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Trump Cabinet Selections Signal Potential Changes to Environmental Regulations

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By Chris Colyer

As previously reported here, President-elect Donald Trump’s victory could have profound implications for federal environmental regulation. Although the scope of the intended regulatory changes remains uncertain, President-elect Trump’s recent Cabinet nominations—most notably Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy, and Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior—provide a clearer picture of his administration’s goals.

Scott Pruitt, currently the Attorney General for the State of Oklahoma, is a vocal critic of EPA and particularly, its Clean Power Plan. Pruitt—who has written that the climate change debate is “far from settled”—has joined with attorneys general from more than twenty states in suing EPA over its Clean Power Plan, as well as suing to stop recently announced regulations regarding methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Former Texas Governor and Dancing with the Stars contestant Rick Perry, a supporter of fossil fuels, nevertheless has championed renewable energy, proudly proclaiming that Texas produces more wind energy than all but five countries. In an ironic twist, Perry previously had identified the Department of Energy as one of three departments he would like to eliminate from the federal government.

Trump’s most recent Cabinet selection, Ryan Zinke, is a Republican congressman from Montana and currently sits on the House Natural Resources Committee. Zinke has embraced traditional Republican positions on environmental regulations, including support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Assuming all three are confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the nominations of Pruitt, Perry, and Zinke suggest the Trump Administration will seek to scale-back, or repeal, the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Likewise, some suspect that the United States will further incentivize oil exploration and production, particularly given the nomination of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Similarly, most anticipate the Trump Administration will ease restrictions to pipeline projects, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Given the potential reduction in federal environmental regulations, expect some states to offset these impacts by strengthening individual state and local regulations.  On the other hand, other states—such as Texas and Oklahoma—may attempt to reduce state environmental regulation to correspond with the Trump Administration’s goals, particularly if it will benefit existing local economies based on coal or oil production.