Addressing the myths that Republicans and President Trump are soft on the environment

The mainstream media loves the narrative that it is only Democrats who care about protecting our environment.  A review of the facts shows just the opposite.  

Republican presidents, not Democrat presidents created and supported landmark legislation that gave us our national parks and the Environmental Protection Agency.  Yellowstone, the first National Park, was created by legislation signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.  In 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt greatly expanded the National Park system.  President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, by Executive Order, and shortly thereafter advocated the passage of both the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972.

As for the Donald Trump Administration, one natural place to start to see whether his administration was softer or tougher concerning the environment is to review whether enforcement actions by the EPA increased or decreased.  Clearly, enforcement actions would be reduced in an administration that was going to be soft on protecting the environment.  However, in Trump’s EPA, there was a 48 percent increase in criminal cases brought for violating environmental laws between 2017 and 2019. That was the time frame to assess enforcement actions between the Obama administration’s ending and the Trump administration’s beginning. In other words, the Trump administration was tougher than the Obama administration in enforcing our nation’s environmental laws.

On the regulatory front, Trump’s EPA was also proactive in taking on issues that, again, past administrations chose to punt. For instance, prior administrations going back to the Reagan administration knew about PFAS being in our nation’s water supply.  (PFAS is a chemical used for fireproofing and water resistance.)  But no administration wanted to tackle the problem.  To regulate a chemical in our water systems, you have to establish a maximum contaminant level (MCL).  Over 550 chemicals have had MCLs established by the EPA. With the MCL established, EPA monitors our drinking water systems to ensure the MCL is not exceeded. When it is exceeded, EPA then takes action to bring the drinking water system into compliance.

In 2018, Trump’s EPA acknowledged the problem regarding PFAS and started the process to establish an MCL for PFAS. In 2020, Trump’s EPA added PFAS to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).  As a result of Trump’s EPA, PFAS is now being regulated and monitored in our drinking water systems, and future EPAs will finally be there to ensure the water you drink does not exceed the PFAS MCL.

As for lead and copper, Trump’s EPA finalized the Lead and Copper Rule, which significantly lowered the acceptable levels of lead and copper in our drinking water. This was the first time the EPA reviewed lead and copper levels since 2000. This review was part of Trump’s EPA announcing an agency goal of eliminating all lead in our drinking water by the year 2028.  To help accomplish this goal, President Trump’s EPA created the first-ever Healthy Schools Grant Program, which provides direct funding to our schools to eliminate lead in their drinking water supply.

On the clean air front, it was Trump’s EPA to be the first administration to address mobile air sources in over 40 years when the EPA regulated automobile emissions.  In 2018, Trump’s EPA announced the Cleaner Truck initiative. The Cleaner Truck initiative will update NOx emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks. It will essentially create uniform maximum emission standards for these trucks in the same way the current standards provide for our cars.  These standards are expected to reduce truck emissions by 33 percent by 2025.  These new standards will significantly decrease air pollution.  As the Southwest Administrator of the US EPA, I advocated expanding the oversight of mobile sources to trains and marine vessels.  While the Biden Administration has refused to expand that oversight, I fully expect these mobile sources will finally be regulated in a second Trump Administration.

Personally, upon being appointed by the President as the Southwest Administrator of the US EPA, I can attest that the President only wanted our EPA to leave a legacy of cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner land, and a healthier environment.  The only thing the President advocated for elimination was the elimination of rules and regulations that did nothing to protect human health or the environment but cost our small businesses money and time.   And he wanted more streamlining in the permit application processes.

On the first front, Trump’s EPA took over thirty-seven deregulatory actions that will save our nation’s small businesses time and over $3 billion annually.  These regulations had done nothing to protect our air or water.

On the second front, regarding streamlining again, Trump’s EPA can be proud of its accomplishments. Concerning water pollution, the backlog of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which regulates point sources of pollution in US water, was reduced by 32 percent between 2017 and 2021.  And, Trump’s EPA completely eliminated the backlog of EPA actions on the state’s list of impaired waters, marking the first time in a decade that this backlog had been eliminated. 

Between January 2017 and December 2020, Trump’s EPA approved more than seven thousand total maximum daily load (TMDLs) plans to restore polluted waters, a 25 percent increase over the Obama Administration. The backlog of actions on state-priority TMDLs fell dramatically from over one hundred in 2017 to just a single state-priority TMDL as of September 2020. 

As far as a review of chemicals goes, in January 2017, the backlog of new chemicals under review for more than ninety days had grown to over five hundred. As of September 2020, the number of chemicals under review for greater than ninety days had dropped to less than two hundred, a 60 percent decrease.  During Trump’s first term in office, the EPA had completed over 3000 new chemical submissions. 

So all in all, EPA delivered by the end of President Trump’s term in office exactly what the President wanted. Rules and regulations that did nothing to protect human health or the environment were eliminated, saving small businesses money. The permitting process was streamlined, and Trump’s EPA left our country with cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner land, and a healthier environment than when President Trump was first sworn in.

You can expect more of the same environmental accomplishments with President Trump in a second term in office.

Mike Stoker is a California attorney whose law practice emphasizes environmental, land use, agricultural, and business law. He served on the Santa Barbara County, California Board of Supervisors, as the Chairman of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and as California’s Deputy Secretary of State.  He most recently served in the Donald Trump administration  as the Southwest Administrator of the US EPA, serving 75 million people spanning 8 time zones from The Navajo Nation in New Mexico in the east to the Mariana Islands in the west, with Guam, American Samoa, Hawaii, California, Arizona, and Nevada in between.

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