Eight Things Environmental Lawyers Can Do in the Age of Trump

Posted on August 28, 2017 by Michael Gerrard

One of the great things about the ACOEL is that its members are very diverse in their views on politics and policy.  On the subject of reactions to President Trump's environmental policies, we have a spectrum ranging from outraged to jubilant. Count me at the outraged end. I would welcome counter-thoughts from the other end of the spectrum.

With that disclaimer, here are my personal views.

This is a time of unprecedented peril to U.S. environmental law.  What can those of us environmental lawyers who are outraged do about this?

Obviously, each individual’s flexibility depends in large part on where we work – we academics have almost complete flexibility, as do lawyers in their own small firms; lawyers in NGOs quite a bit; lawyers in big law firms have significant constraints; and lawyers in government are the most tightly constrained.

But to the extent people do have flexibility, these are eight things we can do.

1. Push back

Resist these efforts by Trump, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke and the rest. That may involve speaking out; suing or intervening or joining as amici in others’ lawsuits; or filing comments when the opportunity arises. We need to try to preserve the gains that were made in prior administrations to the extent possible.  Some day – though not soon enough -- we’ll have a new President who actually believes in law and science and cares about current and future generations, and when that day comes we’ll want to get back on track as quickly as possible.

2. Think globally, act locally

Much of the most important action for the rest of the Trump era will be at the state and the city levels. I’m fortunate to be in a state and a city where there is overwhelming consensus on the importance of environmental protection, and we have leaders who want to move forward – maybe not always as far and fast as we would like, but generally in the right direction. So those who are in state or city government, or who work closely with those who do, have special opportunities to devise and deploy tools that can work where you are and can serve as a model for elsewhere.

3. Decarbonize

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change we need to move away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy economy that is centered around renewables like wind, solar and hydro, and that operates with the greatest possible degree of energy efficiency. The plummeting costs of wind and solar, in particular, mean we are in the midst of a very positive energy revolution in which renewables push out fossil. Lawyers are needed to help acquire the permits, real estate, and financing for the many new clean energy facilities and devices.

4. Adapt

The outlook for future climate change is extremely serious and seems to be getting worse. Sea level rise, melting ice, episodes of extreme heat, drought and precipitation, and other projections are no less than scary.  We need to build resilience into construction projects, natural resource management, and all manner of other activities. This can happen through zoning actions, licensing and rate proceedings, environmental impact review, and many other settings where lawyers are central players. We should do this both because we need our projects and activities to be resilient, and because if the leaders of large enterprises are led to recognize the impact that climate change may have on their own organizations, ultimately this should have a political impact.

5. Do no harm

If you can, avoid representing the NIMBY side in litigation against renewable energy projects.

In law firms -- If you possibly can, stay away from matters where you’ll be litigating on the side of Trump’s environmental deregulation campaign.

And to our friends who work at EPA, Interior, DOJ and other federal agencies -- you are in our hopes and prayers, we’re thinking of you all the time, we admire your perseverance, and to the extent we possibly can, we have your backs.

6. Reduce personal environmental footprint

Each of us can do more to lower our own environmental impact. This can mean, for example, replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs; insulating our homes; driving less and walking, biking, or taking mass transit more; driving electric, hybrid, or small efficient cars; eating less meat (especially beef); diligently turning off lights and appliances and closing faucets; flying less; and recycling more.

7. Contribute

Even if we can’t litigate or campaign directly, we can contribute money to those who do.  NGOs that are on the front lines of litigation, lawful activism and needed research, political action groups that work for pro-environmental candidates, and such candidates themselves are all worthy of support.

8.  Vote

Finally, there is no excuse for U.S. citizens not to vote at every opportunity, and those who can should work hard to try to persuade others to vote, and to cast those votes for an environmentally positive future.

If you do as many of these things as you can, you’ll have done your part in helping the planet through this awful Trump era, and hopefully into an area where we can all smile a lot more.

MUSINGS ON THE FUTURE OF EPA ENFORCEMENT – WILL IT GET TRUMPLED?

Posted on November 28, 2016 by John H. Johnson

Speculation about the environmental implications of the impending Trump presidency is running rampant.  That was the case as well when Ronald Reagan was elected President.  I served as an attorney in EPA Region 4 during his administration so I have a sense of dynamics that will be in play at the regional offices during the Trump administration.  With this historical perspective, I offer the following thoughts on the potential impact of the Trump administration on EPA enforcement at the regional level. 

