How Biden is reversing Trump's assault on the environment.
The new president is focusing on seven key areas to reverse a legacy of environmental destruction and climate denialism.
Faced with an unfolding climate crisis that is fueling more powerful storms, enormous wildfires and scorching heatwaves in the US, Donald Trump unapologetically set about dismantling policies to cut planet-heating emissions, mocked or ignored climate science, and threw open vast tracts of American land and water to fossil fuel development.
The systematic reversals in environmental protections pose a challenge to Joe Biden, Trump’s successor as US president, who has called climate change the “existential threat of our time”. Biden has set about the task of undoing Trump’s legacy with hyperactive zeal, through a flurry of executive actions. In all, about 100 Trump-era environmental policies are being targeted, although some may take several years to reverse. Here’s how Biden is doing it.
1) Protecting endangered animals and their habitats
What Trump did In an attempt to offer up more area for oil and gas drilling, which the industry said would be a boon for jobs, the Trump administration weakened key interpretations of the Endangered Species Act, making it harder to protect endangered species and their habitats. Rules banning the killing of migratory birds were loosened, companies were allowed to “incidentally” kill animals as they went about drilling, and creatures suffering large population declines, such as the monarch butterfly, were denied endangered species listing.
What Biden is doing Biden is reviewing, and will probably reverse, Trump’s wildlife rollbacks, such as those involving the protection of migratory birds and the application of endangered species rules. Other planned reforms should aid species facing what scientists say is the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, such as clean water rules that safeguard streams and wetlands, environmental reviews of potentially destructive projects and the halting of fossil fuel development in places such as the Arctic national wildlife refuge, a vital, pristine wilderness for birds, caribou and other creatures.
2) Protecting land that was opened up to drilling
What Trump did Trump immediately approved the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline, two contentious projects moving vast amounts of oil that were cheered by industry but enraged various farming, climate and Native American groups. The former president opened up almost all of the federally managed land and ocean for oil and gas drilling including, for the first time, Arctic waters. He also shrank two national monuments in Utah – Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
What Biden can do Biden has halted oil and gas leasing on public lands, opening up a pathway for a total ban, and is set to reverse the shrinking of the protected national monuments. The new administration has set a goal of protecting 30% of America’s land and oceans by 2030 and has a plan to create a “civilian climate corps” that would work to restore degraded landscapes and waterways. The Keystone pipeline has been blocked, with other similar projects now looking highly uncertain.
|Trump action||Biden action|
|Opened up areas of Arctic waters and the Bering Sea to oil and gas drilling. ||Reversed|
|Rescinded an Obama executive order on preparing for climate change impacts using risk management strategies. ||Reversed|
|Shrunk the size of several national monuments, including the Bears Ear national park in Utah which allowed for drilling there. ||Reversed|
|Enabled the expansion of offshore drilling. ||Reversed|
|Approved the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. ||Reversed|
|Reduced protections to allow drilling in the Bears Ear national park. ||Directed agency review|
|Made it easier to lease out public lands based on outdated information. ||Directed agency review|
|Reversed a rule that prevented taking sand from protected areas to replenish other beaches. ||Directed agency review|
|Reduced protections to allow drilling in the Grand-Staircase-Escalante national monument. ||Directed agency review|
|Claimed federal ownership of minerals on tribal land. ||Directed agency review|
|Allowed gas companies to drill in the northeast portion of the National Petroleum Reserve. ||Directed agency review|
|Moved to open up 13.5 million acres of land to drilling in Western Alaska. ||Directed agency review|
|Opened up drilling on 9m acres of public land in the west, which are the habitat for greater sage grouse.      ||Directed agency review|
|Reduced protections to allow drilling in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monument ||Directed agency review|
|Authorized oil and gas leasing on the Arctic national wildlife refuge’s coastal plain. ||Directed agency review|
|Opened the protected Tongass national forest in Alaska to logging and road construction. ||Directed agency review|
|Made a more stringent definition of what can be designated as a protected "critical habitat." ||Directed agency review|
|Made it harder for tribes to restore tribal lands. ||Directed agency review|
3) Strengthening rules on air quality and carbon emissions
What Trump did Under Trump, the US stalled or weakened various measures aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and direct air pollutants that cause various respiratory and heart conditions. Pollution standards for cars and trucks were scaled back and California was barred from enacting tougher rules. Also axed were rules to reduce leaks of methane, a potent warming gas, and standards to limit pollution from airplanes and refrigeration. The clean power plan, the linchpin Barack Obama-era plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, was scrapped and replaced with a weaker alternative.
