Just How Doomed Is the EPA?

Just How Doomed Is the EPA?

Trump’s team appears poised to carry out his campaign promises to gut the Environmental Protection Agency.

By Kate Wheeling 

Scott Pruitt arrives for the Inaugural Luncheon on January 20th, 2017. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump may not make good on his campaign promises to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, but his EPA transition team could still leave the agency essentially eviscerated. The Trump transition team’s “Action Plan” for the EPA lays out major budget cuts, regulatory reversals, and a shift in the agency’s approach to science and policymaking, Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports.

The plan, written by infamous environmental foe and EPA transition team head Myron Ebell, seeks to reverse fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, nix Clean Air Act regulations for emissions from power plants, and reduce mercury and ozone pollution rules, to name just a few. The EPA Action Plan would amount to cuts of nearly $300 million from climate and environment programs and management projects, and more than $500 million from state and tribal assistance grants—which have strong bipartisan support.

The transition team’s plan would also change how the agency uses science to inform its policies. The plan came down on the agency’s science advisory process for its “inherent bias” and “conflicts of interest,” Axios reports:

EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science. This is an old problem at EPA. In 1992, a blue-ribbon panel of EPA science advisers that [sic] “science should not be adjusted to fit policy.” But rather than heed this advice, EPA has greatly increased its science manipulation.

Many dedicated environmentalists within the agency would disagree that research on the effects of climate change is inherently biased just because the general consensus of research indicates that climate change is real, fueled by humans, and largely harmful. The transition team’s recommendations to overhaul the science advisory process and block the agency from funding research will almost certainly be met with fervent opposition.

That’s where Trump’s team may get tripped up in its haste to undermine Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. Trump will need more than an executive order to undo many of the regulations he seeks to kill, Vox’s Brad Plumer reports:

[I]f Trump wants to repeal or modify these rules, he can’t just do so with the stroke of a pen. The EPA would have to formally start the time-consuming rulemaking process all over again. That means notifying the public of any rule changes, soliciting public comment for those changes, responding to all those public comments, and then rigorously justifying their new rules — likely before the courts.

Even if Trump’s team eventually loses a legal battle, those regulations could go unenforced for years while the cases make their way through the court system — years that climate scientists say will be critical for combating climate change and staving off its most destructive effects.

It’s unclear how many of these recommendations will be pursued by the Trump administration, especially given the legal battles many will require; a Republican insider told Axios the plan was a “wish list of possible [Executive Orders] and budget cuts.” But Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s current attorney general and Trump’s pick to lead the agency, is a vocal opponent of Obama’s environmental regulations, and has already proven more than willing to mount long-shot legal challenges.

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