Reduced Regulations, Delayed Actions Mark Trump’s First Year

By Sara Merken

President Donald Trump’s first year in office has seen a mix of reduced regulations and delayed federal agency actions on environmental policies.

Trump is expected to speak about a national infrastructure plan and the administration’s desire for “energy dominance” in his first State of the Union address Jan. 30.

He addressed Congress in February 2017, detailing the administration’s plans for the coming year. He highlighted his order that allowed for the Keystone XL pipeline project to move forward and efforts to revive the U.S. steel industry, in addition to ending a stream-protection rule that protected waterways from coal mining waste.

The speech gave only passing mention to tackling environmental issues in the year ahead, such as promoting clean air and clear water, and didn’t touch on climate change or clean energy.

In the year following the speech, the White House and federal agencies addressed air and water pollution issues with actions including the Environmental Protection Agency’s withdrawal of air pollution rules, White House moves to overturn an Obama-era water rule, and agency delays in issuing ozone pollution and lead standards. The EPA also provided millions in grants to fund drinking water infrastructure projects.

The administration kept a presidential campaign promise when Trump pledged to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change on June 1, 2017. The action aligns with Trump’s “America First” policy, which he says will help U.S. businesses and workers.

‘Clear Water’

Trump vowed in the February speech to “promote clean air and clear water,” without mention of specific actions.

The administration’s latest schedule for federal agencies’ regulatory actions released Dec. 14 revealed that the EPA’s agenda for updating its standards on lead in drinking water has been pushed back.

The agency pledged new lead standards in 2015, and after several pushbacks, the standards were set to be released in January 2018. The EPA says it will release a draft version of the standards in August, which will be finalized in February 2020.

Lead contamination came into the national spotlight after the EPA learned of dangerously high levels of lead in the water in Flint, Mich., in 2014.

An EPA representative told Bloomberg Environment that the agency awarded a $100 million grant to Michigan’s environment department in March 2017 to fund drinking water infrastructure projects in Flint.

Separately, the agency awarded $25 million through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which resulted in $2 billion in infrastructure construction, the representative said.

The White House also tried to overturn the 2015 Clean Water Rule, also known as Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS. with an executive order in February 2017. As a result of the order, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which co-wrote the rule, started a two-step process to rescind and rewrite the rule. The agencies plan to issue a rule rescinding the 2015 rule by April and have a replacement rule by June 2019.

‘Clean Air’

The EPA plans by April 30 to complete its final assessment of which counties violate ozone air pollution standards. States have been waiting for this crucial piece of information, because without it, they can’t begin to make certain plans to address ozone pollution.

In line with proposals to eliminate regulation, the EPA withdrew the “once in, always in” policy under the Clean Air Act Jan. 25. The administration said the removal of the policy, which prevents facilities from removing pollutant control devices after emissions fall below a certain threshold, will encourage companies to reduce pollution voluntarily.

The EPA also published a rule Jan. 29 that eliminates air pollution monitoring requirements on waste containers. The agency says the move will save waste storage and processing facilities $28 million.

‘Crumbling Infrastructure’ Investments

The administration has yet to release a long-awaited infrastructure plan. Trump promised in the February speech to replace the country’s “crumbling infrastructure” with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways with a $1 trillion investment financed through public and private capital.

Trump is expected to speak about the plan in the State of the Union address and release details to Congress “one to two weeks” later, DJ Gribbin, a special assistant to Trump for infrastructure policy, said Jan. 25 at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.

The plan will not contain specifics about funding for the infrastructure projects, Gribbin said. The task will be left to Congress.

A leaked excerpt from the proposal contained provisions that would change the way the EPA issues loans and grants for water infrastructure.