Trump Administration

MinnPost: Why a Clean Water Rule May – Or May Not – Be a Big Issue in Minnesota’s First Congressional District

Why a Clean Water Rule May – Or May Not – Be a Big Issue in Minnesota’s First Congressional District

By Walker Orenstein

As farmers in southern Minnesota grapple with President Donald Trump’s escalating trade war — testing the alliance between the agriculture industry and the GOP that substantially benefited Trump in 2016 —  First Congressional District Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn is making sure to showcase the administration’s industry-friendly policies as part of his effort to persuade voters to send him to Congress.

That means highlighting support for mining in northern Minnesota, including the recent decision to end a study of potential impact from copper-nickel mining on the Superior National Forest and the neighboring Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

But it also includes touting a Trump administration effort that hits much closer to home in southern Minnesota: the rollback of a 2015 update to the Clean Water Act that expanded protections to small bodies of water feeding larger rivers and lakes — a policy that happened to be one of President Barack Obama’s signature environmental initiatives.

“It’s one of the biggest regulatory issues in agriculture,” Hagedorn said. “I bring it up all the time.”

A fight over water protections

The Obama EPA’s 2015 rule change has a long backstory. It starts more than 40 years ago, when Congress first approved the Clean Water Act. That original bill gave the federal government jurisdiction over the “waters of the United States.”

Ever since, people have not stopped arguing what that actually means, and how broad the government’s authority is under the law. Does it apply only to  lakes and rivers and water that feeds directly into them? Or does the law cover even small wetlands, bogs, streams and other isolated or seasonal bits of water?

Supreme Court rulings on the matter have never quite cleared things up, so under Obama, the EPA stepped in to make firm — and far-reaching — guidelines on what could be considered a Water of the United States. John Kolb, a St. Cloud-based attorney who focuses on water and natural resources regulations, says a long study conducted by the EPA used to justify its rule boiled down to: “All water is connected.”

Many farmers took issue with the decision, however. Beyond their general opposition to government expansion, industry groups said the rule change meant they were going to be targeted and penalized for standard agricultural practices. Kirby Hettver, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said farmers out West were found in violation of Obama-era Clean Water Act “just for tilling their soil.”

He was referring to a case that began in 2012 in which the government ordered a farmer in Northern California, John Duarte, to pay millions in fines and penalties after it said he broke the law by “deep ripping” his field to plant wheat without a permit, and disturbing seasonal wetlands called vernal pools that are notably home to fairy shrimp. (While there are plenty of agricultural exemptions to the Clean Water Act, the government said the field wasn’t subject to them since it hadn’t been plowed in decades. The case was eventually settled.)

While Duarte’s legal saga started before Obama’s update to the Clean Water Act, it became a rallying cry for conservatives worried about government overreach, a charge that found a sympathetic reception within the Trump administration. Earlier this year, the EPA withdrew the rule and is now in the process of writing a more narrow definition of which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Effect in Minnesota

And yet, whether any of this means much for Minnesota remains a topic of debate. One reason is that despite the Trump EPA’s withdrawal of Obama’s Waters of the United States rule, litigation has reinstituted the Obama rule in more than 20 states, including Minnesota.

For another, Minnesota administers much of the Clean Water Act for itself, and it adopted its own stringent definition of protected waters decades ago, said Jean Coleman, an attorney for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In fact, Minnesota’s rule is far broader than the Obama-era water rule, and includes everything from irrigation and drainage systems to all “accumulations of water, surface or underground, natural or artificial, public or private,” within the state, she said.

“The definition of ‘Waters of the State’ is extremely expansive and it captures all waters that would be under the Obama definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ or under any other definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ because it is so expansive,” Coleman said.

She added: “I don’t think you can think of anything that’s liquid water that falls from the sky that’s not a water of the state.”

The state also has its own tough laws protecting wetlands and more, said Scott Strand, senior attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. Those laws blunt any given update or reversal of the federal Waters of the United States rule. “It will have a more dramatic impact in states that don’t have vigorous state clean water protections,” Strand said of the changes to the Waters of the United States rule.



