A Roundup of Trump Administration
Rollbacks on Environmental Protections

We’re in the waning months of a presidential administration that has brazenly steamrolled environmental laws and policies designed to protect the planet and the public. The Trump administration has already gutted dozens of regulations that safeguard public lands and wildlife, reduce climate pollution, preserve public health and give us all a voice in how our shared lands and resources are managed. Unfortunately, we can expect an increasing barrage of attacks in the coming months—the 11th hour is when a potentially outgoing administration accelerates its agenda.

With an election looming, victory uncertain, much unfinished business and many unfulfilled promises, the Trump administration is working overtime to effect lasting policy changes, secure an anti-conservation legacy, and tie the hands of an incoming successor who would seek to restore environmental protections. We expect this administration’s self-described “energy dominance” and deregulatory agenda to ramp up in the final months of this term. We’re bracing for the challenge.

To put a fine point on it, The New York Times recently reported on 100 environmental protections that the Trump administration is trying to weaken or end. Below we highlight two high-priority issues we’re deeply engaged in—but there’s much more. From oil and gas pipelines to endangered species protection, we’re working with our partners to fight back across the board.

Protecting your voice

If you receive our Capital Watch alerts, you know we are working hard to defend our public lands and the public’s voice (subscribe here). Some of the most damaging actions we are fighting would significantly weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA is the bedrock environmental law that empowers all of us to engage in federal decision making, allows us to speak out against environmentally damaging projects, and guarantees meaningful analysis of environmental impacts.

NEPA is critical to the work we do. It’s the law that land management agencies violated when they sold leases in the Thompson Divide years ago. It’s the law that ensured the public a voice when those legal violations were exposed. Ultimately, the corrective NEPA process—with requisite analysis and meaningful public engagement—allowed local communities to protect the Thompson Divide by convincing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to cancel those illegal leases.

Now, the Trump administration is rewriting rules that dictate how agencies like the Forest Service and BLM comply with NEPA. Specifically, the changes would:

  • Decrease the number of projects that receive meaningful environmental impact analysis
  • Remove the requirement that projects consider indirect and cumulative environmental impacts, such as climate change
  • Limit the requirement to consider alternatives to proposed actions
  • Allow companies to prepare their own impact analyses to justify their projects.

Reducing climate pollution

Another Trump administration rollback we are combatting is BLM’s methane waste rule. We are engaged with a broad coalition of states and conservation organizations in court defending the methane rule—a sensible policy enacted by the Obama administration to reduce climate pollution from oil and gas development and ensure that taxpayers are compensated for the development of fossil fuels we all own. Since the rule was finalized in 2016, our coalition has beaten back industry requests for an injunction (January 2017); an attempt to kill the rule in Congress via the Congressional Review Act (May 2017); an attempt by the Trump administration to unilaterally “suspend” the Methane Waste Rule (October 2017); and a subsequent attempt to “stay” or temporarily halt the Methane Waste Rule (February 2018). But undoing this practical policy remains an unfinished goal of the Trump administration. Our work to protect it continues as well.

Under the cover of Covid

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic emboldened this administration in its environmental rollbacks. Now, in addition to ongoing efforts to end sensible regulations, it’s working hard to prop up the declining fossil fuel industry with emergency bailouts and bad policy. Rather than supporting the most vulnerable communities and ensuring the public interest is primarily served by pandemic-related bailouts, the Trump administration is prioritizing more handouts to the oil and gas industry.

In May, citing the pandemic, the Department of the Interior released new guidance encouraging oil and gas companies to seek royalty rate reductions and lease suspensions, and directed the BLM to grant such requests. The new policies enable oil and gas companies to reduce or eliminate payments to the federal and local governments, and to hold onto oil and gas leases that would otherwise expire.

The new policies also encourage oil and gas companies to “stockpile” leases on our local public lands. The BLM often doesn’t let oil and gas leases expire even when the law requires it. Lease suspensions allow companies to hold leases on our lands without having to pay anything to the public, and they often prevent other uses and protections for those lands. These policies will leave a legacy of suspended, non-paying leases on our public lands for years to come.

Despite the fact that the oil and gas industry already gets more than $20 billion in direct subsidies, the Trump administration is using taxpayer money to design favorable new policies to bail out oil and gas companies instead of supporting struggling communities. Oil and gas companies pay royalties to state and federal governments at an already low rate of 12.5%. The Interior Department just approved an astonishingly low rate reduction to as little as 0.5%. How does this affect us? Importantly, local and state governments that are entitled to receive a portion of these revenues will receive less money, and this comes at a time when we are already experiencing dramatic declines in revenue that is desperately needed to help those affected by Covid-19.

This fight is far from over. Wilderness Workshop is doubling down on our defensive work to ensure this administration doesn’t lock in an anti-conservation legacy that’s impossible to unwind.

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