By Molly Moore
The Trump administration and 115th Congress quickly began rolling back pro-environment policies. By press time Feb. 2, two weeks into the Trump presidency, executive orders and actions in Congress were already changing the ground rules for environmental protections.
Trump signed 19 presidential directives in his first 10 days, according to USA Today, including an order that requires two regulations be repealed for every new regulation an agency issues.
President Trump also issued orders to revive the Keystone XL Pipeline, fast-track approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and expedite environmental review and approval for high-priority infrastructure projects. The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is ranked No. 20 on Trump’s list.
In an interview with the Guardian, EPA transition leader and climate change denier Myron Ebell described the president’s plans to review or withdraw climate change education material and reconsider automobile fuel efficiency standards.
He also referenced the president’s campaign statement to abolish or “leave a little bit” of the environmental agency. “It is a goal he has and sometimes it takes a long time to achieve goals,” Ebell told the Guardian. “You can’t abolish the EPA by waving a magic wand.”
Many of Trump’s cabinet nominees were criticized by conservation organizations — perhaps none more than Scott Pruitt, who was nominated to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, opposing federal ozone and mercury limits among other programs. During his confirmation hearing, he did not say whether he would recuse himself from involvement in those cases and he voiced doubts about the scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change. William K. Reilly, a Republican who once headed the EPA, said Pruitt “cannot effectively lead the agency.”
Other cabinet nominees skeptical of climate science include Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for energy secretary, and Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general. Ryan Zinke, nominated to lead the Dept. of the Interior, acknowledged that climate change is real but hedged on the role that humans play and expressed favor for continued fossil fuel development on public lands.
Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor with ties to Appalachia, was nominated for secretary of commerce. He was president of International Coal Group during the 2006 Sago Mine disaster, which killed 12 workers, and during the time that roughly 14,000 Clean Water Act violations occurred at the company.
At press time, the full Senate had not voted on confirmation for these men, but Rex Tillerson, who served as CEO of Exxon-Mobil until his nomination, was confirmed as secretary of state.
In response to the administration’s actions, anonymous former and current employees at numerous federal agencies such as national parks, NASA and the EPA created alternative Twitter accounts, not funded by taxpayer dollars, to share environmental news.
Public resistance against a move to sell federal lands also saw some success. In January, House Republicans enacted a rule change that encourages transferring federal land to states. But a House bill that would have sold 3.3 million acres of public lands was withdrawn on Feb. 1 after widespread opposition from hunters, anglers and the conservation community.
Protecting the Central and Southern Appalachian Mountain Region