The Upcoming War on Our Health and Environment

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Americans must come together to fight the assaults on our health and environment by the GOP and the new administration.

Before Inauguration Day, the Trump era has opened with an extremist agenda that poses an alarming threat to our people, our environment, and the core values we share about justice, fair play, and our commitment to leave future generations a livable world. Already, we’ve seen a set of cabinet nominees dominated by fossil-fuel advocates, billionaires, and bankers; a president-elect who says “nobody really knows” what’s happening to our climate; and a full-on witch hunt for the experts who know the truth.

This is not normal. It’s the most radical approach to American governance we’ve seen in our lifetime. Whatever we voted on in November, nobody voted for dirty water and air. Nobody voted to walk away from climate leadership and millions of clean energy jobs. And nobody voted to hand over our country to a pollute-ocracy that puts polluter profits first — and puts the rest of us at risk.

The following list addresses some, but not all, programs, policies, and initiatives that the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers have targeted. This could become the worst legislative and executive assault in history against the common-sense safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health. At risk is the water we drink, the air we breathe, our public oceans, coasts, and lands, and the very approach we’ve taken for generations to protect our common inheritance.

At NRDC, we will stand up and hold this government to account by making sure the public understands what’s at stake — for our country, our people, and the common future we share.

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Climate and Energy

The Clean Power Plan: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set the first national standards reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our largest source, fossil-fuel power plants. The Clean Power Plan provides reasonable state-specific goals for carbon cuts, flexibility for states to meet them, and a federal plan that will cut a key driver of climate change 32 percent by 2030 and stimulate growth in clean energy.

International climate agreement: The Paris climate agreement—signed by nearly 200 nations and effective as of November 4, 2016—is a global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to hold global temperature rise this century well below two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

HFC international commitments: In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed onto the Kigali Agreement, which calls for phasing down powerful climate-warming pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer. Industry supports the agreement.

Standards to reduce methane pollution and natural gas waste in the oil and natural gas industry (BLM & EPA): These standards will reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air emissions from fracking and other oil and gas operations. Leaks and purposeful venting waste gas that could be sold and used while threatening health and worsening climate change.

Restrictions on public financing for overseas coal projects: The Obama administration restricted U.S. funding for overseas coal power plants to limit climate change. This affects the Export Import Bank and other entities.

National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ) assessments of greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts: The White House Council on Environmental Quality issued guidance to federal agencies on analyzing the climate impacts of their proposed actions before deciding on how to proceed.

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Clean Energy

Vehicle standards: To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA set tighter fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks for 2022 to 2025. The state of California has similar auto standards through 2025, authorized under the Clean Air Act via an EPA waiver. The EPA also set standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks to save fuel and reduce carbon pollution.

Clean energy tax incentives (PTC & ITC): Renewed by Congress in 2015, these wind and solar incentives are driving clean energy investment over new natural gas in the electric sector. The clean energy economy now employs more than 2.5 million Americans.

DOE energy-efficiency standards: The U.S. Department of Energy’s minimum efficiency standards for refrigerators, air conditioners, clothes washers, and other appliances and equipment save U.S. households on average $500 a year on energy bills. These standards, which are required by law, are also often supported by manufacturers who do not want to deal with a patchwork of state regulations and because they know consumers will benefit from more efficient appliances.

Credit: W. Tyson Joye/NPS

Nature and Our Natural Heritage

Arctic & Atlantic: In 2016, the Obama administration excluded the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from the next five-year oil- and gas-leasing plan and provided permanent protections from all future drilling for the majority of the U.S. Arctic and key portions of the Atlantic.

Turning federal lands and waters over to private fossil-fuel companies: The Trump administration may quickly move to expand coal, oil, and gas leasing across the federal estate, opening new areas and accelerating permitting and approvals for existing leases. Legal challenges are expected for each action.

Coal leasing: In early 2016, the Obama administration moved to protect public lands from new coal leasing, while reforms are developed to ensure taxpayers receive fair value from mining companies.

Keystone XL: In November 2015, President Obama rejected the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would have undercut America’s global leadership on fighting climate change. The pipeline would have run 1,200 miles from Canada through Nebraska to the Gulf Coast, carrying more than 800,000 barrels of carbon-heavy petroleum daily.

Dakota Access Pipeline: Last month, the Obama administration ordered a full environmental impact statement of the pipeline and a review of the route in response to concerns of indigenous Americans that their voices had not been heard.

Pebble Mine: This proposed acid-generating copper and gold mine in Bristol Bay, in southwest Alaska, threatens a massive salmon fishery, beluga whales, a critical watershed, and other wildlife. The IUCN World Conservation Congress opposed it. The EPA has made significant progress protecting the area through the Clean Water Act.

Antiquities Act: Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the Obama administration has moved to protect our natural and cultural heritage by designating monuments—including more than one million acres of land in Utah to be comanaged with tribe—as well as the world’s largest marine protected area. There could be challenges to the act and individual monuments.

Public lands: The Obama administration has expanded areas designated as public lands, which are held in the public trust for all Americans, helping protect them from environmental damage. Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have launched a concerted effort to sell off public lands through budget riders and bills.

