Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America applaud the Trump administration for rolling back the burdensome EPA clean power plant regulations and giving the states more flexibility in how they deal with emissions. They also unload on CNN and other media outlets for reporting on tearful reunions among family members living in North and South Korea after nearly 70 years, blaming the separation on the Korean War rather than a brutally repressive communist regime in North Korea. And they shake their heads as President Trump takes to Twitter and muses about pulling security clearances based on what former national security officials say about him on cable television.
The man who led the Trump transition’s landing team at the Environmental Protection Agency is hailing the administration for rolling back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that he says would restrict consumer freedom, weaken vehicle safety, and have a much more limited impact on the environment than activists claim.
On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the shelving of the standards which required all cars and light trucks to have a fleet-level fuel efficiency of 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Proponents of the rule say it would help the environment and speed up innovation in the auto industry in addition to lowering fuel bills.
But Myron Ebell, who spearheaded the Trump transition at EPA, says the real consequence of the rule would be the erosion of freedom.
“I think it’s a nightmare for consumers because what the government has done by vastly increasing the fuel economy standards is to tell consumers, ‘We don’t care what you want in a car and we don’t care how much it costs. We just care that it gets really good gas mileage. So that’s what you’re going to be able to buy,” said Ebell.
Ebell is also director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He says the mandate was already driving up auto prices.
“Since these new standards were adopted in the Obama administration in the last four or five years, cars have already gone up a lot, several thousand dollars for the same car,” said Ebell.
Improvements in engine manufacturing have already led to greater fuel efficiency in recent decades, but Ebell says it’s obvious how consumers are approaching those improvements.
“Engines have been getting more efficient right along but drivers have been buying cars that use that greater efficiency to buy a bigger car or a faster car,” said Ebell.
Bigger and faster is not what we’d get under the old Obama rules.
“If they wanted to buy a car they could afford (starting in 2025), they would be faced with buying a much smaller car, a much lighter car, a much less powerful engine. Consequently, it wouldn’t meet the needs of a lot of people. Moreover, a smaller and lighter car is much safe,” said Ebell.
Ebell suspects the Obama administration thought demand for such vehicles would be high if gas prices hadn’t come back down.
“The guess was in the Obama administration that, ‘We can make this work because we’re going to drive up the price of gasoline. And once gasoline gets to be six, seven, eight dollars a gallon, people will all want to buy much more fuel efficient cars and the additional cost of those cars they’ll be able to save in gas costs,'” said Ebell.
“But with gasoline under three dollars a gallon, people want the performance and they want the size. They’re willing to spend a certain amount each week on gasoline and they want a bigger and better car,” he added.
He is also skeptical of environmentalists’ claims that the Obama EPA rule would reduce greenhouse gases by the equivalent of 140 coal-fired power plants every year.
“All of these claims of savings of any type are always vastly exaggerated and in the end people find that they don’t get as good mileage and that the supposed environmental benefits are less,” said Ebell.
Ebell says the push for electric cars and even no cars by clustering the populace near mass transit options are other efforts to restrict freedom from the left. He lauds Pruitt for doing a “great job” advancing an “ambitious” Trump agenda in deregulating energy policy, especially for heavy industries.
However, he implores Trump to appoint more critical personnel to the EPA and for the Senate to act swiftly on the nominees that have been offered.
While Ebell and others cheer the scrapping of Obama’s fuel economy standards, California and other states plan to fight back. The Clean Air Act allows California to impose more stringent environmental standards than the federal government calls for and other states are attempting to follow suit.
Ebell says California can either toe the line on this or face a bruising court fight.
“The EPA can then move to revoke the waiver that California got from the EPA that allows them to be part of this process. Once the waiver is revoked, California, if they want to set their own standards, will have to go to court and win what would be a very major court victory and one that I doubt that they would win,” said Ebell.
Limited government advocates and property rights champions are cheering Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for publicly announcing he will scrap the tactic known as “sue and settle” for as long as he is in office.
“We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the Agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress,” Pruitt said in a statement.
So what is “sue and settle?” In short, it’s a way that politicians and bureaucrats shift policy by pretending to be in a legal fight with a political ally and altering a specific rule in order to supposedly avoid a lawsuit.
Patrick Hedger, manager of the Regulatory Action Center at the FreedomWorks Foundation, offers a more detailed description of how this political and legal charade plays out.