·         Initial Frontal Assault – The early years of the Reagan presidency were marked by a robust and concerted effort to declaw EPA, largely carried out through political appointments at Headquarters and at the Regional Administrator level (the oft-repeated refrain was “doing more with less”).  Based on his condemnation of the “Department of Environmental Protection” during the campaign, I’m inclined to expect the same from President-elect Trump.  However, the list of names currently being floated for the positions of EPA Administrator and Assistant Administrator ranges widely from a climate denier to well-respected former program managers at EPA.  So, at this point, the jury is out on whether President-elect Trump will follow the Reagan administration’s lead or, like the George W. Bush administration, take a more restrained approach to regulatory implementation and enforcement, while recognizing the Agency’s fundamental legitimacy.

·         Effectiveness of a Frontal Assault – The efforts of the Reagan administration were largely unsuccessful and relatively short-lived.  At the regional level, this was due in no small part to muted but resolute resistance to those efforts from career employees.  If the Trump administration pursues similar goals, I would expect similar results.  I anticipate that rank-and-file enforcement personnel in the regional offices will continue to pursue and prosecute instances of statutory/regulatory noncompliance (consistent with budgetary constraints).  In light of the largely completed trend of delegating environmental programs to the states, enforcement actions undertaken these days by the EPA regional offices frequently involve allegations of significant regulatory noncompliance that state programs are unable (or unwilling) to address effectively.  Regional political appointees will be hard-pressed to halt or forestall meritorious enforcement actions.  In addition to wanting to avoid any appearance of impropriety, those appointees will be subject to an NGO watchdog network that is considerably more developed and vibrant than it was during the Reagan years.  If EPA doesn’t enforce, the NGOs will. 

·         Times Have Changed – Like me, today’s regulatory enforcement landscape bears little resemblance to what it looked like 36 years ago.  I can well recall spirited conversations in the late 70’s/early 80’s with reluctant program managers for some of the Region 4 states concerning the states’ adoption and enforcement of a regulatory framework that mimicked the basic structure of the major federal programs (air, water, and waste).  Those days are long gone, and I would anticipate that any efforts to suppress enforcement at the federal level will have minimal impact in those authorized states that have active enforcement programs.  Also, while some NGOs (e.g., NRDC, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund) were quite active during the Reagan administration, particularly in high profile enforcement matters, the proliferation since that time in the number and variety of well-financed NGOs at the national, regional, and state level will likely compensate for any decrease in EPA enforcement that may occur under President Trump.  Ironically, what we may see in some cases is initiation of enforcement actions by EPA that blunt the use of citizen suits by NGOs, followed by settlements on terms considered less stringent than the NGOs would prefer.

Given President-elect Trump’s penchant for unpredictability and the current uncertainties surrounding the ultimate composition of the Trump environmental team, I’m not confident in my predictive powers, other than to say that we are about to embark on what I will gently call an interesting time in the history of environmental regulation.  Whether it proves to be déjà vu remains to be seen.

Trump’s Impact on Environmental Law? Let the Speculation Begin!

Posted on November 15, 2016 by Seth Jaffe

What will a Trump Presidency mean for environmental law?  trump-climateI’m not sure my crystal ball is better than anyone else’s, but here are a few quick thoughts:

  • It’s still going to be difficult to amend the key statutes, unless the GOP goes nuclear with the filibuster rules.  I don’t see Clean Air Act amendments happening.  Significant amendments might be possible to the Endangered Species Act and Superfund.
  • Changing regulations is more difficult than one might think.  As has already been noted, the Bush administration did not fare too well with judicial review of its efforts to roll back some Clinton environmental initiatives.  For example, I still think that the new ozone standard should survive and I think that courts would take a dim view of EPA efforts to raise it.  The Clean Power Plan is another matter.  All Trump needs there may be a new Supreme Court Justice.
  • The easiest target is executive orders.  The social cost of carbon?  Toast.  Guidance on incorporating climate change into NEPA?  Toast.

Trying to keep things light, I’ll close with a summary in haiku, which often takes nature as its subject.

Trump Presidency?

Deep-six the Clean Power Plan

Goodbye to winter