Trump Weakens Federal Authority on Clean Air Regulations

by Anshul Dash

Recently, the Trump Administration signed executive orders waiving many environmental regulations. One of the regulations waived was federal authority on clean air regulations. The EPA proposed a new rule that changes the way the agency conducts analyses to impose Clean Air Act regulations. This new rule has been favored by the Trump Administration, and this new rule will effectively limit the strength of air pollution control.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has stated that changing the way the federal government views public health benefits will allow the agency to come up with better justifications for weakening clean air and climate change regulations. The agency plans to justify their actions using economic arguments that stem from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plunging economy is adding stress to the regulations that need to be done by the EPA, and so to relieve that stress, the agency has decided to loosen regulation on clean air in order to not take in too much of the impacts from the changing economy.

The Trump administration plans to waive parts of the National Environmental Policy Act using “emergency authorities” in order to invest more in infrastructure projects such as construction of highways and pipelines. However, these plans have been questioned by lawyers and environmental activists, who believe that these projects are being rushed by the Trump administration. According to them, the Administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to speed up these projects, which have been developing at a slow pace before the pandemic hit.

To put things into perspective, during the Obama administration, the EPA drafted a rule toe limit toxic mercury pollution from power plants. The agency also estimated that imposing this rule would cost the electrical utility industry $9.6 billion annually. However, an initial analysis report claims that reducing mercury emissions would save only $6 million to be used for healthcare. To justify this imbalance, The Obama administration discovered that through the side effects of reducing mercury (reduction of soot and nitrogen oxide), there would be an additional $80 billion in health “co-benefits.” However, last month, the Trump administration decided to waive the mercury rule imposed during the Obama administration, thus getting rid of the discounts.

Andrew Wheeler has recently proposed extending the mercury rule through reducing the emphasis on co-benefits. He is expected to propose something similar with the clean water and chemical safety regulations. Mr. Wheeler has also stated that the EPA would continue to calculate the economic value of these co-benefits, but would no longer use these calculations when defending other rules. This means that previous rules such as the Obama-era mercury rule will no longer be defensible.

Through the recent actions taken by the Trump administration, many of the previous rules imposed by other presidents are facing a rollback. This can deeply affect the environment and can result in more pollution. The Trump administrations differs from other administrations in that it weakens federal authority and control while other administrations have done the opposite. Without proper regulation, power plants will not be kept in place and many pollutants can be released as a result.