Indianapolis Business Journal OpEd: Rolling Back Clean-Car Standards is Misguided


September 14, 2018

Janet McCabe: Rolling Back Clean-Car Standards is Misguided


By Janet McCabe

The Trump administration has issued its much-anticipated proposal to roll back America’s clean-car standards. If it is finalized, impacts for Indiana will include more money spent at the gas pump; fewer choices of efficient, clean vehicles; fewer jobs in auto manufacturing; more air pollution; and a less-competitive American auto industry.

The current standards were adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2012, with unanimous support from the American car industry, and nearly unanimous support from international companies.
The standards provide regulatory certainty through 2025, with plenty of lead time to design and build increasingly efficient cars. California, which is authorized to set stronger emissions standards under the Clean Air Act, also signed on to the 2012 rules, so there would be a single national clean-car program.

Six years later, Americans have many more choices for fuel-efficient vehicles of all models and sizes. Fewer trips to the gas station means more money for other things. Less gas burned means less air pollution in our neighborhoods, which is good for our health and good for the planet. The agencies last affirmed the continuing need for and appropriateness of the standards in 2016, after a thorough review with input from all stakeholders.

The administration’s proposal, which would freeze the standards as of 2020, is based on conclusions about costs, driving behavior and safety that are already being vigorously challenged as not supported by facts.

First, it assumes people will not buy fuel-efficient cars and thus drive their older, less-safe vehicles longer. That conclusion is contradicted by sales data.

Second, it exaggerates what consumers will do with the money they save on gas, finding they will drive more, negating the benefits of the rule and increasing traffic fatalities.

Third, it assumes that one of the approaches available to increase fuel economy—using high-strength, lighter-weight materials—will also increase fatalities. Wrong again. The auto industry does not trade safety for fuel-efficiency; lighter SUVs and pickups are actually safer, and lighter-weight aluminum does not sacrifice strength.

What about jobs and air quality? The agencies’ own analyses of the proposal acknowledge a loss of 60,000 auto industry jobs, and the UAW and United Steelworkers have both expressed concern about rolling back the standards. And while the proposed rule downplays air-quality impacts, rolling back the standards will increase the amount of gas we use by 500,000 barrels per day. This means increases in a broad range of air pollutants that contribute to smog and soot and toxic emissions such as benzene.

American automakers have said they do not want a rollback. They have said they do not want to pick a fight with California. They want certainty, one national program, and standards that will keep them competitive in the global auto market. Industry advocacy group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said recently that “automakers support continued improvements in fuel economy and flexibilities that incentivize advanced technologies while balancing priorities like affordability, jobs, safety and the environment.”

The Alliance urged the federal government and California to work toward a “common sense solution” to resolve their differences on mileage and emission standards. Well said. This ill-considered proposal is now available for comment. Let’s hope a sound policy meeting everyone’s needs prevails in the end.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Misguided New Oil & Gas Proposal Weakens Strong Methane Reduction Standards that Avoid Waste and Protect Public Health and Our Environment


September 10, 2018

Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center, (312) 795-3706

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Misguided New Oil & Gas Proposal Weakens Strong Methane Reduction Standards that Avoid Waste and Protect Public Health and Our Environment   


In response to the Trump Administration’s proposed rollback of existing methane waste reduction standards in connection with oil and gas drilling across the Midwest and the country, Environmental Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner said:

“The Administration’s ideology is trumping common sense methane reduction standards that avoid energy waste and protect the public and our environment from dangerous smog-forming pollution. The current standards call for the use of known technologies and good industry practices to reduce wasteful methane leaks. The new proposal would allow more methane leaks that harm human health and our climate, and waste energy resources.

“The existing EPA standards for new and modified sources of dangerous pollution in the oil and gas industry resulted from an extensive public process and include reasonable cost-effective measures that some companies are already using and some states are already requiring. One study concluded that compliance with the existing standards would generate nearly 5,400 jobs annually in leak detection to reduce emissions at covered facilities. The Trump Administration is again proposing to weaken a sensible federal standard that avoids energy waste and protects public health from smog and reduces harmful climate change pollution,” Learner said.


View the EPA’s proposal here.

