Trump is rolling back our protections — but there is time to undo the damage

Trump is rolling back our protections — but there is time to undo the damage
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE hailed his administration’s deregulatory agenda claiming to have already canceled or delayed over 1,500 planned regulatory actions in December 2017. He stressed his desire for “every cabinet secretary, agency head and federal worker to push even harder to cut even more regulations in 2018,” saying “I don’t know if we’ll have any left to cut, but we’ll always find them.” As our health and environmental protections litter the cutting room floor, we can no longer remain silent.

Trump has never concealed his contempt for regulations. One of his first executive orders was on reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs. The order mentions almost nothing about benefits, reverting to a simple mathematical formula to guide agencies — for every new regulation issued, at least two regulations will be identified for elimination. It is quintessential form over substance. 

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Every president since Reagan has used executive authority to address unnecessary regulations, and most environmental laws already require that EPA review and modify many of its regulatory standards, providing a built-in review cycle that constantly updates regulations based on the latest science, health data and technology.

Trump’s rollback juggernaut seems to have a different purpose. It caters to an audience conditioned by cynical partisan politics and Trump’s incessant derision of our own government, who hear only about regulatory “burdens” and “costs.” It builds on the cold calculation that those whose pockets are lined with reduced costs from repealed regulations will know exactly what they received, while those whose pockets are picked will neither know nor understand what has been taken from them. 

Many track — and tally —Trump’s rollback of our regulatory protections. Trump does not shy from this narrative where the length of the rollback list is the lead. The administration’s own annual accounting is consistent with his superficial and demonizing approach toward regulations, touting the number of deregulatory actions and associated compliance cost savings. As if only these numbers matter. But every one of us bears the costs of those deregulatory actions by losing certain protections. The impacts vary, but those costs (the benefits taken from us) must be part of our national conversation about Trump’s efforts to dismantle the system that protects our health and our environment. 

Too much is at stake. Trump’s skewed rollback agenda will blindside Americans across the country unless we begin to talk honestly about regulations. Not just about the costs to corporations that must limit their pollution, but also about the costs to families whose lives will be worse off if regulations are taken away. They may be perceived as burdens to some, but they are often protections to all.

Nowhere is that clearer than with climate change. We are, as President Obama once said, “the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” 

While Trump calls it a hoax, people are dying and no-one will be spared. Wildfires are becoming more destructive, floods more damaging, hurricanes more severe and droughts more persistent. EPA’s own website once described the climate impacts on human health as “affecting the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the weather we experience.” But you will not find that on EPA’s website anymore. Trump eliminated that webpage, as the success of his regulatory rollback is built on how much he can dismantle, not on people knowing what is at stake nor confronting our greatest challenges with bold solutions.

It is not too late to safeguard the environmental and health protections that belong to all of us. The courts will have their say, and the Trump administration’s record in defending its regulatory rollback agenda is already the worst of any administration in recent memory. But the next 22 months of the Trump rollback machine will put polluters’ profits above all else, under the guise of regulatory reform. That is, unless we stake our claim to a healthy environment, our freedoms to breathe clean air and drink clean water and our promise to leave our children a better America. 

We can preserve our environment, protect our public lands and improve the health of our families. We can find solutions to climate change that strengthen our economy and overall well-being, by promoting renewable energy, promoting sustainable agriculture and protecting public lands and waters. But to succeed, we must confront Trump’s regulatory rollback and see it for what it is — a heist of our protections. We must demand them back.  

Avi Garbow was the longest-serving general counsel at the EPA. He is currently an environmental advocate for Patagonia, the California-based outdoor gear company.