Election Anniversary: Regulatory Rollback, Stories Over Statistics, and Pressure for Local Enforcement

Approximately one year ago, Donald Trump won the presidential election.  How does the Trump/Pruitt EPA record match up with the predictions that I made?

It appears that several trends that I predicted are indeed occurring.  Perhaps most importantly, while the EPA is rolling back some significant regulations, and is emphasizing stories over enforcement statistics, the pressure for environmental enforcement at the local level appears to be staying strong.

Regulatory Rollback

In my first Alert on this topic, I predicted that the EPA would attempt to abolish the clean power plan, re-write the definition of “waters of the United States,” and scale back limits on mercury emissions.  Looking back, these were fairly safe predictions, and all are in various stages of development.

Stories Not Statistics

In another Alert devoted to enforcement trends, I stated that Trump seems to prefer stories over statistics; this appears to be true of the Trump/Pruitt EPA.  Several private publications have cited statistics indicating that the EPA led enforcement has significantly lessened, for both the number of cases and the penalties extracted.

In interviews, Mr. Pruitt does not seem to challenge the statistics; rather, he points to individual cases as evidence of his personal commitment to environmental enforcement.  In essence, he wants to show his commitment with stories, not statistics.  One case that he has specifically mentioned is the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund Site.  Mr. Pruitt points to his insistence on a removal remedy, over the objection of the companies who will be paying for the removal, as showing his commitment.  This remedy is discussed in another Alert.

Ongoing Pressure for Local Enforcement

Another enforcement trend that I predicted in an Alert was increased enforcement by state and local governments, and by environmental groups.  While I have not seen good statistics, anecdotal evidence indicates many local environmental authorities are trying to increase environmental enforcement in this context.  For example, I have heard of local environmental enforcement professionals being asked to show increased action, and of them needing to remind their supervisors that environmental cases are often difficult and time consuming to prepare.  I see no indication that the pressure in local communities to increase environmental enforcement will lessen.  Indeed, I sense that this pressure is ongoing even in some “red” state communities.

The rollback of certain regulations continues, although this can be a slow process.  The EPA will pursue fewer enforcement cases and extract less in penalties, and do this largely without apology.  Pressure on local government environmental enforcement officials to bring more cases will continue.  Facilities in those localities should stay vigilant, as local officials will be looking for cases to bring to counter a perceived lack of commitment to enforcement by the EPA.

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