Indy Star: Trump EPA’s New Energy Plan Tries to Save Coal Industry, but Puts Public Health at Risk

by Sarah Bowman

Under a new federal energy proposal aimed at dismantling Obama-era limits on greenhouse gas emissions, Indiana utilities could scrap plans to shut down several coal-fired power plants.

It’s unclear how the utilities will react if the plan released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency is eventually adopted, but advocates and opponents are already lining up.

Coal industry officials see the Affordable Clean Energy plan proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration as a life preserver at a time when utility executives are increasingly turning to natural gas and renewable energy sources.

“We are very hopeful and encouraged that this will now provide the opportunity for utilities in Indiana who have announced or are considering coal plant closures, that there will be some reconsideration,” said Bruce Stevens, president of the Indiana Coal Council.

But the Trump Administration’s own analysis predicts the plan would put higher levels of dangerous pollutants in the air, causing as many as 1,500 additional premature deaths annually by 2030 from heart and lung disease.

The proposal is expected to meet stern resistance from people concerned about climate change and air pollution, during what is expected to be a lengthy approval process.

“The Trump proposal is unlawful, unacceptable and won’t succeed at saving the coal industry,” said Wendy Bredhold, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal efforts in Indiana. “Trump’s Dirty Power Plan won’t stop our progress.”

Whether the plan is eventually adopted, or becomes tied up in litigation like a previous Obama proposal remains an open question.



McCabe, who worked on the Obama Administration’s plan, sees the Trump plan as undermining efforts to slow climate change and protect public health. “I think this plan shows there is no commitment from the current administration to address climate change,” she said. “Zero.”

She said the word “health” is rarely mentioned in the plan, “but that is what the Clean Air program is about, protecting public health and welfare and the environment.”


Chicago Tonight: Janet McCabe, Former Senior EPA Administrator, On Trump’s Environmental Moves

May 10, 2018
Former Senior EPA Administrator on Trump’s Environmental Moves
By Paul Caine

Last week, the Trump administration cut a deal with Gov. Scott Walker to exempt much of southeast Wisconsin from having to comply with the latest federal limits on lung-damaging smog.

It’s an area that already has poor air quality, but it is also where Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn is building a new plant. Critics argue that the move is intended to save Foxconn and other businesses the expense of meeting the new, higher standard.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency also plans to scrap Obama-era rules that required automakers to make their cars progressively more fuel-efficient.

As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt takes a very different approach from his immediate predecessors on protecting air quality, what will be the impact on our air and health?

Janet McCabe played a lead role in shaping the Clean Air Act as the acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in the Obama administration. She is now a senior law fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, where she works to advance polices to promote clean air and safe drinking water.

McCabe thinks the Trump administration’s move to exempt areas of Wisconsin from having to meet the latest air quality standards is likely to face legal challenges. But in the short term, it will mean dirty air.

“I expect there may well be people living in areas where the air quality is unhealthy who won’t know about it. And that states like Wisconsin will not be putting in measures to reduce those emissions,” McCabe said.

“This is administrative decision making by the (EPA). They have to lay out their reasoning to the satisfaction of a court — if a case gets challenged … I think that based on past precedent that some of these decisions are not adequately supported by the factual information that the agency has.”

As for the decision to scrap the rules that require new cars to be more fuel-efficient, McCabe is both dismayed and concerned.

“This was a really remarkable and positive agreement between the automakers and the federal government and California on a long-trajectory plan that would make vehicles get considerably cleaner over time in a way the preserved the automakers’ ability to be as flexible as possible to build the kind of cars that people want,” she said. “It’s very discouraging to see this administration basically disregarding the success that the auto industry has had in the six years since those laws were put in place and suggest we need a lower level of ambition. Cars emit about one-third of the pollution in this country – greenhouse gas pollution but also pollution in our neighborhoods. They are all over the country. Everybody uses them and (higher fuel-efficiency standards) are one of the best ways of improving air quality in this country.”

McCabe joins host Phil Ponce to discuss her time at the EPA and her concerns.


