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.

Up Next

One Cool Thing: Going for the Climate Gold

One Cool Thing: Going for the Climate Gold

This past July, all eyes were on Tokyo when over 10,000 Olympians from 206 nations descended on the city to make history. Despite a decrease in carbon emissions due to COVID-19 and fewer traveling spectators, the games still produced 2.3 million tons of CO2.    In 2021, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) pledged to reduce […]

Continue Reading 144 words
One Cool Thing: Fighting the Pandemic Plastic Boom

One Cool Thing: Fighting the Pandemic Plastic Boom

Startups across the country are on a mission to provide sustainable food packaging options and close the plastic loop, especially prompted by the pandemic take-out boom. Over 70% of Americans order delivery one to three times a week, creating hundreds of billions of single-use bowls, bags, utensils, and more.   But some innovative companies have […]

Continue Reading 168 words
One Cool Thing: Earthshot Winners Announced

One Cool Thing: Earthshot Winners Announced

Five winners have been awarded £1 million each by Prince William’s Earthshot Prize in recognition for their sustainability and conservation efforts. The winners across five categories are: coral-growing and reef-restoring enterprise Coral Vita; the Republic of Costa Rica for its programs in forest restoration; the company Takachar whose technology can turn agricultural waste into sellable […]

Continue Reading 177 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.