Fault Lines

The Rollback: Trump’s Toxic War

A look at the Trump administration’s regulations cull and the consequences for health, safety and the environment.

Since US President Donald Trump entered the White House, there is one achievement he can’t be denied.

He has made good on a campaign promise to repeal hundreds of “job-killing” federal rules, often following recommendations from powerful industries.

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal … and clean coal, really clean coal. With today’s executive action, I’m taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump said.

Entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness”, the most notable changes in the first budget under the Trump administration were severe cuts and regulatory rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a government body created to protect health and the environment.

The havoc that has been wreaked in environmental protection is going to take a decade or more to undo.

by Betsy Southerland, former EPA employee

EPA’s new chief is Scott Pruitt, a climate-denying politician from Oklahoma who is backed by the fossil fuels industry and who – under the Obama administration – sued the EPA 14 times on behalf of many of the polluting industries he is now supposed to regulate.

Since under Pruitt’s patronage, the EPA has reversed a proposed ban on a pesticide linked to autism and developmental delays in children, reconsidered rules on coal ash disposal, and repealed the Obama administration’s signature plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The US has also pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, essentially breaching the promise to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

Betsy Southerland was a senior official at the EPA’s Office of Water for 30 years. When the Trump administration decided to roll back regulations on coal waste pollution produced by energy companies, Southerland left the agency.

Within weeks of vacating her position, Scott Pruitt announced he would consider repealing a rule Southerland’s team had enforced regarding wastewater discharges from power plants.

Pruitt attributed the repeal to job loss and economic impact.

“I don’t know why he said that, because at that point … we had never briefed him once on the rule. We could have definitely shown him in great detail that there was not going to be any big job loss or any big economic impact,” says Southerland. “[It’s] heartbreaking because we know that that rule was so necessary to protect public health.” 

In this episode of Fault Lines, we look beyond the smoke and the scandals, and travel to North Carolina and California’s Central Valley, where communities have cautionary tales about what this rollback could cost.