The Trump administration is quickly putting out new rules and regulations with a little more than 50 days to go before it leaves office, as it seeks to leave a deeper stamp on the government.
In just the last two weeks, the administration has finalized a rule allowing the Forest Service to use exemptions to avoid certain requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which critics say will quicken approvals for logging, roads, and pipelines on Forest Service land.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects Federal judge strikes down Trump’s cuts on food stamps for unemployed MORE argued that streamlining could help with quick assistance for wildfires and other repairs, but environmentalists said it would make decision-making less informed.
The administration also has proposed rules that would weaken offshore drilling safety regulations, and that would prevent banks from excluding fossil fuels from financing.
The moves are seen as a boost to industries that can benefit from less regulation and streamlined processes like the oil and gas sector, but have been criticized by environmentalists, who hope the Biden administration will reverse them.
Environmental groups are also bracing for the outgoing administration to issue more rules before Biden’s inauguration on January 20.
Trump is not the only president who has raced to accomplish his goals by the end of his presidency. The Obama administration also aimed to complete a number of rules during his lame-duck period.
However, the Trump administration is leaving some of its most impactful, contested and high-profile rule-making to its final days.
Critics see the rules that are just now being proposed as more of a political gesture than a real effort to foment policy. Comment periods on the banking and drilling safety regulations will not close until January, leaving little time for them to be finalized by Jan. 20.
But other actions the administration has taken or is expected to take could have more lasting impacts.
The administration is gearing up to sell leases for companies that want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Biden opposes drilling in the refuge, which was authorized by the Trump tax-cut bill approved by the GOP Congress at the end of Trump’s first year in office.
The Trump administration last week put out a “call for nominations” seeking input on which tracts of land should be sold off. Selling the leases before Biden takes office could limit the tools at Biden’s disposal to protect the refuge, though there’s a chance court challenges could void any leases that are sold.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has also issued an order that critics say undercuts a new conservation law because it gives governors and local officials the option to nix projects in their jurisdictions.
Bernhardt also said in the order that it “will remain in effect until its provisions are completed” and that “termination of this order will not nullify the implementation of the requirements and responsibilities effected herein,” though critics argued that this likely wouldn’t hold up if the next administration withdraws the order.
There also have been personnel shakeups at the government organization that’s in charge of the Fifth National Climate Assessment.
Michael Kuperberg, a climate scientist who was serving as the executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, was reassigned to his previous post at the Energy Department this month. The Washington Post later reported that two controversial individuals were given oversight over the program.
The administration has yet to finalize some of its most highly anticipated and controversial rules.
One would limit the use of studies at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that don’t make their underlying data public. It’s been billed as a transparency measure, though opponents argue it could limit the use of important studies that have legitimate reasons for not revealing that data.
Another would change the way that costs and benefits are calculated in clean air rules, making it harder to consider some of the benefits of reducing air pollution.
Also on the table are two sets of proposed air quality standards, which critics say are not protective enough, and a rule that aims to combat lead in the water supply but that opponents also argue doesn’t go far enough.
“While it is always a scramble at the end of any administration, Trump has left some of his most potentially-damaging actions until the end,” said David Hayes, Obama’s deputy Interior secretary, in a statement to The Hill.