Environment

The Trump Administration Is Ticking Off Big Oil's Wish List Item by Item

There may as well not be an EPA as far as the major conglomerates are concerned.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC

The Trump administration’s zeal for environmental rollbacks has enabled it to fulfill almost all of the top priorities in a “wishlist” drawn up by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the leading lobby group for U.S. oil and gas companies.

In a document called “comments on specific regulations” sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May, API highlighted eight key changes it wanted to ease the regulation of air and water pollution. An analysis shows that the EPA has now so far either partially or wholly delivered on six out of these eight key demands within the first year of the Trump administration, which solicited input on government rules from a number of trade groups.

This comes as the Guardian and the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation into the way the oil lobby has worked for decades to influence US government policy – and is tightening its hold.

Earlier this year a letter penned by Howard Feldman, senior director of regulatory affairs at API, accompanied the lobby group’s wish list for government, and it stated that fossil fuel companies are thriving “despite the unprecedented level of federal regulatory actions targeting our industry”.

Feldman called for the federal government to alter regulations in a way that “promotes access to domestic oil and natural gas resources, streamlined permitting and cost-effective regulations”.

The letter is addressed to Samantha Dravis, an EPA associate administrator who previously held a senior role at the Republican Attorneys General Association and was counsel to Freedom Partners, one of the groups in the Koch brothers network.

The 25-page list of API’s suggested regulatory changes places particular emphasis on eight key demands that peel away standards primarily imposed under Barack Obama’s administration. The EPA’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, previously a harsh critic of the agency who has pledged to rein in its “out of control, anti-energy agenda”, has overseen the delay or repeal moves in line with six of API’s eight highest priorities.

“There’s no question that energy lobbyists are calling the shots in this administration, which has been all too willing to roll back public health protections,” said Jeremy Symons, vice-president of Environmental Defense Fund. “Anyone who doubts that can just look at their record.”

On March 22, Pruitt met with API executives at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. Less than a month later, Pruitt wrote to Feldman, as well as three other oil and gas industry representatives, to tell them he was temporarily suspending regulations that curb leaks from drilling operations while the EPA reconsiders the rule.

In June, the EPA proposed a two-year pause to the rule, which was drawn up under the Obama administration in 2016 and aimed to reduce “fugitive” emissions such as methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In July, a federal court blocked the attempted suspension of the rule.

The EPA has fared better in fulfilling other top API priorities. In June, Pruitt signed a two-year delay to regulations designed to improve the safety of chemical facilities. API argued that the rule, which followed several disastrous incidents at chemical plants, would be burdensome and do little to improve safety.

API said the EPA “should reverse” a separate regulation requiring power plants to follow air pollution rules when they are starting up, shutting down or undergoing maintenance. Pruitt, who previously sued the EPA to halt the rule, is now reassessing it.

Implementation of new standards to reduce ozone, a pollutant that helps form smog, was delayed by a year at Pruitt’s behest in June, a month after the API called for the EPA to reconsider the rule. Several states and health groups have launched legal action against the EPA after it missed a deadline to designate which areas of the country are failing to meet the tightened standards on smog.

API also secured an early victory in February, when Donald Trump issued an executive order to scrap the “waters of the United States” rule, which was put in place under the Obama administration to protect streams and rivers that provide drinking water to around a third of Americans. The regulation has been opposed by some farmers and owners of golf courses and industrial plants as being too stringent.

Several of API’s lower priority proposals have also been fulfilled, with Pruitt introducing new rules for members of the EPA’s scientific boards which open the way for more industry involvement and, separately, deciding to not introduce new financial responsibility requirements that API feared may have impacted the petroleum industry.

“Pruitt and his team have no shame,” said Liz Purchia Gannon, former head of communications at the EPA under the Obama administration. “They have made it clear from the start that oil, gas and coal industries trump science, the American people and public health and environmental organizations.

“What we can see from his schedule is an alarming pattern of meeting with special interest groups before making policy decisions favoring their bottom line at the expense of Americans’ health and the environment.”

When contacted for comment, the API said it was happy for its previous statements to speak for themselves. The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

 

 

Oliver Milman is a news reporter for Guardian Australia based in Melbourne. He was previously a freelance contributor to the Guardian's environment section.

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