“(Government) agencies will sometimes collude with private actors, such as third party non-governmental organizations, non-profits, and other activist organizations in order to facilitate an expedited rule-making process that goes outside the normal rule-making,” said Hedger.
“There will be a faux lawsuit and instead of taking that suit to court, they will settle it out of court, generally behind closed doors, in a process known as a consent decree. That consent decree will force the agency to act in a way that’s normally a lot faster and more aggressive than a normal federal rule-making process,” said Hedger.
Hedger says this bureaucratic maneuver then provides political cover for an administration that wanted to change the rule all along.
“This is a way for agencies to avoid political accountability for controversial decisions. Usually, we’ve seen very expensive and aggressive regulations being passed, particularly environmental regulations. This is a way for agencies like the EPA, in the past, to say, ‘We had our hands tied by this lawsuit,’ even though this was their ultimate political goal,” said Hedger.
Hedger is quick to add that no party is innocent when it comes to using “sue and settle” but some administrations have utilized it much more than others.
“This has basically been a bipartisan practice but it accelerated greatly during the Obama administration,” said Hedger.
He also offered some examples of the more onerous rules established through “sue and settle,” including the Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule.
“It basically forces power plants to put in expensive new infrastructure to achieve extremely stringent emissions standards. That’s estimated to cost almost $10 billion annually. There were Clean Water Act rules that applied to the Chesapeake Bay. Those are estimated to cost anywhere from $18-20 billion per year. All of these were achieved through ‘sue and settle’ litigation,” said Hedger.
Hedger is thrilled that Pruitt declared an end to a practice that subverts the normal rule-making process.
“This is a process that has been used by both Republican and Democratic administrations. This just shows that the Trump administration is very much still committed to getting back to regular order and the proper way of doing things.
“Instead of using this political end around to achieve its own goals, the Trump administration is just trying to bring the government back in line with the Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act, which is supposed to govern regulations,” said Hedger.
Scrapping “sue and settle” is just one of several moves from Pruitt’s EPA that is drawing high praise from limit government activists. Earlier this month, Pruitt announced what many see as the beginning of the end of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which required substantial decreases in carbon emissions and was considered the death blow to the coal industry.
Earlier this year, Pruitt also started the rollback of the Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS. That update changed the definition of navigable waterway from one you could actually navigate with a boat and was usually connected to a larger body of water to virtually and standing water in a drainage ditch or even a puddle.
Hedger likes Pruitt’s policies but likes his fidelity to his oath even more.
“I think Administrator Pruitt is doing a phenomenal job of, first and foremost, putting the Constitution first,” said Hedger. “There is a way to achieve a clean environment while also adhering to the rule of law and I think that’s the structure that we’re seeing from Pruitt’s EPA.”
But while Pruitt is making a lot of big moves, Hedger says the next EPA boss could easily reverse it all. He says lawmakers need to get involved.
“This does, at some level, have to fall back on Congress to stop passing these vague laws. Particularly in the case of ‘sue and settle,’ there are parts of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act that encourage that encourage this type of practice. So Congress should go in and clarify that they never intended for this ‘sue and settle’ and consent decree practice to happen,” said Hedger.
Hedger says Pruitt’s moves on process and on existing rules are a breath of fresh air to property and business owners. However, he says much more can be done to relieve the regulatory burden on American families and businesses.
“Right now, there’s so much focus on tax reform, which is good, but if you look at the estimates of the economic burden of federal regulation versus the economic burden of taxes, they estimate that the regulatory burden in this country approaches two trillion dollars per year, which is more than is collected in individual and corporate income taxes,” said Hedger.
An Obama-era plan to drastically reduce carbon emissions is on its way to the regulatory scrap heap after the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday announced a repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
For Americans already struggling with much higher energy costs, this news will be welcome in many households trying to make ends meet.
“This was designed to cause electricity rates, according to [Obama] to necessarily skyrocket. So that won’t happen. The seniors, the poor on low and fixed income who had to choose between heating and eating will now, we hope, not have to,” said Horner.
The Trump administration projects this move will result in $33 billion in avoided costs due to the proposed policy. Horner suspects the actual number is much higher.
Even though the plan was never implemented, Horner says it still exacted a heavy toll on blue collar America.
“He put a lot of people out of work. A lot of communities were devastated. There’s an inescapable connection between the opioid epidemic in that region and the devastation that was wrought by what was clearly a political and not an environmental agenda,” said Horner.
