Trump’s Far-Reaching Rollbacks of Environmental Rules

On October 21, 2016, a chemical release occurred at the MGPI Processing plant in Atchison, Kansas. MGPI Processing produces distilled spirits and specialty wheat proteins and starches. (Photo courtesy U.S,. Chemical Safety Board)


NEW YORK, New York, February 3, 2020 (ENS) – New York State Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of 15 state attorneys general and the City of Philadelphia, is suing the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for gutting safeguards for those exposed to dangerous chemical accidents.

The coalition is challenging the Trump EPA’s rollback of Obama-era amendments to its Risk Management Program, RMP, regulations, referred to as the Chemical Disaster Rule. This rule made critical improvements to the RMP to better safeguard against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at facilities that store and use toxic chemicals.

“More than nine million New Yorkers live, work, and play in the shadow of facilities that store and use toxic chemicals,” said AG James. “The Trump EPA is gutting critical safeguards against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at these facilities, putting New Yorkers in harm’s way. I am taking this fight to the courts because every New Yorker deserves to live in a safe and healthy environment.”

On October 21, 2016, a chemical release occurred at the MGPI Processing plant in Atchison, Kansas. MGPI Processing produces distilled spirits and specialty wheat proteins and starches. (Photo courtesy U.S. Chemical Safety Board)

The Trump Administration’s EPA finalized a rule that rolls back critical elements of the Chemical Disaster Rule in December 2019, which eliminated safeguards in accident prevention programs designed to protect communities and prevent future accidents.

These changes included the elimination of independent audits conducted by third-parties and “root cause” analyses following accidents, as well as analyses of safer technology and alternatives that could prevent or lessen harms from accidents.

The EPA also cut back on training requirements and requiring facilities to share information with first responders and nearby communities on hazardous chemicals used on site.

In August 2018, a coalition of 12 attorneys general, led by the New York Attorney General’s Office, submitted extensive comments on the EPA’s proposed rollback of the Chemical Disaster Rule, arguing that the proposal, if adopted, would be “arbitrary and capricious” and “inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.”

The coalition urged the EPA to heed the warning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the agency’s single-minded focus on industry costs of complying with the rule made a “mockery” out of the Clean Air Act.

The Chemical Disaster Rule was delayed for one year, 191 days. During that time, at least 73 publicly known incidents occurred across the country, according to the public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice.

On November 21, 2019, the EPA unveiled a final rule that rescinds prevention measures permanently and weakens emergency response coordination and community information requirements. Earthjustice will fight this attack on safety.

Toxic chemical plants continue to have the potential for accidents that pose a serious danger to the public. In fact, since the attorneys general submitted supplemental comments on the proposed rule last summer, accidents at facilities regulated under the RMP have occurred across the country, causing deaths, injuries, and evacuations.

Last November, for instance, the massive explosions at the TPC Group chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas released toxic plumes of butadiene and other carcinogens into the air, injured at least eight people, and required the evacuation of over 60,000 residents from surrounding communities.

According to publicly available data, 169 facilities covered by RMP regulations are located in New York state. The available data shows that more than 9.1 million people live within the “vulnerability zone” of RMP facilities in New York; vulnerability zones are the maximum possible area where a worst-case release of chemicals could harm people.

A 2014 report by the Center for Effective Government entitled “Kids in Danger Zones” found that New York had the fifth-largest number of schools (2,210) and number of students (1,027,864 – 33 percent of all students) located in vulnerability zones.

The coalition’s petition for review was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Joining Attorney General James in the suit are the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the City of Philadelphia.

The Chemical Disaster Rule is just one of nearly 100 environmental regulations that the Trump Administration has undermined since it assumed control in January 2017.

In a report on December 21, 2019, “The New York Times” summarized its analysis based on research from Harvard Law School’s Environmental Regulation Rollback Tracker; Columbia Law School’s Climate Deregulation Tracker; the Brookings Institution; the Federal Register; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Interior Department; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and the White House. In total 95 environmental rules have either been officially reversed or a rollback is still in progress.

Ten environmental rules were rolled back by the Trump administration and then later reinstated, often following legal challenges. Other regulations remain before various courts.

The Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks will increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to thousands of premature deaths from poor air quality every year, finds a report by New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. The non-partisan State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at NYU Law supports state attorneys general in defending and promoting clean energy, climate and environmental laws and policies.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has engaged in a concerted, across-the-board attempt to weaken many of our nation’s bedrock health, safety and environmental laws. Unless stopped, these efforts will have profound consequences, the NYU Law School report finds:

* – The adverse impacts of climate change, including severe property damage and loss of life, will accelerate;
* – Our air and water quality will decline, hitting the most vulnerable Americans especially hard;
* – Oil and gas and other private, extractive industrial activities will be prioritized over
conservation, recreation, and wildlife uses of our public lands and offshore ocean resources;
* – Our communities will be exposed to dangerous chemicals and major industrial disasters.