Curbed: ELPC’s Andy Olsen Emphasizes the Importance of Solar Energy for Rural America’s Development

The Rural Renewable Power Renaissance
Solar and wind have made great strides across the country. Will Trump’s budget halt progress toward a greener heartland?
April 4, 2017
By Patrick Sisson

Abita Springs, Louisiana, a bedroom community of 2,365 about an hour north of New Orleans, is the picture of a small Southern town. The fifth-largest city in St. Tammany Parish, it’s best known for the local microbrewery Abita Brewing Company. Late last month, it also made news as the latest municipality in the country to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

“I hope we’re setting an example for other small communities across the country,” says Mayor Greg Lemons, who made it a point to lead by example and add solar panels to his boat on Lake Pontchartrain. “I want people to say, ‘Look at Abita Springs, a small town with a $3 million budget. They’re doing something.’”

So far, the Abita Springs effort is in its preliminary stage. The town is already replacing regular bulbs with LED lights, but is also examining how to add solar panels to all municipal buildings and, eventually, include electric vehicle charging stations. It’s just a plan and a promise, but the gesture is also a symbol of the growth of renewable energy in the U.S., especially in rural areas of the country.

”I’m a Republican, but I’m not a Republican that says ‘business at any cost,’” says Lemons. “We need to be concerned about our environment and invest in our environment.”

Increasingly, Lemons isn’t a outlier. As the new administration begins to enact its energy policy, including support for the coal industry, the conventional wisdom says that support for fossil fuels is a play by Trump to appeal to his base of rural voters. But like any cross-section of the country, rural America isn’t easily stereotyped. Renewable power has made significant strides across this part of the country as wind and solar take root in farm country, as well as more sparsely populated parts of the United States.

It’s not just that renewable power is providing more jobs than the coal industry—roughly 300,000 U.S. workers are employed by wind and solar, compared to the 65,971 who work in coal mining—it’s also having an outsized impact on rural communities. The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign, which features municipalities that have, like Abita Springs, committed to a renewable energy future, includes rural towns such as Greensburg, Kansas.

According to Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, significant advances have been made in rural wind and solar power in the last decade, and the growth of these energy sources is helping rural America.

“There is a lot of talk about the gulf between urban and rural Americans,” he says. “There’s a lot less of a gulf than we think. There are a lot of rural people interested in seeing these renewable energy programs work, who are very passionate about natural resource conservation.”

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WGN Radio’s The Download: ELPC’s Learner Talks to Justin Kaufmann About the Impact of Trump’s Rollbacks of Clean Power Plan & Fuel Efficiency Standards

Why Does President Trump Want to Loosen Fuel Economy Standards?
March 30, 2017
With Justin Kaufmann

Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, joins Justin to discuss President Trump rolling back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, President Trump signing an executive order killing of Obama’s Clean Power Plan and what that means for the economy, technology and climate change.

Listen Here

Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Warns Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts to Transportation Bad for Midwest Economy

Trump ‘Skinny Budget’ would Starve Chicago Transit, City of New Orleans Train: Officials
March 28, 2017
By Mary Wisniewski

The City of New Orleans, the train immortalized in the Steve Goodman song, could disappear under President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget blueprint.

So could the California Zephyr, the Empire Builder and other storied long-distance Amtrak runs, along with the federal funding that could replace Metra’s out-of-date rolling stock, unclog Chicago freight traffic and extend the CTA’s Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street, according to transit advocates and officials.

Trump’s 2018 “skinny budget” proposes a 13 percent cut in federal funding for transportation, which is directed entirely against nonroad spending. Trump’s 2018 spending plan will start getting more attention in Congress since the bill to replace the Affordable Care Act has been pulled for lack of votes. A full budget release is expected in May.

The president’s transportation budget proposal may ultimately get no further than did the Republican health care bill. But the transit cuts laid out in the proposal are still worrying local transit advocates and agency officials, because they show the administration’s priorities.

“I think the intent is clear in this proposal. If you drive, you deserve federal funds. If you don’t drive, you don’t deserve federal funds,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, a train advocacy group.

Harnish said that Trump’s proposals have little chance of passage as they now stand. “But the fact that this is the position of the Department of Transportation, that only driving has value to the federal government, is a really, really bad policy statement,” Harnish said.