“He thought he was punishing corporations. He harmed badly many communities and the people in them,” added Horner.
Horner says the outlook is getting brighter and will be helped by Tuesday’s EPA action. But he says a lot of the damage is permanent.
“Employment in that industry is rebounding. I don’t know that it will ever get to where it was before it faces the awesome power of the federal government,” said Horner.
What makes the toll even more tragic, according to Horner, is that the Obama administration freely admitted the crackdown on carbon emissions wouldn’t actually accomplish anything.
“The former EPA administrator under President Obama (Gina McCarthy), who is decrying the climate impact of this decision, testified that there was no detectable climate impact from this rule. There is actually a consensus on this,” said Horner.
So what was the point of the tougher emissions standards if they weren’t going to improve our climate? Horner says Obama was very clear about it.
“He said in four speeches, in the exact same deliberate phrase, ‘This to finally make renewable energy profitable in America. That’s what this was about. It was never about the climate,” said Horner.
But while Horner and his allies celebrate Tuesday’s decision, he says the fight is far from over.
“We will start a rule making process. Today begins the repeal, a 60-day comment period to be followed by another request for comments about what to replace it with if anything,” said Horner, who is urging Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to scrap another Obama-era finding.
“They also made a declaration that carbon dioxide, a marginal greenhouse gas produced at the margins by man – not just through exhaling but by combusting hydrocarbon energy, the stuff that works, the reliable, affordable, abundant stuff. The administration now has to determine whether that really does endanger human health and welfare,” said Horner.
In urging the EPA to go further, Horner also applauds Trump and Pruitt for a move on Tuesday that he believes many other Republicans would be reluctant to take.
“We say pull it out root and branch. This is a very good start. I have to say most establishment Republicans would have shied from it and hoped for the best from the courts. We’re asking, now that these people have shown that they’re serious, fix the problem and undo the endangerment finding,” said Horner.
He says that explicit step is critical since domestic activists and even the United Nations are asking the courts in the U.S. to effectively make policy instead of the executive branch.
“You will have to replace it because this doesn’t have to go through Congress anymore. There’s enough on the books that the courts will take this over. The UN is issuing reports calling on attorneys general and private parties to ask the courts to take over this policy now, including the United States, to impose the Paris Treaty on us and so forth,” said Horner.
He says defenders of freedom need to stand in the gap against that unconstitutional effort and any future efforts to repeat Obama’s moves.
“It was a cruel gesture. It was virtue signaling. Thank God the EPA has said, ‘We’re going to formally repeal this rule.’ Let’s fix the problem and make it more difficult for someone like a President Warren to just come in and do this again,” he said.
President Trump made good on a major campaign promise Tuesday, as the Environmental Protection Agency announced the beginning of a process that will roll back the Waters of the United States rule, a move that has champions of private property rights cheering loudly.
On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made the policy shift official.
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” said Pruitt in a statement.
“This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public,” he added
“It’s a big day for freedom for property rights and the Constitution,” said R.J. Smith, a senior fellow in environmental policy at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Smith says he Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, which was put forward during the Obama administration, was nothing more than gross distortion of what Congress intended for the EPA to regulate as part of the Clean Water Act.
The act specifically allowed government to regulate “navigable” waterways, which Smith said was well-understood to mean bodies of water on which commerce traveled through shipping. But he says the government was content to leash its authority.
“‘Navigable waters’ kept getting stretched by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers year after year. First it would go to tributary streams. Then it would go to smaller streams. Then it would go to creeks and it would go to irrigation ditches, things that nothing could navigate,” said Smith.
It didn’t stop there.
“Then it began to control the lands that were adjacent to navigable waters and lands that were adjacent to things that ran into navigable waters,” said Smith.
“By vastly expanding this,they’ve reached a point now where something that was only supposed to protect major rivers to see that commerce could take place in America now controls whether a farmer can plow his own land,” said Smith.
And that creeping government control forces property owners to beg Uncle Sam to use their own property.
“It takes an endless amount of time, years of time, money and still uncertainty to try to get a permit to use your own land. Anything that rain falls on now could technically be considered waters of the United States,” said Smith, noting that building a home on seemingly dry land on your own property could lead to millions of dollars in government fines.
The rescinding of WOTUS is not the end of the story. Pruitt’s announcement triggers a 30-day comment period, which will be considered in revising the existing rule.
“EPA and the corps together will come up with a revised rule, hopefully a rule that protects property rights and puts the EPA and the corps back into the constitutional mode they’re supposed to be in,” said Smith.
