Major U.S. Congressional Actions in 2018 – Environmental Regulation
America’s Water Infrastructure Act
- Bipartisan legislation to reauthorize funding for water infrastructure programs as well as funding for new projects.
- Authorizes $4.4 billion for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s safe drinking water initiatives.
- Authorizes $6.1 billion for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers harbor, port, and waterway projects.
- Funds must still be appropriated by Congress.
Status: Signed into law on 10/23/18
- Though President Trump had asked for major spending cuts, the FY2019 appropriations bill passed both chambers of Congress with little changes to Obama-era levels.
- One provision addresses the water of the United States and explicitly removes several waterways from protection by the Clean Water Act.
- FY2019 appropriations have been stalled, but a continuing resolution has continued funding at 2018 levels.
Status: Resolving differences, Continuing Resolution expires 12/21/18
Ethics Oversight Hearings
- Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testified at a series of congressional hearings related to his use of federal funds for travel and security.
- Pruitt remained adamant that his spending was due to increased security needs due to his de-regulatory agenda.
Status: Pruitt resigned in June
Source: National Journal Research, 2018
Trump Administration 2018 Environmental Regulation Recap
Endangered Species Act (ESA)
- The Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Commerce released a proposal in July to change the protections for species distinguished as ‘threatened’ under the ESA.
- The agencies also requested that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration remove language that places protection of endangered and threatened species over economic impacts.
Public Land Leases
- In late 2017, DOI announced its intention to shrink several national monuments and public lands in order to open sections for gas and oil exploration.
- Leasing started in August 2018 in some areas, while others are currently in public comment periods.
Vehicle Emission Standards
- In spring 2018, the EPA released a plan to ease the vehicle emissions standards for cars and lightweight trucks.
- Several states, foremost California, sued the EPA following the action.
- The plan would decrease Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that planned to double fuel efficiency by 2025.
“We are delivering on President Trump’s promise to the American public that his administration would address and fix the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards.” — EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler
Source: National Journal Research, 2018
Potential 2019 Environmental Regulation Agenda Items for Congress
H.R. 4426, “Sustainable Energy Development Reform Act”
- Co-sponsored by incoming House of Representatives Natural Resources chairman Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ).
- Seeks to reform leasing of public lands for energy extraction, promote the development of renewable energy on public lands, prepare for the impacts of climate change, and protect “special places.”
Climate Change and National Security
- The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law on December 17, 2017, included recognition of climate change as a threat to national security, distinguishing 128 military bases that are vulnerable to sea level rise.
- New members of the 116th Congress have pressured leadership to reinstate a House Select Committee on Global Warming, which was dismantled in 2010.
Increased Oversight of the EPA and DOI Ethics
- Both former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and former DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned this year amid ethics scandals.
- Potential EPA Investigations:
- Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) implementation
- Fuel efficiency standards
- Waters of the United States (WOTUS) definition
- Potential DOI Investigations:
- Public lands leasing
- Offshore drilling
- ESA implementation (sage grouse)
“This is no kind of victory, but I’m hopeful that it is a genuine turning of the page. Secretary Zinke’s successor has a chance to move on from an unfortunate Trump administration record of environmental mismanagement and decline.” — Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee
Potential 2019 Trump Administration Environmental Regulation Agenda Items
Finalization of Proposed Deregulation
- Many rules proposed by the EPA in President Trump’s first two years in office have faced legal challenges.
- Pending legal disputes with democratic states, the administration could enact final rules.
Continued Push to Revive Coal Industry
- The president has proposed several items over the past two years to revive the coal industry, including the 90-day store rule and the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.
- As the 2020 election approaches, the president is likely to refocus on fossil fuel production including coal mining.
Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) Fossil Fuel Recovery
- Pursuant to provisions in the 2017 tax reform package, parts of ANWR are now available for oil extraction.
- The DOI has begun processing permits and seismic testing is expected to begin this winter.
“As to whether or not [climate change] is man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it.” — President Trump in response to the Fourth Annual Climate Report released by his administration
Source: National Journal 2018
How the Government Shutdown Impacted Energy and Environment Operations
Services were curtailed as staff was furloughed at EPA and DOI, while DOE remained unaffected.
