Perhaps no other federal agency under President Obama’s tenure better exemplifies the willingness of the outgoing administration’s efforts to implement a sweeping agenda through regulatory action than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Facing either a partially or fully Republican Congress for most of his term, President Obama consistently attempted to deliver on his progressive agenda through interpreting little-known provisions in decades old laws to implement massive regulatory schemes. However, thanks to the victory of President-Elect Donald Trump, Americans have a chance to make sure that the EPA works for them in a responsible way. 60 Plus recommends the Trump EPA make the following policy reforms:
Put a Hold on Sweeping Regulations
Among President Obama’s most ambitious and far-reaching regulatory schemes that came out of the EPA are the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule and the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The WOTUS rule dramatically expands the EPA’s and U.S. Army Corps’ jurisdiction over what is considered a “navigable waterway” to include drainage ditches and even land where runoff might occur. The WOTUS rule manages to both drastically expand the EPA’s authority and hopelessly complicate water regulations.
Similarly the Clean Power Plan attempts to take advantage of an obscure passage of an existing law, the Clean Air Act in this case, and give the EPA powers which even some progressive jurists, such as Obama supporter Lawrence Tribe, have deemed to be unconstitutional. In our amicus brief, filed as part of a multi-state lawsuit against the CPP, 60 Plus, along with five advocacy organizations, argued, among other things, that the increased rate hikes as a result of the CPP would disproportionately harm low income and minority communities. An examination of energy costs has found that households in the very lowest income quintile already spend 22% of their after-tax income on energy. Hispanics, African-Americans, and seniors make up a significant portion of that quintile, and any rate hikes would disproportionately affect these vulnerable groups.
Thankfully, both the WOTUS rule and CPP hit snags as they wound through the court system, and both plans are on hold. President-Elect Trump should either send these plans back to the drawing board or scrap them entirely.
Restore the State-Federal Relationship
As a recent letter signed by multiple state environmental leaders outlined, the past eight years has seen the traditional balance between the federal EPA and state agencies deteriorate, as the EPA has steadily tried to assert itself in matters usually handled by state agencies. According to the letter, signed by the heads of the environmental protection agencies from Alabama, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, and West Virginia, this has resulted in “wasteful duplication efforts” as well as “duplicate investigations with no benefit to the environment or the economy”. President Trump’s EPA should take steps to properly delineate the proper competencies of agencies on the state and federal level.
Increase Rule-Making Transparency
The EPA’s rule-making process has been far from fair or transparent, actively attempting to block state agencies and governments from taking part. Instead, the EPA has engaged in outreach to interest groups ideologically aligned with the presidential administration. A blatant example of this back-channeling was uncovered with the Clean Power Plan, when a high-ranking EPA official used his personal email to communicate with several environmental groups to obtain recommendations on crafting regulations. The EPA has even disregarded resistance within the federal government, as evidenced by documents obtained by a congressional committee showing that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not only had differing opinions on the WOTUS rule, but opposed it entirely. It is clear that the new administration needs to restore public confidence in the rule-making process by increasing transparency and allowing all relevant parties a seat at the table.