In the past four years, Trump has shredded environmental protections for American lands, animals and people
“I want crystal clean water and air.”
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That’s what Donald Trump said in the first chaotic presidential debate with Joe Biden. But there is scant evidence of that desire in the actions of his administration, which has spent nearly four years systematically dismantling core environmental protections, some of which stretch back decades.
Experts agree that the climate crisis’s most destructive manifestations, on display in a particularly difficult year for the US, barely scratch the surface of the catastrophes to come. Yet the president appears unmoved by the enormous wildfires, devastating hurricanes, widespread water problems and persistent air pollution that disproportionately blights black and Latino communities. His administration has scrapped climate regulations, rolled back clean water rules and loosened pollution standards. Protections for public land and threatened species have been shrunk while new oil pipelines and coal mining have been encouraged.
The legacy of these changes will stretch well beyond Trump’s presidency. Here is a list of some of the key rollbacks of the Trump era.
1. Made it easier to lease public land for oil and gas drilling.
2. Enabled the expansion of offshore drilling.
3. Proposed making 85% of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska available for oil and gas drilling.
4 .Amended rule that reduced toxic air pollutants from petroleum refineries.
The Trump administration rejected government scientists’ recommendations to strengthen air pollution standards for soot, or PM2.5.
Studies suggest long-term exposure is associated with chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and increased death rates from lung cancer and heart disease. Communities of color and low-income populations face disproportionate exposure to PM2.5. Research has shown that tightening the PM2.5 standard would save 12,000 American lives each year.
This fine particulate pollution decreased under Barack Obama, but has seen a steady uptick since Trump took office.The Trump administration has also declined to strengthen the Obama rules for ozone, also known as smog, which regularly covers cities like Los Angeles. Ozone forms when pollution – from power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and cars – reacts to sunlight.
6. Rolled back rules prohibiting the hunting of bears and other predators in Alaskan national preserves.
7. Removed protections for the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna.
8. Lifted restrictions on mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
9 . Changed the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, making it harder to protect animals and plants.
Despite those emissions reductions, the US is far off the path of what scientists say is necessary for the nation and the world to avoid catastrophic climate change. Trump has nixed climate rules that would have brought the US closer to what is needed. If the US had continued to lead on climate, global efforts would be in a stronger position.
11. Reversed a rule that prevented taking sand from protected areas to replenish other beaches.
12. Weakened a rule that directs states to improve visibility at national parks by controlling pollution.
13. Proposed opening most US coastal waters up to oil and gas drilling.
14. Weakened the Clean Water Act, giving the federal government more power to overrule state objections to projects.
Last year, the Trump administration dismantled federal protections for vast tracts of America’s water. The revised Waters of the United States (or Wotus) rule shrinks the purview of the Clean Water Act.
Trump revised the Clean Water Act so it no longer protects these ephemeral streams from pollution that flows from industry, farming, and other sources. The Trump administration argued the protections, expanded under Obama to cover the drinking water of 117 million people in the US, hindered farmers and golf course owners.
16. Proposed speeding up the environmental review process for companies seeking oil and gas drilling permits in national forests.
17. Opened up drilling on 9m acres of public land in the west, which are the habitat for greater sage grouse.
18. Abandoned efforts to reduce emissions from large sewage treatment plants.
19. Delayed implementation of a rule intended to limit pesticide exposure to agricultural workers.
20. Proposed amended emissions standards for brick kilns and clay products manufacturing based on concerns from industry.
21. Proposed revisions to carbon dioxide emissions standards for new or retrofitted power plants.
The Trump administration has sought to ease the steep decline of the US coal industry by weakening pollution rules for coal power plants, but its efforts haven’t helped much. Coal use is waning in the US as utilities turn to cheaper fossil gas and renewable power. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is rescinding standards for coal plants to curb mercury pollution, even though most plants had already complied.
The agency is also dialing back requirements for plants to treat the water they use to remove toxic contaminants before putting it into rivers and lakes.
23. Rolled back rules designed to prevent accidents at chemical facilities.
24. Reduced the territories of two national monuments and opened the removed lands up to mining and drilling.
25. Revoked an executive order protecting oceans, coastal areas and the Great Lakes.
26. Loosened controls on emissions of hazardous air pollutants from facilities like power plants and petroleum refineries.
27. Announced, and then walked back, a repeal of a cap on gliders – older, dirtier engines installed into new truck bodies.
28. Proposed a repeal of emissions standards for gliders.
29. Delayed issuing and enforcing new ozone pollution standards.
The fuel efficiency of cars and trucks has steadily improved since the federal government started setting national standards in the 1970s and the Obama administration looked to raise them further, requiring that vehicles manage around 54 miles a gallon of fuel by 2025. The move was perhaps the biggest national rule to combat the climate crisis, with transportation accounting for more than a third of the US’s planet-heating emissions.
The Trump administration not only gutted the rule, winding it back to 40 miles a gallon; it attempted to prevent California from setting its own, tougher, standards. The administration’s own figures show this rollback will cause an extra billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the lifetime of the vehicles manufactured during the terms of the rule, as well as thousands of jobs lost in the auto industry and more expensive gasoline for drivers.
31. Withdrew a proposed rule to protect groundwater near uranium mining sites.
32. Lifted a moratorium on new coal leasing on public lands.
33. Loosened enforcement of an air quality rule for states that pollute across state lines.
34. Approved the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.
35. Proposed rescinding a rule that required companies using federal land to prove they will have the financial means to decommission a project.