State attorneys general have created an effective defensive shield that, to date, has blunted the worst of the administration’s anti-environmental agenda. Out of 28 environmental cases tracked by the NYU Institute for Policy Integrity, for example, the administration has won only once.

“But the most significant battles are now getting underway,” says NYU Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. “More danger lies ahead; the fight is far from over.”

To assist interested parties in keeping track of the important work of attorneys general on clean energy, climate and environmental matters, this report announces the launch of a searchable “Attorney General Actions” database that will enable users to more easily access and review the 300 significant regulatory and legal actions undertaken by attorneys general.

Here is a list of the Trump rollbacks of existing environmental regulations. All rollbacks were accomplished through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unless otherwise indicated.


1. Canceled a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions.

2. Revised and partly repealed an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions on public lands, including venting and flaring from drilling operations. – Interior Department

3. Replaced the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have set strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants, with a new version that letS states set their own rules. – Executive Order and EPA

4. Revoked California’s power to set its own more stringent emissions standards for cars and light trucks that was based on the state’ historic struggles with air pollution.

5. Repealed a requirement that state and regional authorities track tailpipe emissions from vehicles traveling on federal highways. – Transportation Department

6. Loosened a Clinton-era rule designed to limit toxic emissions from major industrial polluters.

7. Revised a permiting program designed to safeguard communities from increases in pollution from new power plants to make it easier for facilities to avoid emissions regulations.

8. Amended rules that govern how refineries monitor pollution in surrounding communities.

9. Stopped enforcing a 2015 rule that prohibited the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which are powerful greenhouse gases, in air-conditioners and refrigerators.

10. Weakened an Obama-era rule meant to reduce air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas.

11. Weakened oversight of some state plans for reducing air pollution in national parks.

12. Directed agencies to stop using an Obama-era calculation of the “social cost of carbon” that rulemakers used to estimate the long-term economic benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. – Executive Order

13. Withdrew guidance that federal agencies include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. But several district courts have ruled that emissions must be included in such reviews. – Executive Order; Council on Environmental Quality

14. Lifted a summertime ban on the use of E15, a gasoline blend made of 15 percent ethanol. Burning gasoline with a higher concentration of ethanol in hot conditions increases smog.

15. Changed rules to allow states and the EPA to take longer to develop and approve plans aimed at cutting methane emissions from existing landfills.

16. Revoked an Obama executive order that set a goal of cutting the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over 10 years. – Executive Order


17. Proposed relaxing Obama-era requirements that companies monitor and repair methane leaks at oil and gas facilities.

methane blowout
Using satellite data, scientists have confirmed that a 2018 blowout turned a natural gas well in eastern Ohio into a “super-emitter,” leaking more methane in 20 days than all but three European nations emit over an entire year. (Photo courtesy Ohio State Highway Patrol)

18. Proposed weakening Obama-era fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. and Transportation Department

19. Submitted notice of intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. The process of withdrawing cannot be completed until November 2020. – Executive Order

20. Proposed eliminating Obama-era restrictions that in effect required newly built coal power plants to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

21. Proposed a legal justification for weakening an Obama-era rule that limited mercury emissions from coal power plants.

22. Proposed revisions to standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new, modified and reconstructed power plants. – Executive Order; EPA

23. Began a review of emissions rules for power plant start-ups, shutdowns and malfunctions. In April, the EPA proposed reversing a requirement that Texas follow the emissions rule, with implications for 35 other states.

24. Proposed the repeal of rules meant to reduce leaking and venting of hydrofluorocarbons from large refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

25. Opened for comment a proposal limiting the ability of individuals and communities to challenge EPA-issued pollution permits before a panel of agency judges. – EPA


26. Made cuts to the borders of two national monuments in Utah and recommended border and resource management changes to several more. – Presidential Proclamation; Interior Department

27. Rescinded water pollution regulations for fracking on federal and Indian lands. – Interior Department

28. Scrapped a proposed rule that required mines to prove they could pay to clean up future pollution.

29. Withdrew a requirement that Gulf oil rig owners prove they could cover the costs of removing rigs once they have stopped producing. – Interior Department

30. Approved construction of the Dakota Access pipeline less than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Under the Obama administration, the Army Corps of Engineers had said it would explore alternative routes. – Executive Order; Army

31. Revoked an Obama-era executive order designed to preserve ocean, coastal and Great Lakes waters in favor of a policy focused on energy production and economic growth. – Executive Order

32. Changed how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission considers the indirect effects of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews of pipelines. – Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

33. Permitted the use of seismic air guns for gas and oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. The practice, which can kill marine life and disrupt fisheries, was blocked under the Obama administration. – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

