Monday, May 15, is the final day for public comment on Trump’s February executive order calling on the EPA and other federal agencies to review their current regulations and find ways to roll them back. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the order “requires the identification of regulations for repeal based largely on the cost of the regulation, rather than whether the regulation provides a public benefit.”
In the pre-Trump era, it would’ve seemed odd to repeal EPA regulations without considering their public benefit, but with Scott Pruitt—a climate change denier and fossil fuel advocate—leading the agency, public health and environmental protections have been greatly diminished in importance, and are being replaced with an emphasis on limiting regulation and clearing the way for business.
Climate Nexus did a scan of the more than 50,000 public comments already submitted to the EPA comment forum and found “near-unanimous support for the EPA and opposition to rolling back regulations,” noting that of the 100 comments they reviewed, “only one supported the administration’s rollback efforts.”
The Executive Order, signed on February 24, states that it’s the “policy of the United States to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people,” part of which includes requiring agencies to create a Regulatory Reform Task Force to evaluate existing regulations and to identify regulations that should be repealed, replaced or modified.
My own review of the comments section echoed what Climate Nexus found. Looking through 100 or so recent comments, I saw things like:
…The rules created by the EPA have done a marvelous job of cleaning up our environment. Repealing those rules would lead us back to a polluted environment, because industry is always looking for the cheapest way to dispose of its harmful by-products….
…Do not repeal any regulations. Regulations should be stronger. There has been an increase in water and air quality issues so we need regulations more than ever. Or else people suffer - especially low income individuals...
…Presidents Nixon and Teddy Roosevelt both recognized the importance of Protecting our Natural Resources! We need government regulations and prevention of environmental damage since the private sector is unable to self-police due to investor benefits rules…
…Most regulation is only a burden when the future costs are not considered. Borrowing against the future of the only planet we have, and even the country we call home, is a cost that needs to be considered. There is so much other work to be done to improve where our energy comes from that I don't see the need to revive or subsidize outdated methods…
…There will be no jobs on a dead planet. Furthermore, the future of job creation is in innovation that allows civilization to advance in ways that do not negatively affect the planet. We should NOT be legislating AGAINST progress. Just imagine if the federal government went out of its way to protect the horse-and-carriage industry a century ago…
These comments seem directly targeted at Trump and Pruitt, who have both made numerous statements about cutting regulations to create jobs in the polluting, financially unstable coal industry. Pruitt recently said that soon coal will be competing “right alongside natural gas and other forms of generating electricity for the first time in a long time."
But the reality is that the coal industry is languishing for a number of reasons while the renewable energy sector is quickly growing—and creating lots of jobs. According to The Solar Foundation, the U.S. solar industry employed 260,077 workers last year, a nearly 25% increase in the number of jobs from 2015. In fact, recent data shows that the solar industry employs more people in U.S. electricity generation and oil, coal and gas combined. A report from the U.S. Department of Energy found that just under 374,000 people were employed in solar energy in 2016, while coal, gas and oil power generation combined had a workforce of slightly more than 187,000.
Instead of paying attention to these trends, Trump and Pruitt are fixated on undoing Obama’s climate legacy, which includes the Paris Agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and the Clean Power Plan to limit domestic emissions from power plants. Trump signed another executive order directing the EPA to start revoking and rewriting the Clean Power Plan, a lengthy process that could take years. He signed the order surrounded by coal industry workers, who he told will soon be back to work thanks to the stroke of his pen (before gifting the pen to one of them).
Pruitt has cast his anti-regulation crusade as a "back-to-basics" campaign to refocus the "EPA on its intended mission, returning power to the states, and creating an environment where jobs can grow."
Many have criticized Pruitt for misinterpreting the role of the Environmental Protection Agency as being a job-creator rather than prioritizing environmental protections.