36. Proposed weakened regulations on the type of equipment required for exploratory drilling operations in the Arctic.
37. Approved the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
38. Weakened monetary penalties for automakers who fail to meet fuel efficiency standards.
39. Proposed opening the protected Tongass national forest in Alaska to logging and road construction.
The last large untouched wilderness in the US is found in the north-east extremity of Alaska. The 19m acres of tundra, streams and mountains that make up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to creatures ranging from polar bears to hundreds of bird species, as well as a migratory caribou herd vital to the sustenance of the Gwich’in native people.
Arctic national wildlife refuge Alaska Guardian graphic. Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service
The Trump administration is repealing decades of protections to allow oil and gas drilling in the coastal region of the refuge. The Gwich’in, who say the drilling will destroy their way of life, have vowed to fight the move. The recoverable oil could, when burned, release as much as 5m tons of carbon dioxide.
41. Proposed changes to rules governing the high emissions from power plant startups, shutdowns and malfunctions.
42. Changed the process for setting energy conservation standards for consumer products.
43. Withdrew a proposed rule to protect whales, turtles and dolphins in the Pacific.
44.Reduced oversight of the air pollution that can result when a company builds a new facility, like a plastics plant, or modifies an existing one.
45. Rescinded policies requiring companies to offset environmental harms to public lands.
The Clean Power Plan was the Obama administration’s signature climate rule. The rule – finalized in 2015 – directed states to reduce their electricity sector emissions. It aimed to slash carbon pollution from power plants 32% by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels within the electricity sector.
Even though the supreme court halted the rule in 2016, and states were never required to comply, carbon dioxide emissions from the US power sector have still fallen more than the rule’s goal – by at least one-third. Cheaper natural gas and renewable power, as well as local policies to move away from fossil fuels, sped the shift.
Despite that progress within electricity, Trump’s other rollbacks threaten to stagnate the US’s overall climate pollution reductions.
47.Suspended use of an Obama-era calculation of the social cost of carbon, which seeks to tally the money spent and lives lost as a result of climate change.
48. Repealed a rule to prevent coal mining companies from dumping waste in streams.
49. Ordered federal agencies to review rules impeding energy production, resulting in numerous environmental rollbacks.
50. Repealed a rule updating Bureau of Land Management processes to better account for and resolve ecological pressures on public lands.
51. Delayed rules to cut methane emissions from landfills.
Trump’s EPA and interior department (DOI) have both weakened Obama-era rules that limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
The EPA has rolled back methane rules for new operations around the country, and the interior department has weakened them for oil and gas companies operating on public lands. A federal court struck down the interior department rollback.
53. Proposed subsidizing coal-fired and nuclear generation in markets where other sources were more economic.
54. Proposed cutting funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay to meet EPA water quality standards.
55. Proposed relaxing rules on how much states can send pollution downstream to neighboring states.
56. Opened the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monument to commercial fishing.
Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, have been widely used in refrigeration, air conditioning and building insulation as a replacement for chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which were found to be depleting the ozone layer.
HFCs, however, are a potent greenhouse gas and the international community has agreed to phase out their use. The Trump administration has refused US backing for this move, ignoring pleas from Republican senators, and in February scrapped rules requiring HFC leaks to be repaired. This rollback will increase planet-heating emissions by the equivalent of 2.9 million tons each year, the EPA estimates.
58. Weakened protections on hunting, capturing or killing migratory birds.
59. Rolled back fracking regulations that protect drinking water on federal and tribal lands.
60. Weakened regulations on pesticide use in National Wildlife Refuges.
61. Halted a rule that tightened air pollution standards for offshore drilling operations.
62. Approved seismic air gun surveys for offshore oil and gas exploration, a technique that can harm marine wildlife, in new areas of the ocean not yet available for leasing.
63. Weakened offshore drilling regulations designed to prevent system failures that would result in oil or gas being released into the water.
Regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act guide agencies on how to consider the environmental impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects, like cross-state pipelines.
The Trump administration has changed the rules to exclude more projects from review and reduce the number of effects and alternatives agencies must consider.
65. Proposed easing rules that regulate where companies can mine for hardrock minerals.
66. Exempted farmers and ranchers from requirements to report emissions from animal waste.
67. Attempted to rescind a rule meant to ensure the public gets a fair return from minerals recovered on public lands.
68. Discontinued a National Parks Service policy discouraging the sale of plastic water bottles in parks.
69. Proposed weakening pesticide regulations meant to protect agricultural workers.
70. Proposed to weakened grazing restrictions on public lands.
For the past 20 years, a pesticide known as chlorpyrifos has been banned for use in American homes due to scientific evidence linking it to a range of health problems, including brain developmental problems in children.
The EPA was poised to also ban its outdoor use, where it is sprayed onto crops such as almonds, soybeans and grapes, but the Trump administration blocked the move. Environmental groups and farmers have objected, only for the EPA to now say the science does not support a ban. In doing so, the EPA disregarded a number of epidemiological studies showing a link between prenatal chlorpyrifos exposure and cognitive disorders in toddlers.
72. Invited the public to provide input on which rules and regulations DOI should target for rollback.
73. Abandoned an effort to shift financial responsibility for hardrock mining cleanup from taxpayers to industry.
74. Transferred the authority over cross-border infrastructure permits from the state department to the president, thereby shielding such decisions from environmental and judicial review.
75. Eliminated a rule to prevent waste by requiring oil and gas operations on federal lands to limit venting and flaring of methane.
Francisco Navas contributed to this piece.