He also wants Congress to make sure the EPA can never stretch the definition of “navigable waters” ever again.
“The United States Congress needs to go back and revisit the Clean Water Act of 1972 and amend it so that it unequivocally says that “navigable” means navigable and it means by commercial shipping, not by somebody in a motor boat, not by somebody in a canoe or a kayak or a rubber raft or even floating down a little tiny creek in a tube,” said Smith.
A leading critic of the Environmental Protection Agency who served on President Trump’s transition team is very encouraged by the administration approach to the agency in policy and budget, but he says Trump must make good on his promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement.
Trump’s proposed budget made headlines this week, as it called for big cuts in many departments of the federal government. The blueprint calls for a 31 percent reduction in spending at the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Trump plans to spend no more money on climate change projects.
“We’re not spending any more money on that,” said Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”
Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Christopher C. Horner served on Trump’s “landing team” at EPA. He is very encouraged by Trump’s fiscal approach to the EPA.
“It’s a complete departure from anything you might expect from any administration, which is usually, ‘We will just slow the rate of growth,’ no matter what they think if something. That’s sort of the worst thing they would ever consider doing,” said Horner.
He says Trump has no patience for EPA climate change policies that even Obama-era administrator Gina McCarthy admitted were more symbolic than substantive.
“He’s throwing this out the window, saying, ‘We’re trillions in debt. Symbolism is the first thing to go. This is a waste of your money.’ So I think that’s fantastic,” said Horner.
Horner says the trimming will allow the EPA do the job it’s supposed to do rather than burdening Americans with bureaucratic rules.
“They have statutory mandates. They have statutory deadlines. They’ve never met one they liked, but they go off on these very expensive, very harmful hobbies and ideological ax-grinding,” said Horner.
“What they’re saying is, ‘You seem to have an awful lot of time and other people’s money to do that. Why don’t you stick to your knitting and focus on actual environmental problems and actual environmental mandates from Congress,'” said Horner.
Horner says it’s not hard to find places to cut at EPA.
“This is an agency that has grown essentially from an executive order to, over time, consuming major parts of the economy, and tax revenues, and our debt. The expansion from the statutory mission is breathtaking,” said Horner.
Horner also says his experiences at EPA while serving on the landing team left him underwhelmed.
“The insistence by people, including those you might imagine, can’t even tell you how many people work there. But they need more money to do their job because the agency is so big. Yet, if you ask them, for example, ‘What is your role in the federal-state partnership, they will tell you it is ‘partnering.’ OK, well that’s a big flag that maybe this is a good place to save some money,” said Horner.
But while Horner is very pleased with the actions Trump is taking thus far at the EPA, he is pleading with the president to formally withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement signed by the Obama administration in its final months.
He says the consequences of not backing out soon will be very real.
“You’re going to see the pain of the sort that was pointed out in the presidential campaign of these policies but worse and worse every year with more and more promises to make it worse every five years,” said Horner.
While the tenets are effectively voluntary, Horner says every five years there will be immense international pressure and public shaming for the U.S. to keep lowering emissions levels and meeting other targets to keep up with the terms of the treaty, which Obama refused to call a treaty so as to dodge rejection of the deal in the U.S. Senate.
But because Obama took that strategic approach, Horner says Trump can exit the deal just as easily.
“For months before the terms were agreed, [the Obama administration] said, ‘I can’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you it’s not a treaty.’ In other words, whatever happens, we’re going to say it’s not a treaty. That is a ‘what are you going to do about it approach.’ If you live by the ‘what are you going to do about it’ approach, then it can also die by it. President Trump promised to cancel the Paris climate treaty,” said Horner.
Horner says the only argument being made against withdrawing is the international blowback that would come for the U.S. But he says the whole point of the treaty is to shame the U.S. for any reluctance to restrict emissions, so staying in the agreement would only make the criticism more intense.
However, despite Trump’s campaign promises, Horner suspects Trump won’t pull out of the agreement.
“I’m encouraged that the issue seems to be open again because I think the wrong answer was reached. So we have time, but I have to tell you I’m not very confident because people very close to the president are pushing for him to break this campaign promise,” said Horner.
He says time is of the essence.
“If President Trump doesn’t get out of this within the next two months, probably six weeks and certainly by the July G-20 meeting in Hamburg, July 7-8, then we’re probably in this forever,” said Horner.