In June, just five months into Donald Trump’s presidency, he made good on his campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.
Trump had already rolled back some of his predecessor’s federal environmental mandates through executive orders, and he had worked with Congress to block 14 late-term regulations passed by President Barack Obama’s administration through resolutions of disapproval of those regulations under the Congressional Review Act.
Many state legislatures are following Trump’s lead, reducing state interventions in energy markets and promoting greater use and easier development of energy resources. Among those actions, New Mexico’s Senate Corporation Committee in March rejected a proposed increase to the state’s renewable-energy mandate. In May, Iowa allowed a 1.5-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for renewable energy to lapse. Also in May, Indiana enacted legislation ending its net-metering program, which had forced utilities to pay households with rooftop solar panels retail rates for excess electricity they sent to the grid, raising energy costs.
North Dakota and Oklahoma passed laws aimed at preventing the kind of violent protests undertaken in North Dakota to block the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) late in 2016. During the DAP protests, participants carried out numerous acts of violence, damaging private and public property and resources. Other states are considering similar laws.
Obama Administration Called Out
What we’re seeing is a return to federalism, says Marc Morano, publisher of Climate Depot and a former senior staff member for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“The Obama administration imposed numerous environmental mandates on the states, taking away state and local governments’ abilities to tailor environmental policies to their unique needs,” said Morano. “New Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is properly reestablishing federalism by reviewing and rescinding many federal rules, regulations, and regulatory excesses imposed on states during the past decade.”
Morano says during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, EPA imposed just five federal air-quality implementation plans on states.
“By comparison, Obama’s EPA imposed 56 federal implementation plans on the states, producing no measureable improvement in air quality,” Morano said. “The Obama administration went regulation-happy.
“Obama ignored the states’ willingness and abilities to deal with regional and local environmental problems,” said Morano.
Morano says Obama’s obsession with climate change led his administration to ignore more-immediate environmental problems.
“Pruitt rightly called out Obama’s poor EPA record,” Morano said. “The obsession with climate change meant real environmental concerns were overshadowed.”
Calls for Joint Attack
To continue successfully rolling back economically harmful, Obama-era environmental mandates, the Trump administration and state legislatures will have to work together, says Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research.
“States are undertaking efforts to undo regulations imposed through gubernatorial executive fiat,” Cohen said. “This is exactly the way they should go, because this fight is now going to shift from the federal to the state level. With Trump’s help, they should also be able to undo or successfully challenge numerous costly regulations imposed by the Obama administration.”
With Trump as president, environmental lobbyists have no choice but to shift to the states their efforts to impose more stringent environmental and energy regulations, Cohen says.
“Unless something radically changes in Washington, DC, greens have no place to go but to redouble their lobbying efforts at the state and local levels,” said Cohen. “This makes it incumbent upon state legislators wanting to reduce the regulatory burden in their states and make their states more economically competitive to quickly act to undo regulations implemented in anticipation of fossil-fuel restrictions under, for example, the Paris accord, Clean Power Plan, or ozone or air-toxic rules, to act before greens can ramp up their state-based lobbying efforts.”
Cohen says it’s critical to understand the Obama administration’s energy and climate policies hurt middle- and low-income people far more than anyone else.
“None of these Obama-era regulations are really going to put a dent in the income of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, or anyone else in Hollywood or Silicon Valley,” said Cohen. “The current system serves their interests quite well, but the regime Obama attempted to impose would manifestly undermine the livelihoods of ordinary Americans, destroying the notion of upward social mobility.
“The best way to improve the lives of ordinary citizens and improve the businesses environment is to attack these mandates and regulations simultaneously at the federal and state levels,” Cohen said. “Nothing succeeds like success, and I think once state legislators see environmental regulations can be rolled back at the federal level, they’ll say, ‘Why don’t we roll back bad state regulations as well?'”
Emphasis on Competitiveness
Following Trump’s “America first” example, Cohen says he believes states will want to make their business environments as competitive as possible.
“President Trump is showing what can be done, which I think will spur state legislators to try and make their own states as economically competitive as possible,” Cohen said. “Beginning the next legislative session, I think you’re going to see increased initiatives by Republican state legislators, who, working with governors, will attempt to roll back regulations, whether they have to do with the climate, energy, or what have you.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.