34. Lifted ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. – Congress; Interior Department

35. Loosened offshore drilling safety regulations implemented by the Obama administration following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, including reduced testing requirements for blowout prevention systems. – Interior Department


36. Proposed opening most of America’s coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, but delayed the plan after a federal judge ruled that Trump’s reversal of an Obama-era ban on drilling in the Arctic Ocean was unlawful. – Interior Department

37. Lifted an Obama-era freeze on new coal leases on public lands. But, in April 2019, a judge ruled that the Interior Department could not begin selling new leases without completing an environmental review. A month later, the agency published a draft assessment that concluded restarting federal coal leasing would have little environmental impact. – Executive Order; Interior Department

38. Repealed an Obama-era rule governing royalties for oil, gas and coal leases on federal lands, which replaced a 1980s rule that critics said allowed companies to underpay the federal government. A federal judge struck down the Trump administration’s repeal. The Interior Department is reviewing the decision.

39. Proposed revising regulations on offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels in the Arctic that were developed after a 2013 accident. The Interior Department previously said it was “considering full rescission or revision of this rule.” – Executive Order; Interior Department

40. Proposed “streamlining” the approval process for drilling for oil and gas in national forests. – Agriculture Department; Interior Department

41. Recommended shrinking three marine protected areas, or opening them to commercial fishing. – Executive Order; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

42. Proposed opening land in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve for oil and leasing. The Obama administration had designated the reserve as a conservation area. – Interior Department

43. Proposed lifting a Clinton-era policy that banned logging and road construction in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. – Interior Department

44. Approved the Keystone XL pipeline rejected by President Barack Obama, but a federal judge blocked the project from going forward without an adequate environmental review process. Trump later attempted to side-step the ruling by issuing a presidential permit, but the project remains before the court. – Executive Order; State Department


45. Revoked Obama-era flood standards for federal infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges. The standards required the government to account for sea-level rise and other climate change effects. – Executive Order

46. Relaxed the environmental review process for federal infrastructure projects. – Executive Order

47. Revoked a directive for federal agencies to minimize impacts on water, wildlife, land and other natural resources when approving development projects. – Executive Order

48. Revoked an Obama executive order promoting “climate resilience” in the northern Bering Sea region of Alaska, which withdrew local waters from oil and gas leasing and established a tribal advisory council to consult on local environmental issues. – Executive Order

49. Reversed an update to the Bureau of Land Management’s public land use planning process. – Congress

50. Withdrew an Obama-era order to consider climate change in managing natural resources in national parks. – National Park Service

51. Restricted most Interior Department environmental studies to one year in length and a maximum of 150 pages, citing a need to reduce paperwork. – Interior Department

52. Withdrew a number of Obama-era Interior Department climate change and conservation policies that the agency said could “burden the development or utilization of domestically produced energy resources.”

53. Eliminated the use of an Obama-era planning system designed to minimize harm from oil and gas activity on sensitive landscapes, such as national parks. – Interior Department

54. Eased the environmental review processes for small wireless infrastructure projects with the goal of expanding 5G wireless networks. – Federal Communications Commission

55. Withdrew Obama-era policies designed to maintain or, ideally improve, natural resources affected by federal projects. – Interior Department


56. Proposed plans to streamline the environmental review process for Forest Service projects. – Agriculture Department


57. Changed the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, making it more difficult to protect wildlife from long-term threats posed by climate change. – Interior Department

58. Overturned a ban on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on federal lands. – Interior Department

59. Overturned a ban on the hunting of predators in Alaskan wildlife refuges. – Congress

60. Amended fishing regulations for a number of species to allow for longer seasons and higher catch rates. – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

61. Withdrew proposed limits on the number of endangered marine mammals and sea turtles that can be unintentionally killed or injured with sword-fishing nets by people who fish on the West Coast. In 2018, California issued a state rule prohibiting the use of the nets the rule was intending to regulate. – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

62. Rolled back a roughly 40-year-old interpretation of a policy aimed at protecting migratory birds, potentially violating treaties with Canada and Mexico. – Interior Department

63. Overturned a ban on using parts of migratory birds in handicrafts made by Alaskan Natives. – Interior Department


64. Opened nine million acres of Western land to oil and gas drilling by weakening habitat protections for the sage grouse, an imperiled bird with an elaborate mating dance. An Idaho District Court injunction blocked the measure. – Interior Department

65. Proposed ending an Obama-era rule that barred using bait to lure and kill grizzly bears, among other sport hunting practices that many people consider extreme, on some public lands in Alaska. – National Park Service; Interior Department

66. Proposed relaxing environmental protections for salmon and smelt in California’s Central Valley in order to free up water for farmers. – Executive Order; Interior Department


67. Rejected a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to developmental disabilities in children.

68. Narrowed the scope of a 2016 law requiring safety assessments for potentially toxic chemicals. The EPA said it would focus on direct exposure and exclude indirect exposure such as from air or water contamination. In November, a court of appeals ruled the agency must widen its scope to consider full exposure risks.