What Biden can do Biden is working, in concert with car manufacturers, on a new, higher standard of fuel efficiency for vehicles. He has ordered his administration to help accelerate the rollout of clean energy such as solar and wind to shift the US away from polluting sources such as coal and gas that contribute to climate change and poor air quality. The methane standards will be reinstated and a particular focus will be placed upon communities, typically people of color, who have suffered poor health from living next to pollution sources such as highways and industrial facilities.
|Trump action||Biden action|
|Gave greater importance to economic considerations when deciding air quality standards. ||Reversed|
|Weakened the Clean Air Act. ||Revoked the executive order that prompted this rule|
|Revoked a previous executive order that set greenhouse gas emissions goals for the federal government. ||Partially revoked|
|Proposed relaxing rules on how much states can send pollution downstream to neighboring states. ||Directed agency review|
|Made it harder for federal agencies to regulate hazardous emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants. ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse by August 2021.|
|Weakened enforcement of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. ||Directed agency review|
|Rejected the science calling for tougher air pollution rules ||Directed agency review|
|Limited how much climate impacts can be seen as benefits to new EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act. ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse ASAP.|
|Delayed issuing and enforcing new ozone pollution standards. ||Directed agency review|
|Discounted scientific evidence of health risks from particular levels of pollution — no matter how relevant or compelling — unless the underlying data supporting the studies are publicly available." ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse ASAP.|
|Weakened fuel efficiency standards for cars. ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse by April 2021.|
|Exited international climate cooperation. ||Directed agency review|
|Refused to force reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by planes. ||Directed agency review|
|Loosened fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks. ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse by July 2021.|
|Rescinded a rule that banned the venting and flaring of oil and gas on federal and tribal lands. ||Directed agency review|
|Delayed rules to cut methane emissions from landfills. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened climate standards for new vehicles. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened regulations on emissions from refrigerants. ||Directed agency review|
4) Regulating toxic chemicals according to the science
What Trump did In a flurry of deregulatory actions, the Trump administration loosened rules on storing petroleum products, weakened standards around lead in paints, fast-tracked toxic flame retardants and declined to restrict or ban a host of chemicals, from crop pesticides to paint strippers, that scientists have warned pose a threat to human health.
What Biden can do Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered to review how the Toxic Substances Control Act is used to protect people from harmful substances. There will also be a review of the fast-tracking of chemicals in the Trump era, as well as the decision to not ban other harmful substances. The president has said he wants to aid communities such as those found in Louisiana’s “cancer alley” that have been blighted by nearby chemical facilities.
|Trump action||Biden action|
|Refused to back an international agreement that phases out hydrofluorocarbons, a powerful greenhouse gas. ||Ordered Secretary of State to send the agreeement to the senate for ratification.|
|Allowed large amounts of liquified gas to be transported by rail. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened regulations on chemical uses in products. ||Directed agency review|
|Declined to ban a toxic pesticide. ||Directed agency review|
|Proposed no regulations on five toxic chemicals that do not degrade easily. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened enforcement on accidental release of hazardous chemicals. ||Directed agency review|
|Banned the use of methylene chloride, a paint stripped linked to cancer, for consumer use but continued allowing it for commercial use.  ||Directed agency review|
|Loosened regulations on how volatile organic liquids, like petroleium products, can be stored. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened pesticide protections for agricultural workers. ||Directed agency review|
|Delayed regulation of ethylene oxide, a carcinogen used to clean medical supplies. ||Directed agency review|
|Fast-tracked regulations on flame retardants known to be toxic.    ||Directed agency review|
|Didn't ban the flame retardant compound hexachlorobutadiene because the EPA couldn't find a way to reduce exposure to it. ||Directed agency review|
|Implemented subpar lead standards, according to child health advocates. ||Directed agency review|
|Lowered the amount of lead allowed in dust left on the surface after the process of getting rid of lead-based paints, though that limit is still higher than what environmental groups recommend. ||Directed agency review|
|Set new standards for lead and copper in drinking water, which environmental groups say aren't stringent enough. ||Directed agency review|
|Refused to regulate rocket fuel chemical in drinking water. ||Directed agency review|
5) Protecting waterways and drinking water
What Trump did The federal government’s role in protecting the nation’s waterways has been a contested issue for some time and the Trump administration decided to settle upon a very narrow definition that meant it would not oversee pollution that occurred in various wetlands and temporary streams. There was also a tepid response, advocates say, to protecting Americans’ drinking water supply in the wake of the Flint water crisis.
