Top Ten Stories of 2020: Trump Showers US With Rollbacks

Cartoon by Alex Bowman for Our Daily Planet

President Trump will go down in history as having engaged in a fast and furious attempt to roll back decades of progress on environmental laws, particularly in his final few months in office.  Nothing epitomizes these relentlessly punitive rollbacks more than his ridiculous obsession with undoing water efficiency requirements for toilets, dishwashers, showerheads, and washing machines.  He didn’t seem to notice that at the same time as he was turning back the clock on using water more efficiently for routine tasks, water shortages were growing around the country, from California to Colorado to Georgia, and tens of millions of acres were burning in the west due to severe drought.  Big cities are thirsty places and water is unaffordable in many of them — like Detroit.  But all the President could talk about was his hair and needing lots of water to wash it.  It was beyond absurd.

There were many more pernicious rollbacks throughout the year. There was the rollback of the Endangered Species Act that limed habitat that could be conserved to protect species from extinction.  There was the rollback of the clean car rulemaking cars less fuel-efficient and more polluting.  There were the rollbacks of clean air rules for soot and smog and coal plants and toxic pollutants like mercury.  There was the rollback of rules on oil and gas drilling safety. There were the rollbacks of methane gas pollution rules on federal lands and from pipelines and other facilities. There was the rollback of the rules on pesticides and protecting agricultural workers.  There was the rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act for assessing the environmental impacts of federal projects.  There were the rollbacks on air and water quality standards of various sorts.  There was the rollback of rules about the privacy of subjects of clinical trials and other scientific safeguards.  There was even a rollback of the rule defining what is a body of water that can be regulated to prevent water pollution. Not to mention Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. And the few rules that remained were not enforced.

For a full list of all the rollbacks, you can click here to go to the Harvard regulatory rollback tracker website — which will likely get many more entries as the Trump administration goes on a rollback spree before they head for the exits. 

Many of these rollbacks have been invalidated by judges around the country who held the Trump administration accountable for cutting corners and flawed reasoning. The Trump administration’s flagrant disregard for democratic principles of government and the rule of law came back to bite them – repeatedly.  In one case that typified these results, the Judge said the Interior Department “engineered a process to ensure a preordained conclusion” to repeal the prior rule.  In their haste to help the fossil fuel industry and big donors, the Trump administration forgot the most basic principle — the government itself must follow the law.

Soon the Biden Administration will be able to rollback the rollbacks and begin to enforce the laws again. But it will take time to repair the damage done at the Environmental Protection Agency, which had its entire mission turned on its head.  “The Trump administration is the first in the history of the agency to devote itself so relentlessly to a rollback agenda without even a pretense of meaningfully reducing environmental pollution,” John Walke, an attorney and senior adviser to the NRDC Action Fund, told The Intercept.  If he keeps his campaign promises, President-elect Biden’s Day 1 in office will be a doozy — a rollback-a-palooza of Trump rollbacks.

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