69. Reversed an Obama-era rule that required braking system upgrades for “high hazard” trains hauling flammable liquids, like oil and ethanol. – Transportation Department

70. Removed copper filter cake, an electronics manufacturing byproduct comprised of heavy metals, from the “hazardous waste” list.

71. Ended an Occupational Safety and Health Administration program to reduce risks of workers developing the lung disease silicosis. – Labor Department


72. Proposed changing safety rules to allow for rail transport of liquefied natural gas, which is highly flammable. – Transportation Department

73. Rolled back most of the requirements of a 2017 rule aimed at improving safety at sites that use hazardous chemicals that was instituted after a chemical plant exploded in Texas.

74. Announced a review of an Obama-era rule lowering coal dust limits in mines. The head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration said there were no immediate plans to change the dust limit but has extended an public comment period until 2022. – Labor Department


75. Scaled back pollution protections for certain tributaries and wetlands that were regulated under the Clean Water Act by the Obama administration. – Army

76. Revoked a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams. – Congress

77. Withdrew a proposed rule aimed at reducing pollutants, including air pollution, at sewage treatment plants.

78. Withdrew a proposed rule requiring groundwater protections for certain uranium mines.


79. Proposed a rule exempting certain types of power plants from parts of an EPA rule limiting toxic discharge from power plants into public waterways.

80. Proposed allowing the EPA to issue permits for federal projects under the Clean Water Act over state objections if they don’t meet local water quality goals, including for pipelines and other fossil fuel facilities. – Executive Order and EPA

81. Proposed extending the lifespan of unlined coal ash holding areas, which can spill their contents because they lack a protective underlay.

82. Proposed a regulation limiting the scope of an Obama-era rule under which companies had to prove that large deposits of recycled coal ash would not harm the environment.

83. Proposed a new rule allowing the federal government to issue permits for coal ash waste in Indian Country and some states without review if the disposal site is in compliance with federal regulations.

84. Proposed doubling the time allowed to remove lead pipes from water systems with high levels of lead.


85. Repealed an Obama-era regulation that would have nearly doubled the number of light bulbs subject to energy-efficiency standards starting in January 2020. The EPA also blocked the next phase of efficiency standards for general-purpose bulbs already subject to regulation. – Energy Department

86. Allowed coastal replenishment projects to use sand from protected beaches. – Interior Department

87. Limited funding environmental and community development projects through corporate settlements of federal lawsuits. – Justice Department

88. Announced intent to stop payments to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help poorer countries reduce carbon emissions. – Executive Order

89. Reversed restrictions on the sale of plastic water bottles in national parks desgined to cut down on litter, despite a Park Service report that the effort worked. – Interior Department


90. Ordered a review of water efficiency standards in bathroom fixtures, including toilets.

91. Proposed limiting the studies used by the EPA for rulemaking to only those that make data publicly available. Scientists said it would block the agency from considering landmark research that relies on confidential health data.

92. Proposed changes to the way cost-benefit analyses are conducted under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental statutes.

93. Proposed withdrawing efficiency standards for residential furnaces and commercial water heaters designed to reduce energy use. – Energy Department

94. Created a product category that would allow some dishwashers to be exempt from energy efficiency standards. – Energy Department

95. Initially withdrew then delayed a proposed rule that would inform car owners about fuel-efficient replacement tires. The Transportation Department has scheduled a new rulemaking notice for 2020.


1. Weakened federal rules regulating the disposal and storage of coal ash waste from power plants. A court later ruled the administration was attempting to weaken rules that were not stringent enough.

2. Reversed course on repealing emissions standards for “glider” trucks — vehicles retrofitted with older, often dirtier engines — after Andrew Wheeler took over as head of the EPA

3. Delayed a compliance deadline for new national ozone pollution standards by one year, but later reversed course.

4. Suspended an effort to lift restrictions on mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. But the Army Corps of Engineers is performing an environmental review of an application for mining in the area. – Army

5. Delayed implementation of a rule regulating the certification and training of pesticide applicators, but a judge ruled that the EPA had done so illegally and declared the rule still in effect.

6. Initially delayed publishing efficiency standards for household appliances, but later published them after multiple states and environmental groups sued. – Energy Department

7. Delayed federal building efficiency standards until September 30, 2017, at which time the rules went into effect. – Energy Department

8. Reissued a rule limiting the discharge of mercury by dental offices into municipal sewers after a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit advocacy group.

9. Re-posted a proposed rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, after initially changing its status to “inactive” on the EPA website. In May 2019, the agency confimed it would issue the rule.

10. Removed the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the Endangered Species List, but the protections were later reinstated by a federal judge. The Trump administration appealed the ruling in May 2019. – Interior Department

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2020. All rights reserved.


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