Since taking office, President Donald Trump has launched an all-out assault on regulations that protect the environment. In addition to retreating from the Paris climate accord, he wants to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by more than 30 percent and he has issued executive orders instructing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to roll back or bypass clean air and clean water rules.
Pruitt has enthusiastically championed these initiatives by seeking to suspend and eventually repeal many Obama-era regulations. Six states and several nonprofits are suing the EPA over its choice to backtrack on a decision to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide.
As an environmental law professor who has worked for the federal government and a leading green nonprofit group, I believe there are lessons to draw on from similar anti-environmental initiatives during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Enforce speed limits
First, environmentalists must ensure that Trump’s agencies follow proper legal procedures before suspending or revoking these regulations. Although federal agencies have considerable discretion to make regulatory changes, rules that were the product of years of careful study and deliberation cannot legally be suspended overnight.
When Reagan’s EPA announced indefinite suspensions of environmental regulations, the courts ruled in the Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Gorsuch case that it was illegal to do so without first providing notice and an opportunity for public comment. (The Gorsuch in question was then-EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch, the newest Supreme Court justice’s late mother.)
Citing this decision, a federal court has ruled that Scott Pruitt acted illegally when, apparently at the behest of the industries with the most at stake, he suspended a regulation requiring new oil and gas operations to monitor for leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that Pruitt’s…