Regulatory Repeal: Regulation changes could spell trouble for Teton County and Wyoming

By on February 7, 2018

Overturned regulations include those protecting the health of federal lands used for grazing, and the repeal of rule increasing public stakeholder input on their use. (PHOTO: Greg Shine, BLM)

Candidate Donald Trump in December stated one of his goals as president would be to shrink the Code of Federal Regulations — the rules established by federal executive agencies and departments — down to the size it was in 1960.

And it appears he’s well on his way to curtailing, cutting, rolling back or otherwise gutting a trove of regulations, and is delivering on his promise to launch the nation back on the path to prosperity and simpler times when rivers routinely caught fire due to industrial pollution and it was normal for corporations to dump toxic chemicals on the ground in their factory’s back yards, then sell the land to local school boards for cheap so they could construct elementary schools on them.

Many of the rules and regulations thus far targeted by the administration are aimed squarely at benefitting the carbon fuel industry, and stripping away at the Obama administration’s push for renewable energy development.

According to the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University Law School, the administration has thus far attempted to overturn or alter 88 regulations or federal rules aimed at the environment. The Emmett Clinic Policy Initiative at Harvard University’s school of law, which focuses on environmental regulation changes specifically, has identified 41 proposed regulatory rollbacks or attempts to overturn.

Many of the changes to regulations, whether proposed or actual, would likely have effects in Wyoming and the Teton County area.

In October 2017, the EPA announced that a series of rules known as the Clean Power Plan which were put forth in 2015 did, in the agency’s understanding under the Trump administration, “exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority and would be repealed.” The rules instructed states to reduce carbon dioxide production and emission at existing fossil fuel plants.

Wyoming was one of 27 states that sued the federal government to block implementation of the plan, and its demise was met gleefully by many lawmakers in the state as well as the coal energy industry. In Wyoming, the plan would have required coal-fired power plants to reduce their CO2 output from 2,300 pounds per megawatt hour generated, to 1,305 pounds per Mwh. Natural gas emissions would similarly have been curtailed from about 900-1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour to no more than 771 pounds per MWH.

Another regulatory rollback with a nexus in the Cowboy State is a Bureau of Land Management rule enacted in 2016 that would task the agency with ensuring that hydraulic fracturing operations taking place on land owned by the BLM or on Native American reservation land did not have a negative impact on drinking water.

Before the proposed rule came into effect, industry groups and Wyoming sued the BLM seeking to block its implementation. Wyoming won its case and was granted a preliminary injunction in September 2015. Litigation over the rule was still ongoing when Trump was inaugurated, and soon thereafter, the BLM informed the 10th circuit court of appeals in Denver that it was proposing to void the rule. Because of that, the court dismissed the suit as moot since the BLM signaled it would rollback the rule.

The rule was formally rescinded by the BLM in December 2017. Several states, including California, have sued the BLM for rescinding the rule.

Grazing on federal lands, long a contentious matter in the Western states, has also faced some regulatory changes since the advent of the Trump administration. Livestock grazing occurs across thousands of acres of publically-owned lands in Wyoming. But a 2016 study showed that some 30 percent of public lands licensed for grazing use were not meeting land health standards, with significant damage caused by livestock grazing.

The BLM’s permitting procedure was strengthened to better protect public lands. However, under a new rule promulgated during the first year of the Trump administration, future grazing permits would permit livestock owners much more flexibility in choosing which public lands their animals graze upon, and the degree to which they do so, weakening the BLM’s ability to protect federal lands from overgrazing or other damages associated with livestock grazing.

Far from affecting Wyoming alone, several regulatory and rule rollbacks or rescissions proposed or enacted by the administration would not only affect Wyoming and Teton County residents, but would have a broad impact across the nation.

Rules limiting the effluent discharged into rivers by power plants, including toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, chromium, and cadmium were proposed to be rolled back by Trump’s EPA after a series of lawsuits by corporations seeking to have them overturned, as well as environmental groups. Another rule enacted in 2011 limiting the amount of mercury being emitted into the air by industrial and power plants came under legal challenge by the industry. Under the Trump administration, the EPA appears to have stopped defending the case in court, with the court effectively removing the case from its docket.

Under the Trump administration, Corporate Average Fleet Efficiency Standards — rules in place since the 1970 that require car manufacturers to achieve a fleet average mileage — were rolled back. Under the Obama administration, CAFE standards were expanded to include rules about how much greenhouse gas their cars can emit. That rule fell during the first days of the Trump administration.

Most famously, however, the Trump administration recently withdrew from the Paris Agreement, a series of agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions and spur growth in renewable energy for signatory countries. Of 195 countries in the world, 194 and the European Union signed the Paris Agreement. Of those, 173 ratified the agreement. However, on August 4 of last year, the Trump administration announced its intention to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement as soon as it is legally able to do so in November 2020. PJH


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