ABA/ELI Report “Environmental Protection in the Trump Era”

Recently, The American Bar Association’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Section, together with the Environmental Law Institute, published the Report “Environmental Protection in the Trump Era.”  The report is a thoughtful analysis of the major changes in the EPA that have occurred since President Trump took office in January 2017 and is well worth a read. In our view, the following three issues described by the report should present the greatest concerns for the American public:

“Two-For-One” Executive Order (or Executive Order 13771)

This order imposes two requirements: First, it mandates that for every new regulation adopted, two existing regulation have to be repealed (“two-for-one requirement”). Secondly, it establishes the “cost offset requirement”, insists that the cost imposed by new regulations must be compensated by the elimination of the existing two.

As costs are the only consideration, the order therefore discourages new beneficial regulations. Moreover, finding regulation for repeal will be difficult, because in existing regulations cost have often been internalized into efficient processes. So there is little, if any, cost saving available from the repeal of a regulation. However, the president’s intention by issuing this order appears to be to ease “over-regulation” and boost the expansion of small businesses.

Withdrawal of Funding for Regulation and Enforcement

Under The Trump Administration, the actions taken by the EPA so far indicate further that many of the rules issued during the previous administration will be frozen, reviewed, and amended. The goal appears to be to cut costs of regulation and enforcement. This effort comes with great concern for long term effects since it has been reported that the contemporary EPA’s cost-benefit analyses underestimate unforeseeable impacts on ecosystem services.

Regulations in jeopardy include: The Clean Power Plan, Waters of the United States rule, and EPA standards on methane, ozone, and toxic discharge limits. Additional costs will also be cut by decreasing enforcement measures; there will be limitations on requirements that demand polluters to pay for environmental depletion, fewer actions initiated by the EPA, smaller penalties, and caps placed on attorney’s fees. This is reflected in Trump’s FY 2018 Budget. It requests a 31% reduction in overall EPA funding; the gradual reduction in EPA responsibilities shows the agency’s preparation for this cutback.

Potential Problems of Future Regulations

The new Administration seems to be putting roadblocks in the EPA’s way, such as constraining agencies’ use of scientific data. If any of the pending bills in Congress are enacted, they would add structural constraints to the federal agencies’ ability to regulate. The Trump Administration and Congress have not given an opinion on how the states will be allowed to fill in the gaps in federal protections. Further, the Trump Administration’s actions dealing with air, water, and soil pollution have implications for vulnerable communities.

Key takeaway

When reflecting on the Report it appears to us that the Trump administration’s attempts to simplify the system are actually making it more complicated. The new EPA applies an incomplete cost benefit analysis, which is a source of controversy in the practice of environmental law. Additionally, the Administration’s goal is to help small businesses thrive, but how this is to be achieved is unclear. There is little question that businesses would likely be able to operate more profitably if there were fewer regulations. But with no market-based incentives to be environmentally friendly in the first place, fewer regulations would only result in inadequate protections for public health and the environment.

Furthermore, it appears that people in the lower socioeconomic strata will be the most adversely affected by EPA constraints. Trump’s EPA has minimized reliance on scientific data for standard promulgation in order to achieve procedural brevity. However, with less data to rely on, formulating pollutant discharge limitations will likely take even more time. In conclusion, the administration should look at new ways to handle the problems effectively (e.g., incentivizing advanced clean technology) rather than simply cutting entire programs.

Arielle Canepa, Haley Costamagna, and Josiane Weder


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