Persistent Regulations: A Detailed Assessment of the Trump Administration's Efforts to Repeal Federal Climate Protections

Wentz, Jessica A.; Gerrard, Michael

This paper takes a critical look at what the Trump administration has actually accomplished in terms of repealing and modifying greenhouse gas emission standards and otherwise advancing its pro-fossil fuel agenda. As detailed herein, the scope of the efforts taken pursuant to this agenda is extremely broad – there are dozens of different deregulatory actions underway at various agencies, most notably the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But in most cases, the pace of these efforts has been quite slow. This is particularly true for efforts to repeal or revise major regulations like the Clean Power Plan and the motor vehicle greenhouse gas emission and fuel economy standards, as the administration must adhere to notice-and-comment procedures and must also justify any changes to these rules in light of the statutory provisions it is implementing.

The administration has been able to quickly rescind and replace internal policy documents that are not subject to the same procedural requirements as formal regulations, but the practical effect of these internal policy changes remains unclear. In many instances, President Trump’s policies are directly at odds with statutory mandates and therefore unlikely to have a significant or enduring effect on agency practices. The many deregulatory processes that have been initiated are also consuming a large amount of federal government resources and creating significant uncertainty for regulated industries – consequences which are direct conflict with the President’s stated goals of reducing regulatory inefficiencies and supporting regulated industries such as the power sector.

Ultimately, the Trump administration will face many barriers in actually effectuating its goals of lifting regulatory burdens and achieving “energy dominance” through greater reliance on fossil fuels. Courts have already shot down many of the administration’s initial efforts to undermine existing regulations, and there is a reasonable chance that some of the final rules to repeal or replace those regulations will also be vacated by the courts. Even if the administration is successful in repealing critical climate regulations, the real-world effect of these repeals may be limited by external legal, social, and economic drivers. A future administration could also reverse course and reinstate regulation.

Meanwhile, many state and local governments and private actors are moving forward with their own actions to address climate change. This situation is deeply problematic for regulated entities that need policy coherence and predictability. Companies typically prefer uniform federal standards to the complicated and conflicting state and local laws that are emerging in the absence of clear federal regulations.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sabin Center for Climate Change Law
Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia University
Sabin Center for Climate Change Law White Papers
Published Here
September 9, 2019