Trump Is Not Above the Law

Courts across the country agree that our environmental laws must be enforced, not broken.

Credit: Liza Koifman/Alamy

Courts across the country agree that our environmental laws must be enforced, not broken.

If we’re paying attention to President Trump’s all-out assault on our environment and health, these can feel like dispiriting times. In our courts of law, though, where we bring falsehood to heel and hold our government to account, it’s a different story.

In recent weeks, federal courts have handed down repeated rulings that reject Trump’s efforts to weaken or ignore essential safeguards and call on him to enforce the laws we all depend on to protect our environment and health. The message from courts across the country is clear: Our environmental laws must be enforced—not broken.

A federal court in Montana ruled that the Trump administration violated the law when it tried to short-circuit needed review of the new route proposed for the Keystone XL dirty tar sands pipeline. The court ordered the U.S. State Department to conduct a proper environmental assessment before deciding whether to issue a permit for the amended route. That gives heartland ranchers, farmers, tribal groups, and others the chance to air their concerns and stand up to the threat the pipeline poses to their communities, livelihoods, and way of life.


In Seattle, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban a dangerous pesticide, chlorpyrifos, a hazard to children and farmworkers. Scott Pruitt, the scandal-ridden former EPA administrator under Trump, had denied a petition to ban the pesticide, widely used on more than four dozen fruit, vegetable, nut, and cereal crops, including almonds, apples, grapes, and oranges. After more than a decade of delay by the EPA, Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote, “If Congress’s statutory mandates are to mean anything, the time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion.”

The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ordered the EPA to protect water quality and safety by banning or regulating stormwater discharges from commercial and industrial sites. The U.S. District Court in Fresno, California, issued a ruling that cleared the way for evidence showing how the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the WaterFix tunnel project under the San Francisco Bay–Delta would fall short of what the law requires to protect endangered fish.

NRDC litigators played a key role in each of those four cases—represented by our partners Earthjustice in the chlorpyrifos case—as part of our mission to use our laws and courts to hold polluters, and our government, to account. 

In a fifth decision, the U.S. District Court in Charleston, South Carolina, ruled that the Trump administration violated federal rule-making procedures by delaying the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which protects wetlands and the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans. NRDC was not a party to this suit, but we’ve been staunch supporters of the Clean Water Rule. We have brought a parallel lawsuit in federal court in New York City, and we will fight the Trump administration’s efforts to propose a weakened replacement that fails to protect our waters.

Separately, the Court of International Trade sided with NRDC and ordered the Trump administration to ban, immediately, Mexican seafood caught with gillnets, which kill critically endangered vaquita porpoises.

The Trump administration is hell-bent to put polluter profits first—and put the rest of us at risk. That doesn’t mean we have to let them get away with it. We have the power, as American citizens, to hold our leaders to account. That’s what government by the consent of the governed is all about. And that’s why no one, in this country, is above the law.

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