Transportation expert Yonah Freemark said that the Chicago area, with its large network of mass transit and freight rail, may be one of the worst hit in the nation in terms of cuts under the proposal.

Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld called the proposal “unnerving.”

“It’s far from being something that has enough detail for people to seriously consider, but it’s a telltale — it’s signaling what the intention is,” Scheinfeld said.

The skinny budget proposes increasing defense spending by $52.3 billion and advocates increases for Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security while slashing almost everything else. In regard to transportation, the document proposes cutting spending by $2.4 billion, reducing or eliminating programs that are “inefficient, duplicative of other federal efforts or that are better delivered by states, localities or the private sector.”

The administration proposes a multiyear plan to shift the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration to an independent, non-governmental organization — something that has the support of major airlines, according to Airlines for America, an industry trade group. The FAA would continue to provide oversight for the system.

The proposal would end federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance train service and future funding for new transit projects. Future investments for new transit projects “would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” the budget blueprint states.

Funding for highways, like federal money for maintenance received by the Illinois Department of Transportation, would be unaffected, said Freemark, who writes the blog the Transport Politic.

The budget proposal “terminates federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance train services, which have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.” The proposal said the Amtrak cuts would allow the agency to focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services.

The effect would be to reduce by a quarter the number of Amtrak trains that come into Chicago’s Union Station, according to Audrey Wennink, director of transportation for the Metropolitan

Planning Council, a nonprofit research group. State-supported trains like the Hiawatha to Milwaukee and the Lincoln Service to Springfield would remain, though their ridership could get hurt by the loss of the long-distance trains with their connections.

“It’s a network,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “Fewer trains in the network means lower ridership on all the trains.”

For passengers going to places like St. Louis and Carbondale, the cut would mean fewer trains — for example, one of the three trains to Carbondale is the long-distance City of New Orleans, Wennink explained. But for passengers going to St. Paul, or Cleveland or San Francisco, there would be no trains at all, she said.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the proposed cuts are ironic, given Trump’s talk about investing in transportation infrastructure and jobs.

“His cutbacks to Amtrak go in exactly the opposite direction,” Learner said. He said the cuts will particularly hurt people in rural communities and midsize cities, as well as seniors and students.

“People will have less mobility,” he said. “That’s not good for our society, and it’s certainly not good for our economy.”

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The State Journal-Register: Learner Says ELPC will Stand Up for Citizens’ Rights to Clean Air and Water

State_Journal-Register_logoEnvironmentalists Preparing to Battle Trump, GOP in Court
January 29, 2017
By Tammy Webber and John Flesher

CHICAGO – The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, five environmental lawyers filed a federal court brief defending an Obama administration clean-water rule that the new president and his Republican allies have targeted for elimination, considering it burdensome to landowners.

The move served as a warning that environmentalists, facing a hostile administration and a Republican-dominated Congress, are prepared to battle in court against what they fear will be a wave of unfavorable policies concerning climate change, wildlife protection, federal lands and pollution.

Advocacy groups nationwide are hiring more staff lawyers. They’re coordinating with private attorneys and firms that have volunteered to help. They’re reviewing statutes, setting priorities and seeking donations.

“It’s going to be all-out war,” said Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau. “If you’re an environmentalist or conservationist, this is indeed a scary time.”

Trump’s first week in office only heightened their anxieties. He moved to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that the Obama administration had halted, while signaling intentions to abandon his predecessor’s fight against global warming, vastly expand oil and gas drilling on public lands and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, introduced measures to overturn a new Interior Department rule barring coal mining companies from damaging streams and to remove some wolves from the endangered species list.

“They’ve wasted no time in doing bad things,” said Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s 50-member legal team, which he said is likely to grow as environmentalists increasingly regard the courts as their best option, even though success there is far from certain.

The Department of Justice, which represents the federal government in environmental lawsuits, declined to comment, while the White House did not respond to emails seeking comment. Doug Ericksen, communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA, said of the environmentalists that he’s “not sure what they think they’re preparing for” but suspects they are stoking fear of Trump as a fundraising tool.

“They’re more concerned about raising money than protecting the environment,” Ericksen said.