Environmental Protection Agency
- The EPA used carryover funding from 2018 until December 28, when it shut down.
- Environmental testing, inspections, and the pursuit of criminal polluters were limited.
- Superfund cleanups halted, except for sites where there is an imminent threat to safety.
- On February 28, 2019, over a month after the government was reopened, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as the fifteenth Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Department of the Interior
- The DOI shut down on December 22.
- The most visible impact was in national parks, many of which remained open but unstaffed.
- More than half of the Bureau of Indian Affairs staff were furloughed; at least some services, such as law enforcement or road maintenance, were affected.
- The shutdown impaired the release of a plan for offshore oil and gas leasing sales.
- However, the Bureau of Land Management continued their work on permitting mining and drilling.
Department of Energy
- The DOE continued operations as usual, due to a budget package passed in September 2018.
- The DOE was already funded for the fiscal year.
- In 2018, discretionary spending for federal agencies was not passed in an omnibus package as it has been in the past but in several minibus bills.
- Many congressional appropriations bills were passed on time, including the DOE’s.
Sources: Gavin Bade, “Energy agencies roll through shutdown while EPA, Interior stalled,” Utility Dive, Jan. 7, 2019; Oliver Milman, “’It’s a nightmare’: Americans’ health at risk as shutdown slashes EPA,” The Guardian, Jan. 9, 2019; Denise Lu and Anjali Singhvi, “See How the Effects of the Government Shutdown Are Piling Up,” The New York Times, Jan. 10, 2019; Glenn Thrush and Mitchell Ferman, “From Parks to Airports, How a Shutdown Would Affect Federal Agencies,” The New York Times, Dec. 21, 2018; Mitch Smith and Julie Turkewitz, “Shutdown Leaves Food, Medicine and Pay in Doubt in Indian Country,” The New York Times, Jan. 1, 2019; Elizabeth Harball, “Despite shutdown, Trump administration continues work to begin oil drilling in ANWR,” KTOO Public Media, Jan. 4, 2019; Ellie Kaufman, “Government shutdown: By the numbers,” CNN Politics, Jan. 3, 2019.
95% of EPA Employees Were Furloughed
Sources: Darla Cameron, Lisa Rein, “Who gets sent home if the government shuts down,” Washington Post, January 18, 2018; Ellie Kaufman, “Government Shutdown: By the Numbers,” CNN, Jan. 3, 2019; Denise Lu and Anjali Singhvi, “See How the Effects of the Government Shutdown Are Piling Up,” The New York Times, Jan. 10, 2019; Timothy Cama, “Energy Department will initially stay open in shutdown,” The Hill, Jan. 19, 2018; Jared Serbu, “How ‘partial’ is the government shutdown? It depends a lot on the agency,” Federal News Network, Dec. 27, 2018; , “Shutdown Leaves Food, Medicine and Pay in Doubt in Indian Country,” The New York Times, Jan. 1, 2019; Wes Siler, “Interior Remains Open for Business – for Oil Companies,” Outside Magazine, Jan. 8, 2019; “Government Shutdown: By the Numbers,” September 30, 2013.
Visitors Could Still Access Many National Parks, but the Lack of Resources Created Problems
Hazardous, unsanitary conditions threatened visitor safety and National Park Service finances.
Sources: Emily Douce and John Garder, “How Is the Partial Government Shutdown Affecting National Parks?” National Parks Conservation Association, Jan. 10, 2019; DOI.gov, “National Park Service Contingency Plan,” Department of the Interior, Jan. 2019; Sandra E. Garcia, “’It Belongs to All of Us’: Volunteers Help Clean Up National Parks in Shutdown,” The New York Times, Jan. 8, 2019; P. Daniel Smiths, “Statement on Protecting National Parks while Providing the American People Continued Access during the Lapse of Appropriations,” National Park Service, Jan. 6, 2018; “Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin, “Three dead in national park system accidents as shutdown wear on,” The Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2019.