It Will Take Years to Undo the Damage from Trump's Environmental Rollback
3 min read
fairly difficult
Even if Democrats win back the White House and the Senate, it will be a long struggle to restore the regulations the Republican-controlled EPA has erased.
Bolstered by the pandemic's economic emergency, the EPA in March announced the agency would no longer be holding industry polluters to task for breaking pollution standards. The administration has also in some instances denied requests to extend the public comment period on pending rules, which environmentalists say has led to a decrease in public input. Critics argue it's a purposeful tactic to speed up the process.

"They're using the epidemic to say EPA doesn't have the resources in these troubled times for continuous enforcement," said Richard Frank, a professor of environmental practice at the University of California, Davis School of Law. "But the validity or truth of that is belied by the fact that while it's announced that they are shutting down most of their environment enforcement efforts, it's still moving forward on all of these eleventh-hour efforts to repeal or implement planned environmental rollbacks on natural resources and pollution controls."

Some of this damage to environmental regulations will be easier to reverse under new leadership than others. Executive orders enacted by Trump during his term would be the easiest to revert, as they can be deleted by a stroke of the next president's pen. (Wiping out the predecessor's orders is common whenever the White House changes parties.) Any regulations that are still in draft stage or need to go through a public comment period would likewise be easy to halt under a new administration, which could simply stop the process and uphold the current environmental regulations they were set to replace.

For finalized rules, like the repeal and replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, the options become murkier. The Congressional Review Act, a tool used broadly by Trump in the early days of his administration, allows Congress to overturn a regulation or federal rule within 60 days of its finalization. With that timeline, any rule completed after the end of May or early June could be axed if Democrats take control of the Senate and hold onto the House. Rules finalized prior to that date, however, would have to be…
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