Story at a glance

  • Rules finalized over the summer in the departments of Commerce and Interior weakened protections for threatened and endangered species.
  • The EPA announced in August that it would propose changes to the Clean Air Act that would remove standards for methane emissions.
  • The Obama-era Clean Power Plan was replaced with a significantly weaker rule to regulate carbon pollution.

A panel of government-appointed scientists raised concerns about several Trump administration proposals to strip down key environmental regulations, the New York Times reported last week. 

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Scientific Advisory Board, tasked with assessing the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulations, is made up of 41 scientists, many of whom were appointed after Trump took office to replace Obama-era appointees. In fact, the Times reports that “more than a quarter of the academic scientists on the panel departed or were dismissed” during the first year of Trump’s term. Still, the scientists currently on the panel found that the three regulatory changes they evaluated did not square with relevant scientific research. 

The year 2019 is behind us, but the U.S. environmental rollbacks of last year aren’t. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest environmental rollbacks the Trump administration moved forward last year.

Endangered Species Act rollback

Rules finalized over the summer in the departments of Commerce and Interior weakened protections for threatened and endangered species. The Endangered Species Act is the major legal tool in the U.S. for preventing wildlife from facing extinction. As Changing America reported in November, our endangered species are even more endangered by climate change. But critics say the regulatory change will make it more challenging to consider climate change when deciding if a species should be protected by law.

One (weaker) standard for the Clean Air Act

The EPA said in September that it would revoke California’s waiver that allowed the state to enforce its own tailpipe greenhouse gas emission standards. Legal experts say that even during the beginning years of the Clean Air Act (initially established in 1970 but there were major revisions in 1997 and 1990), there were always two standards for vehicle emissions: the national standard and the California standard. In other words, the Clean Air Act was constructed to allow a state like California to obtain a waiver to adopt stricter standards than those of the federal government. Since the EPA granted California the waiver to have stricter standards than the federal government, 13 states and the District of Columbia adopted California’s standard. The EPA’s revocation threw tailpipe emission regulation into uncertainty, as California and 23 other states sued the Trump administration for the decision.

Deregulating methane emissions

The EPA announced in August that it would propose changes to the Clean Air Act that would remove standards for methane emissions. Methane is more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat during its first 20 years in the earth’s atmosphere. State environmental agencies wouldn’t have the ability to fill this considerable gap in regulation, especially given the budget cuts they’re facing.

Clean Power Plan repeal

In June, Trump’s EPA replaced the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a significantly weaker rule to regulate carbon pollution. 

Published on Jan 07, 2020