Jim Burling, litigation director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit property rights group that sues regulators on behalf of businesses and landowners, also contended environmental groups were exaggerating the Trump administration’s threat for political and financial gain.

The government bureaucracy is entrenched, Burling said, and, “who happens to occupy the White House hasn’t made that much difference.”

Environmentalists say their fears are justified by the new administration’s antagonism toward government’s role in keeping air and water clean and the planet from overheating.

Donations began increasing after Trump’s election, “even before the fundraising letters were sent” asking for support to fight the administration’s actions, said David Goldston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earthjustice, which has represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, has about 100 staff attorneys and plans to bring more aboard, said Tim Preso, who manages the group’s Northern Rockies office.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is adding four attorneys to its pre-election staff of 18 and is coordinating with more than a dozen outside attorneys who would file citizen suits against polluters for free if agencies fail to enforce existing rules, said Executive Director Howard Learner.

“We cannot fully substitute and replace the EPA doing its job,” Learner said. “But on the other hand, we’re not going to default to zero if the EPA steps backward when it comes to clean air and clean water enforcement.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Howard Learner Remains Positive Despite Forthcoming Trump Administration

Midwest-Energy-News-LogoQ&A: Advocate Upbeat about Midwest as Trump Administration Looms
January 19, 2017
By Kari Lydersen

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center based in Chicago, spent the early 1980s fighting for fair housing laws and civil rights protections during the Reagan administration.

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Learner lamented how he feels like the clock has turned back three decades, and he’s again in the position of fighting for basic protections and rights that many Americans have long embraced.

But Learner said he is up for the battle, and confident that public opinion, state and local politics and economics are on his side. 

Midwest Energy News talked with Learner about the impending Trump administration and the ELPC’s plans for the next four years. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This transcript has been updated for clarity)

Midwest Energy News: So how do you feel about the next four years?  

Learner: We have a plan, we’re geared up to fight back. The best defense is a good offense – we’re fired up and ready. At ELPC we need to step up and be prepared to act in the changing political landscape, we need to find ways to play to win both in terms of defense in Washington D.C. and the place we can play offense to achieve important progress in the states and the cities. The Midwest is a pretty good place for us to get things done.

What role does the Midwest play exactly in the struggle to protect the environment and clean energy during the Trump administration?

The American public and pragmatic Midwesterners strongly support core environmental values like clean air, safer drinking water and people being able to live in communities without toxic threats. And there’s strong bipartisan consensus in favor of clean energy development that’s good for jobs, economic growth, the environment.

There have been good examples in the Midwest that illustrate both points. The tragedy of contaminated water in Flint has made it clear to Democratic and Republican policymakers around the Midwest that the public won’t accept unsafe drinking water. It’s a bipartisan issue, it’s a nonpartisan issue.

Recently [Illinois Gov. Bruce] Rauner signed into law legislation to reduce the lead risk in the drinking water supply for children in public schools and day care centers…When it comes to clean safe drinking water and healthier clean air, there is strong mainstream public support for better protection by both the U.S. EPA and the state EPAs. They believe there are common sense solutions that we can carry forth, that transcend partisan urban-rural and other divides.

Are you saying that it will be up to governors and state legislatures to pass stronger laws in case the Trump administration weakens or does not enforce federal protections?

On the clean water, clean air and clean energy fronts, it’s clear we’re going to need to play defense in Washington D.C. Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be U.S. EPA Administrator.  Mr. Pruitt has spent his career as an Attorney General persistently suing the EPA to stop or stall standards to protect clean air and safe drinking water. It is the fox guarding the chicken coop. As the old saying goes, you hope for the best but you plan for the worst.

Unfortunately I expect that ELPC and our colleagues will have to file lawsuits to require the EPA to do its job and fulfill its responsibility, to protect healthy air and clean drinking water for people around our region.

The Trump transition team has indicated that they plan to greatly cut back EPA’s environmental enforcement. If EPA does step back on its environmental enforcement responsibilities, ELPC will help stand up to fill the gap. We’re hiring some additional public interest litigation attorneys. This is one of ELPC’s core strengths, and we are building upon it. This is a time in which public interest environmental litigation is needed both to defend the core environmental laws and to file citizen suits for environmental enforcement.

