EPA moves to implement Trump order on scaling back industry guidance

EPA moves to implement Trump order on scaling back industry guidance

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving forward with plans to implement two recent executive orders that aim to limit the impact of agency enforcement guidance on affected industries.

In a memorandum sent to staff on Monday, EPA head Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA to resume contract negotiations with employee union Overnight Energy: Critics call EPA air guidance 'an industry dream' | New Energy secretary says Trump wants to boost coal | EPA looks to speed approval of disputed industry pollution permits Latest EPA guidance weakens air protections in favor of industry, critics say MORE said the agency is establishing two internal working groups to “think critically” about President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE's order mandating agencies scale back guidance.

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“We look forward to strengthening the rule of law at the EPA as we tackle this important challenge,” Wheeler wrote.

Trump announced the executive orders earlier this month, arguing that for years agency guidance has inappropriately driven government policy.

The executive orders were widely viewed as an effort to limit the reach of agency guidance on rule compliance, which some argue often misleads businesses or industries into taking more action than is statutorily required.

Critics fear Trump's order will lead to less enforcement of federal rules.

The EPA has already experienced a measurable decline in enforcement actions taken against polluters during the Trump administration. Penalties handed down to corporate polluters last year were the lowest in over a decade.

Others argue the new executive order unfairly places blame on the agencies, instead of the industries who are not in compliance with federal regulations.

"What struck me more is the continued bastardization of this concept of the rule of law. It used to mean you're the regulated community, you follow the law. Now it's about how the federal agencies have run amuck and need to be reigned in," said one agency source. 

"What problem are we fixing? It's not clear. It's this generalized conspiracy theory that agencies run amuck."

One of Trump’s executive orders mandates agencies post all guidance documents on how they handle their enforcement on a searchable website, otherwise the guidance will be considered withdrawn.

Under the other order, businesses or individuals found to be in noncompliance would be given "an opportunity to be heard" before they are penalized.

“For many decades, federal agencies have been issuing thousands of pages of so-called guidance documents — a pernicious kind of regulation imposed by unaccountable bureaucrats in the form of commentary on how rules should be interpreted,” Trump said at the executive order signing ceremony. “All too often guidance documents are a back door for regulators to effectively change the laws and vastly expand their scope and reach.”

Wheeler wrote in Monday's memo that both executive orders (EOs) “contain important implications to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency processes that we will need to think critically about to implement."

“To that end, the EPA will be quickly standing up two working groups to address interpreting and applying the EOs, one chaired by the Office of Policy and the other co-chaired by the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.”

Wheeler said that until the working groups provide new instruction in the coming weeks the agency would continue “normal operations on all issues affected by the EOs.”

Issues that the EPA will consider include proposals to allow industries the “opportunity to be heard” before setting fines, proposed procedures for “cooperative information sharing” and allowing for “certain exemptions for criminal actions and civil judicial actions,” as allowed under the executive order, Wheeler said.

This story has been updated.