Roadless Rule: Enacted in 2001 under President Bill Clinton, this rule protects almost 60 million acres of national forest land against logging and road building, 17 million of which is old-growth forest in the Tongass in Alaska. Alaska is challenging the rule in federal court in Washington, D.C.

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Endangered Wildlife

Endangered Species Act: The law has added protections for endangered sage grouse, gray wolves, and salmon. The U.S. Department of Justice also is defending in court recovery plans.

Marine Mammal Protection Act: The act has been used to limit offshore oil and gas development and to protect marine mammal species such as whales and dolphins from excessive U.S. Navy sonar.

Wildlife trade: By executive order, President Obama committed to increased efforts in combating wildlife trafficking. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned ivory imports and elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

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Agricultural Pollution and Dangers to Health

Decision on neonic insecticides and bees: In early 2016, the EPA issued a scientific finding that the most prominent neonic (neonicotinoid) insecticide, Imidacloprid, widely used on cotton and soybeans, is harmful to bees.

Credit: Corbis

Clean Air and Water

Clean Water Rule: The Obama administration advanced this rule to protect from pollution water sources for drinking water supplies of 117 million Americans.

Ozone standard: In 2015, the Obama administration strengthened ozone standards that protect public health, especially for children, older adults, and people with lung diseases such as asthma. The standards will also improve the health of trees, plants, and ecosystems.

Clean Air Act and Startup, Shutdown, Malfunction Rule: The EPA has moved to close loopholes in 36 State Implementation Plans that allow refineries, power plants, and other facilities to release bursts of harmful air pollution during startups, shutdowns, and malfunctions, and don’t meet Clean Air Act requirements.

Toxic air pollution standards: There have been legal and legislative attacks on EPA standards limiting toxic air pollution from cement and brick kilns and industrial boilers. These help avoid an estimated 8,000 premature deaths and 52,000 asthma cases per year. Brick Kilns litigation could heat up in late February.

California Bay Delta and San Joaquin River: Congress and the Trump administration could attempt to undermine federal protections for salmon and other endangered species in California’s Bay-Delta estuary, and they may try to repeal the settlement agreement to restore the state’s San Joaquin River. House Republicans have passed similar legislation in recent years, threatening thousands of fishing jobs, water quality for millions, and the long-term health of this estuary.

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Toxics: Poisoning Our Children

Pesticide that harms kids: The EPA recently said it plans to ban the insecticide chlorpyrifos because it harms children’s brains. The agency is due to finalize this ban in March 2017.

Toxic but ineffective chemicals in antibacterial soaps: In September 2016, in response to NRDC’s petition and litigation, FDA banned certain antibacterial chemicals — such as triclosan — in soaps that were not proven effective and posed health hazards.

Bill to exempt pesticides applied to waterways from the Clean Water Act: For five years, various members of Congress have tried to pass a measure putting public health at risk by exempting pesticides applied directly to waterways from the Clean Water Act NPDES permit requirements. The latest iteration was renamed the Zika Vector Control Act.

Science on carcinogens: The chemical industry has targeted a National Institutes for Health report on cancer-causing chemicals. Also targeting the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which has linked Roundup (glyphosate) to cancer.

Health risks of herbicide glyphosate: The EPA is to decide whether this ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup causes cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer found that it does. Its use is linked to butterfly decline.

Protecting children from toxics: The EPA’s scientific review panel set a tenfold safety factor to protect children from widespread exposure to highly neurotoxic insecticides called organophosphates, such as chlorpyrifos. The agency cited human epidemiological evidence of harm to children.

Toxic Substances Control Act and 2016 amendments: Recent updates to TSCA require the EPA to take several key actions by June to establish risk evaluation, prioritization, and science policy rulings.

TSCA and 10 priority chemicals determination: The EPA has proposed its 10 priority chemicals to evaluate under the recently updated Toxic Substances Control Act and is due to finalize that.

Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Crosscutting Attacks on Environmental Protections and Regulation Generally

Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act: This bill, which the House has passed several times, would basically shut down the entire regulatory system, not just on environmental issues, by preventing any “major” regulation from taking effect unless both houses of Congress vote to approve it within a limited time period.

Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act: This bill, passed by the House, would establish a “regulatory review” commission to identify redundant or “obsolete” regulations to repeal. Requires a “cut-go” one-in, one-out approach to agency rulemaking and a 15 percent cut in overall “costs” measured as costs to industry.

Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA): This bill, passed by the House, would revamp and significantly slow down—and even shut down—the regulatory process. One provision could result in preventing rules from ever taking effect by enabling industry to repeatedly ask for more analysis. The provision is similar to a fatal flaw in the original TSCA law that Congress voted to remove in the new version of that act.

“Secret Science” bills: This bill, passed by the House, would make it difficult for the EPA to issue environmental standards by making it impossible for the agency to use many kinds of scientific studies and economic models.

Trump’s 100-day plan to arbitrarily cut regulations: The president-elect has promised to eliminate two regulations for every new one it approves. But regulations exist to help ensure consumer health and safety protections.

The right to public engagement on federal actions: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): Signed into law on January 1, 1970, NEPA ensures that the government assesses the environmental impacts of proposed actions — such as permit applications, federal land management, and constructing highways — and provides transparency along with giving citizens a voice in government decisions. Rolling back or gutting NEPA has been considered in Congress.