What Biden can do Biden has committed to regulating PFAS chemicals, known as “forever chemicals” found in the drinking water of almost all Americans, as well as reviewing the application of the clean water act.
|Trump action||Biden action|
|Rolled back fracking regulations that protect drinking water on federal and tribal lands. ||Directed agency review|
|Proposed cutting funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay to meet EPA water quality standards. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened the Clean Water Act, giving the federal government more power to overrule state objections to projects. ||Directed agency review|
|Narrowed pollution safeguards for lakes, rivers, tributaries and wetlands.  ||Directed agency review|
6) Enforcing environmental regulations
What Trump did Businesses or individuals that carelessly pollute the environment risk being prosecuted by the federal government but enforcement of such rules dropped off dramatically during the Trump years. Environmental reviews for major projects were weakened, enforcement of air pollution rules was relaxed and agencies were restricted from setting new environmental rules.
What Biden can do The new administration has signaled it will aggressively pursue polluters, particularly those operating in communities that have long been overlooked. Biden himself has backed the idea of fossil fuel companies being sued for damages for the pollution and climate change they have caused.
|Trump action||Biden action|
|Revoked flood protection standards. ||Restored flood protection standards|
|Sped up environmental reviews to deliver more water to western states. ||Reversed|
|Reduced climate considerations when assessing impact of a project. ||Reversed|
|Required all environmental reviews of major projects to be done within two years. ||Reversed|
|Allowed federal agencies to disregard environmental laws during the pandemic. ||Reversed|
|Sped up the environmental review process for federal infrastructure projects. ||Reversed|
|Made it harder for agencies to issue environmental rules.   ||Revoked the executive order that prompted this rule|
|Restricted ability of a foreign 'adversary' to acquire US energy infrastrcture. ||Suspended for 90 days|
|Extends the deadline for the EPA and states to comply with the reporting standards in the Clean Water Act. ||Directed agency review|
|Adopted an updated conservation code. ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse by May 2021.|
|Stopped 401k investments from being put in environmental, social and government funds by default. ||Directed agency review|
|Banned environmentally beneficial legal settlements with the EPA. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened environmental reviews for major projects and exempted projects from review. ||Directed agency review|
|No longer allowed California to more stringently regulate air pollution under the Clean Air Act. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened enforcement of ozone emissions in the Houston area. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened enforcement of ozone emissions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. ||Directed agency review|
|Eased restrictions on pumping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms in California's Central Valley.  ||Directed agency review|
|Adopted an updated commercial building code regulations. ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse by May 2021.|
7) Rescinding rules that benefit industry at the cost of the environment
What Trump did The Trump administration removed a large burden of rules from companies, even if they seemingly had little impact other than to harm the environment. Clothes washing machines and lightbulbs were allowed to be less efficient and environmentally friendly, coal plants were allowed to more easily dump their waste into waterways and the air and offshore drilling regulations, implemented after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, were repealed.
What Biden can do Most of the regulations jettisoned by Trump are being reviewed by Biden’s administration and will likely be reinstated, although court challenges will probably slow the process.
|Trump action||Biden action|
|Directed the capture and storage of more water for California farmers ||Reversed|
|Transferred the authority over cross-border infrastructure permits from the State Department to the president, thereby shielding such decisions from environmental and judicial review. ||Reversed|
|Made it easier for companies out of compliance with environmental regulations to come back online. ||Revoked the executive order that prompted this rule|
|Made it easier to harvest timber on federal land. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened offshore drilling regulations designed to prevent system failures that would result in oil or gas being released into the water. ||Directed agency review|
|Lifted the federal coal mining ban. ||Directed agency review|
|Refused to pursue financial enforcement of pollutants at superfund sites. ||Directed agency review|
|Reversed climate rules for the electricity sector ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened enforcement of the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act when granting permits. ||Directed agency review|
|Loosened standards on methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.  ||Directed agency review|
|Exempted clothes washing machines with shorter cycles from tougher environmental standards. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened toxic pollution and water rules for coal plants  ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened regulations on how waste from coal power plants can be disposed. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened environmental reviews for major projects and exempted projects from review ||Directed agency review|
|Blocked a planned update to standards for incandescent light bulbs. ||Directed agency review|
|Created new standards for portable air conditioners that allow them to avoid tougher environmental standards. ||Directed agency review|
|Eased regulations on certain types of industrial equipment. ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse by June 2021.|
|Required a consideration of economic burden before new energy conservation standards for appliances are adopted. ||Directed agency review. Goal is to reverse by June 2021.|
|Exempted dishwashers with shorter cycles from tougher environmental standards. ||Directed agency review|
|Made it easier for appliance manufactuers to temporarily avoid environmental testing. ||Directed agency review|
|Determined small electric motors could be subject to less stringent conservation standards. ||Directed agency review|
|Weakened toxic pollution and water rules for coal plants ||Directed agency review|
Noa Yachot and Rashida Kamal contributed to this piece
2 February 2021