OPINION: Trump Relaxes Environmental Regulations As Congress Fiddles


H. Sterling Burnett Heartland Institute
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As the federal government spends like a drunken sailor, Congress fiddled at the end of December 2018, yet again failing to pass several bills to keep the government open.

Unlike Congress, President Trump did his job by keeping his promise to roll back unnecessary regulations that hamper U.S. competitiveness and job creation. During the final months of 2018, the Trump administration replaced a number of the Obama administration’s onerous and expensive regulatory policies.

In December, the Trump administration scrapped the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which attempted to impose de factofederal zoning across the nation.

For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers have used an overly broad interpretation of what counts as navigable waters of the United States to severely regulate property use for citizens and states.

Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has overruled this blatant agency overreach by restricting the interpretation of navigable waters in two prominent cases. In response, the Obama administration attempted to jettison the idea of “navigability” entirely and give EPA authority to regulate ephemeral streams, isolated ponds, and lands soggy for part of the year.

Conservatives have critiqued the federal government’s regulatory overreach on wetlands for years, arguing the federal government has illegitimately and illegally expanded its jurisdiction over private property under the guise of protecting wetlands. The campaign to fight federal agency overreach has been successful. For instance, the Obama administration’s rule was stayed by federal courts when Trump took office.

In December 2018, the Trump administration announced it was of revising WOTUS to protect property rights and appropriate state authority over intrastate waters entirely within their borders, focusing federal efforts instead on truly navigable or directly connected waters.

The Trump administration also revised new source review standards to implement the Clean Air Act, making it easier for industrial facilities and fossil fuel plants to upgrade equipment and improve operating efficiency without triggering costly environmental reviews and permitting procedures. Additionally, the Trump administration rescinded policies imposed by the Obama administration requiring new coal-fired power plants to use “not ready for prime time” carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies in order to gain regulatory approval.

And in late December, the Trump administration announced the repeal of exceedingly stringent limits on mercury emissions from power plants enacted by the Obama administration that went well beyond what the science showed was necessary to protect human health. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded the high cost of the Obama administration’s new mercury standards were not justified by its negligible benefits, ruling it should be reconsidered and revised.

“EPA strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants,” Justice Antonin Scalia, who authored the majority opinion, wrote. “It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars of economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits. Statutory context supports this reading.”

As was his predilection, Obama ignored the court and enforced the regulations anyway.

After a review ordered by Trump, EPA confirmed the Obama-era mercury rule would produce only a few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits and was not “appropriate and necessary” — the legal standard for regulation under the 1970 revisions to the Clean Air Act. Accordingly, the Trump administration announced it was seeking public comments during a 60-day public-review period on whether “we would be obligated to rescind” the Obama administration’s standard for mercury emissions.

Although the mainstream media, parroting environmental activist groups’ talking points, portrayed Trump’s action as a threat children’s health, it was nothing more than Trump following the law and the Supreme Court’s ruling.

As a candidate, Trump promised to roll back unnecessary regulations that hamper the U.S. economy. Conservatives encouraged Trump in this pursuit and played a pivotal role by providing research showing how fossil fuels and respect for private property in general, are vital to continued economic progress and individual freedom.

Trump’s decision to revise WOTUS and parts of the source review rule, his proposal to reconsider the mercury emissions standards, and the decision to allow coal power plants to be approved without requiring them to install unproven carbon capture and storage technologies, are economically, legally, and scientifically sound.

Those are the inconvenient truths the mainstream media seems content to ignore in its continued assault on the democratic choice Americans made when they elected Trump in 2016.

Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a senior fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.