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Environmental policy changes under Trump administration

President Donald Trump has made it clear he doesn’t believe in climate change. During a morning interview on CNN’s “New Day” in 2015, Trump, then Republican presidential candidate, said directly, “I don’t believe in climate change.” To go back further recalls Trump’s infamous tweet from 2012 reading, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” and many other statements revealing his environmental views.

Throughout their first year in the White House, the Trump administration has allied with Republicans in Congress to tackle Obama-era environmental regulations and policies. According to the New York Times, the Trump administration has targeted over 60 environmental rules as of Jan. 31, 2018. Of these rules, 33 have already been officially overturned, including decisions on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, changes to the endangered species listings and migratory bird protections, and regulations for industrial polluters.

Some of the changes sought by the Trump administration are still in progress. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a man in control of the federal agency responsible for managing and conserving America’s federal land and natural resources, has previously made bold claims for sweeping environmental cuts. Together, Zinke and the Trump administration, as well as Republican supporters, have made quick moves to reverse Obama-era policy and appeal to their environmentally-conservative base. According to the New York Times, however, “legal experts say many of the moves were made without fully considering the laws and procedures governing changes like these, making them vulnerable to legal challenges that could delay or block them.”

Legal opposition to policy changes is normal and expected. Many Obama-era rules were challenged and delayed in court. But instead of working slowly and following the prescribed steps of environmental laws, the Trump administration makes small errors as they go along that open them to legal counterattack in the long run. On more than one occasion, the administration has tried to roll back a rule and forgotten to notify the public and ask for comment. In other words, in an attempt to appear decisive, the Trump administration may have worked themselves into trouble.

In comparison, Obama-era rules “mustered a stronger defense” the New York Times reported, often compiling “thousands of pages of support and technical analysis, laid out in mind-numbing detail” in support of their cases. To make changes so quickly, Trump has had to sacrifice detail in parts of his business. Many sources believe the changes were motivated by Trump’s relationship with big coal and oil companies. The Washington Post reports that a memorandum from the Interior Department, released to the public last Thursday, directed its field offices “to simplify and streamline the leasing process… to ensure quarterly oil and gas lease sales are consistently held.” Federal leases to the oil and gas industry were just one change in a very long list of changes since the Trump administration began last year.

For the remaining 37 policies under threat, future progress might be slow going. Democratic leaders and their voting base could easily exploit the small errors made by the Trump administration. There are currently 24 rollbacks in progress, and another 10 exist in limbo, awaiting decision. All of them can be targeted by Democratic or otherwise environmentally-minded organizations, and many of them can be ruthlessly delayed and eventually smothered. The American public will have to watch closely, and ultimately demand transparency and lawfulness.

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