Ann Mesnikoff

Ten Rounds with Trump: ELPC’s Top Federal Fights of 2019

Do you care about clean water and clean air? How about protecting our kids from mercury pollution or acting on climate change?

I think we’d all want to say everyone cares about all of these things, but unfortunately not the Trump Administration.  

That’s why ELPC had a busy 2019 standing up to the Trump Administration and working to fight its continued rollback of environmental safeguards. Here are just 10 federal issues we’ve been fighting for this year:

1. Clean Water Act take 1: Clean Water Rule

In February, the administration proposed a dramatic rollback to water protections under the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA is replacing the science-based 2015 Clean Water Rule, that defined which “waters of the United States” would be protected under the CWA, based on a wealth of research on the interconnectedness of water. The new rule rejects this sound science; it would cut off protections for ephemeral or seasonal streams, wetlands, and other resources. Such protections are necessary to ensuring clean water in our streams, rivers, and lakes, including the Great Lakes. ELPC submitted comments to EPA and engaged our members to weigh in. In September ELPC responded to EPA’s final repeal of the 2015 rule and in December, ELPC joined colleagues from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the National Wildlife Federation, and Clean Water Action in a meeting with staff from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and EPA. This was our last chance to tell the administration to stop this attack on the Clean Water Act and protect clean water. We expect a final rule early in the new year.

2. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is trying to hamstring Federal Agencies from making informed decisions based on science. With its flawed proposed guidance, CEQ would limit their ability to consider climate pollution in environmental reviews of major projects. As ELPC documented, climate change is already threatening the Great Lakes region; we cannot afford to ignore climate impacts of major projects, putting taxpayer investments and community resources at risk. ELPC worked to ensure CEQ heard from Great Lakes voices that this rollback is bad policy and bad for the Great Lakes. While we await the final climate guidance we are also expecting a major attack of NEPA early in the new year. 

3. Forest Service NEPA rollback

In June, in another attack on NEPA, the U.S. Forest Service proposed to undermine environmental reviews for logging and other activities in our National Forests. This was the second step in the Forest Service’s effort to compromise environmental reviews. ELPC joined with a broad coalition of groups opposing this effort to limit the voice of the public.

4. Clean Power Plan

EPA announced plans last year to roll back the Clean Power Plan – standards to climate pollution from old coal plants. In July, EPA released its deeply flawed do-nothing replacement plan that fails to protect our communities from the climate crisis. ELPC joined a nationwide coalition to sue EPA for failing to uphold its duty under the Clean Air Act to protect the American people. 

5. Clean Water Act take 2: diminishing state’s rights

EPA is not only seeking to limit the reach of the Clean Water Act (see above) but in August it also moved to limit the ability of states to protect their own waters under the Clean Water Act with its proposal Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth.” ELPC joined comments with Healing our Waters which emphasized that EPA’s proposal threatens to unbalance the critical partnership between federal, state, and tribal authorities. It would leave states and tribes with less ability to effectively ensure their water quality is protected from federally permitted projects under the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification.

6. Mercury & Air Toxics Standards (MATS)

Mercury is toxic and dangerous to public health and the environment. In 2011 EPA issued much needed safeguards to cut mercury pollution from coal plants and they’ve been incredibly successful, reducing mercury by up to 90% in Great Lakes States. Yet Trump’s EPA is dismantling these effective safeguards, and ELPC has been worked hard to ensure the Great Lakes voice is heard. ELPC testified at EPA’s public hearing, submitted comments, and our members joined in telling EPA to stop undermining public health and putting our Great Lakes at risk. Catch up on our work with our blog here.

7. Clean Cars

The Trump administration is still in working on putting the final touches on its attack on clean cars. In September EPA and the US Department of Transportation announced final action to block California’s Clean Air Act authority to set strong climate pollution standards for cars and trucks which 14 other states follow. ELPC opposed this step and is now challenging these actions in court.   

8. Ozone

EPA plays an important role in protecting the public from dangerous pollution. EPA is supposed to use data from air quality monitors to determine which areas across the country meet standards for air pollution or not. When EPA rolled out final designations for areas that do or don’t meet standards for smog pollution ELPC knew something was up. ELPC and partners challenged EPA’s determinations for areas in Illinois and Wisconsin; we argued our case in the US Court of Appeals in DC in November. You can learn more about ELPC’s action on ozone pollution here and update blog here.

9. Censoring Science

EPA is trying to undermine its own ability to protect public health by limiting the science it will consider in setting pollution standards. Public health studies long considered in helping EPA set limits for air and water pollution could be out. EPA first proposed to censor or limit science in 2018, but since that proposal was so flawed, EPA is gearing up to drag this effort into 2020. Read our most recent blog here.

10. Coal Ash & ELG Toxic Water Rule

EPA did not let up as November rolled around issuing two proposals to weaken standards for coal fired power plants: one to rollback limits on discharges of toxic water pollution from coal plants and the other to weaken standards for toxic coal ash. In December, ELPC joined with a broad coalition of 87 groups to urge EPA to ensure the public has the time to comment on these two major rollbacks. We also asked for real public hearings – giving people the chance to have their say in live hearings rather than one virtual hearing. Stay tuned for more on these newest attacks on public health and clean water. 

ELPC is ready to challenge every one of these rollbacks and new ones to come in 2020. Heading into the new year, we’ll need your help to fight back and protect clean air and water in the Midwest. We will be inviting our members to join us so stay tuned! 

Ann Mesnikoff,

Federal Legislative Director

Ann Mesnikoff is the federal legislative director at ELPC, working in Washington, D.C., with the Midwest Congressional Delegation and national coalitions to advance supportive clean energy, clean water and clean air, and transportation reform policies.

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