We have 20 environmental attorneys, and we are stepping up and hiring additional litigants. Secondly, we have created the expanded HELP program – the High-impact Environmental Litigation Program. After the election we got calls from a number of attorneys saying, “I want to help — give me a pro bono case I can do.” We are building upon and expanding on ELPC’s top-rated environmental litigation team and at the same time we are tapping a number of experienced litigators who want to take on pro bono cases to help protect clean air and clean water.

Since many environmental laws are self-implementing, depending largely on citizen suits for enforcement, is it really that different from what you’ve had to do during previous administrations?

We’ve certainly brought citizen suits in the past, we have a citizen suit pending in federal court in central Illinois to enforce clean air violations by Dynegy at its [E.D. Edwards] coal plant. But this is different. When an administration cares about environmental regulations in a positive way, the Attorney General tends to bring the enforcement actions, and we fill some gaps. If we see President Trump’s administration retreating on its enforcement responsibilities, ELPC will step up and have a much more vibrant enforcement strategy. We’re preparing to do that by increasing our in-house litigation team.

That all takes resources and funding. Some media outlets and non-profit organizations have actually seen a boom in support because of Trump. Has that happened for environmental organizations, or do you expect it to happen?

We’ll see. There are some groups out there these days that seem to be asking for money twice a day, it’s a disaster and then it’s another disaster. I hope we’re at a time when environmental philanthropy will be stepped up in response to the needs of the times. These are extraordinary times. And it doesn’t hurt that the stock market is at a relatively high point.

Certainly people in the Midwest and around the country who care about the environment understand that it’s likely to be under siege if someone like Scott Pruitt does become the next EPA Administrator. I think when times are tough, people are willing to dip into their pocketbooks more and step up. But we aren’t taking out loans based on hoped-for increased fundraising, and you’re not going to see the fundraising emails from ELPC. This isn’t about money.

So a Trump administration especially with Pruitt as EPA Administrator would likely roll back enforcement of environmental regulations. On the clean energy development front, will the Trump administration halt progress?

We hope and believe that Congress will not allow the Trump administration to roll back the Production Tax Credit for wind power or the Investment Tax Credit for solar power. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said [a PTC repeal] would happen “over my dead body.” This is pretty bipartisan.

Solar and wind power have strong bipartisan support. Look what has happened in about the past three months. Illinois passed a strong Renewable Portfolio Standard [fix] supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Iowa Gov. [Terry] Branstad has always taken pride in the state’s wind power leadership, and Iowa is starting to step up on solar development. Wind power development in Iowa is good for jobs, economic growth and the environment, and it’s supported by the entire Republican leadership as well as the Democrats.

Michigan just passed legislation that improves and steps up the RPS. Governor John Kasich in Ohio just vetoed the attempt by the legislature to freeze energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. In just the last few months, we’ve seen progress in four Midwestern states in significant ways.

And Minnesota has always been a leader, in Indiana we have a little work to do, in Wisconsin we have Gov. Scott Walker. But there are two new wind farms in Wisconsin now. For a long time wind power was stalled in Wisconsin, now there are large new wind farms going up in Wisconsin and Dairyland Power [Cooperative] is doing another 15 MW of solar. We’re seeing smart policy plus technological innovation driving clean energy development in the Midwest.

We’re going to have to play some defense in Washington D.C., but we’re looking at these four Midwest states if not five that have stepped up in the last few months. What it shows is first of all that clean energy development has strong mainstream public support. Secondly, it makes sense as a matter of economics. And policymakers understand where the economics are and they are supporting smart policies.

Trump claims he is such a great businessman, so if this is all true why would he undermine clean energy development? 

I will not try to interpret what’s going on in President-elect Trump’s mind. The ITC and PTC have created thousands of new jobs and accelerated cleaner energy in the power markets, protecting public health and the environment, which is what the public wants. This is good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for the environment.

Trump has said he wants to create jobs. If President-elect Trump were to support repealing these important public incentives, that would be a triumph of misplaced ideology over common sense.

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