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Trump Signs Executive Order Targeting EPA’s Climate Change Policies

On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately take steps to withdraw and revise the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, remove limits on federal leasing for coal production, and lift other restrictions on domestic energy production.

While President Trump’s statement was brief on the substance of the order, EPA now faces a complicated process for repealing the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan requires significant reductions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from power plants, the largest emissions source for carbon dioxide. In 2007, the Supreme Court held that EPA can regulate carbon dioxide and other GHGs under the Clean Air Act, if EPA first determined that those emission endangered human health and the environment. EPA issued that so-called endangerment finding in 2009 for cars and vehicles, and has since expanded that to power plants and airplanes. EPA arguably now has a duty to regulate GHGs.

The Court did not direct EPA on how to regulate GHGs and that is likely where the EPA, under Administrator Pruitt, will seek to undo the Clean Power Plan, perhaps by scaling back the scope of the current regulation – the implementation of which has been stayed pending judicial review.

Administrator Pruitt needs help implementing such an aggressive agenda and we should anticipate the announcement of his Deputy Administrator, Chief of Staff, General Counsel, and Regional Administrators. Historically, these appointments have taken a relative long time to finalize. Since 1980, EPA Deputy Administrators have been nominated 104 days and confirmed 158 days after inauguration. Since 2000, Regional Administrators have been announced, on average, 335 days after inauguration. Pruitt is the former Oklahoma Attorney General, as such it is expected that he will appoint others from Oklahoma to key staff positions.

For their part, EPA staff have expressed concern with the direction of EPA under the Trump Administration. Region 5 staff protested the anticipated changes before they were announced. A small group of EPA employees were reported to have created new email addresses, acquired encrypted phones, and begun using encrypted messaging services to fight the Trump Administration's agenda while avoiding detection. Federal Workers Turn to Encryption to Thwart Trump, Politico (Feb 1, 2017). There is also a Twitter feed purportedly by “100% EPA Staff,” @RogueEPAStaff.

Donations to Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) have reached historic levels since the election and these groups are anticipated to aggressively fight the Trump EPA. This will include public relations campaigns, which has resulted in Pruitt receiving a 24 hour a day, seven days a week security detail. ENGOs will also challenge regulations and other policies advanced by the administration, as well as sue the administration if it fails to undertake regulatory action required under federal environmental statutes. Finally, and perhaps most important to industry, there will be a likely increase in citizen suit enforcement.

©2022 MICHAEL BEST & FRIEDRICH LLPNational Law Review, Volume VII, Number 87

About this Author

Todd Palmer, Michael Best Law Firm, Environment and Natural Resources Attorney
Partner, Practice Group Chair

For more than 25 years, Todd has helped numerous clients remain in compliance with all aspects of the complex and dynamic Clean Air Act regulatory program. His extensive knowledge of and experience with Clean Air Act matters includes obtaining air emission control permits, planning future activities to minimize the expense of regulation, and the defense of allegations that a company may have violated Clean Air Act requirements.

Cameron F. Field, transactional practice attorney, Michael Best, law firm

Cameron brings a broad focus to his work advocating for clients in the agribusiness, food and beverage, and energy industries. He assists clients in navigating the state and federal regulatory process and evaluating strategic business decisions. Clients rely on Cameron for well-informed counsel on water and air permitting matters, as well as on hazardous waste reporting and liability questions. 

For example, Cameron advises on risk factors involved in the purchase, sale, and cleanup of contaminated properties. Relying on his...