canceled or moved online as folks hunkered down at the request of public-health officials. But one thing continued as usual: President Trump’s attacks on the environment.
In the weeks following the Nov. 3 election, Trump’s team continued its unprecedented onslaught on environmental regulations, with nearly a dozen new rollbacks or threats to public health, wildlife, clean air, public lands and the climate.
As the New Year approached, the assaults didn’t let up. Here are some of the most recent:
1. Cutting disaster funding
Despite a record-tying 16 weather and climate disasters topping $1 billion each this year in the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency proposed a plan to curtail federal disaster aid.
It would affect wealthier states the most, requiring that they have higher levels of damage than less wealthy states to get federal assistance.
The proposal, announced on Dec. 14, “would be one of the most significant revisions of federal disaster policy in nearly a half-century and comes as states grapple with massive fiscal shortfalls due to the pandemic,” E&E News reported.
The new rule is now open for public comments until Feb. 12 and would fall under the incoming Biden administration to move it forward—if it wishes.
2. Efficiency rollbacks
The Department of Energy took two steps back on Dec. 15., finalizing new rules that ease efficiency requirements for some fixtures and appliances.
The move comes a year after Trump complained that showerheads don’t have enough flow for him to wash his hair and toilets need to be flushed 10 or 15 times, which earned him a hearty amount of ridicule on social media.
But his new rules are no laughing matter when it comes to conservation and efficiency.
One of the rules would roll back a water-efficiency requirement for showerheads put in place by Congress in 1992 during the George H.W. Bush administration. The other would allow for some new washers and dryers to use more water and energy.
Both would amount to more needlessly wasted energy, water and money.
3. No help for monarchs
Monarch butterflies on both the east and west coasts are in perilous decline, with populations falling 80% or more. So it made sense that on Dec. 15 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the butterflies were in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act. But the agency unfortunately decided those protections wouldn’t be immediately forthcoming.
Monarchs were essentially told to get in line behind other species awaiting protection—and there are a lot of those these days. “The Trump administration has listed only 25 species—fewer than any since the [Endangered Species] act took effect in 1973,” the AP reported. “The Obama administration added 360.”
The current plan proposes delaying action to list monarchs until 2024, which would then be followed by another year of public comment and development of the final rule: time the species may not have.
In late December Trump issued dozens of pardons and commutations in what The Guardian called “another audacious application of presidential power to reward loyalists.” The list included predictable names of political allies like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, but among them was a pardon for Utah state Rep. Phil Lyman.
Lyman has railed against the federal management of public lands and in 2015, when he was serving as a San Juan County commissioner, he led 50 all-terrain vehicles on a ride through Utah’s Recapture Canyon. The area had been closed to motorized vehicle traffic to protect archeological sites. The illegal stunt earned him 5 days in jail and a $96,000 fine.
5. Airplane emissions
On Dec. 28 the EPA finalized the first rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions from commercial airplanes. But hold your applause: The historic step isn’t likely to amount to much.
The agency said that all the planes likely to be affected by the rule would be compliant by the date required, and therefore, EPA doesn’t think there’ll be any emission reductions associated with the greenhouse gas regulations or that they’ll help spur technical improvements that wouldn’t already have happened.
This “do-nothing rule,” as environmental groups have dubbed it, may be hard for the Biden administration to quickly undo as the EPA has decided to forgo the usual 30-day waiting period between the publication of the final rule and its implementation.
“The agency has used the procedural tactic—which is legally allowed with ‘good cause’—in recent weeks in an apparent effort to obstruct the incoming Biden administration,” E&E News reported.
6. Endangered Species Act
The outgoing Trump administration took two more swings at the Endangered Species Act, which it has worked to undo in the last four years.
On Dec. 15 the administration finalized a rule that narrowed the definition of habitat to only areas that currently support a species. This would eliminate the government’s ability to protect areas that could help support species in the future and areas previously occupied by the species. The move limits the tools available to protect endangered species, many of which have seen their historic range greatly diminished by development, agriculture and now climate change.
Two days later the Fish and Wildlife Service undermined the law again with a rule that lets money trump science. The change would allow the agency to omit areas from critical habitat designation if a review of the economic costs to industry outweigh the ecological benefits.