(de)regulation nation

"The best response to Pres. Trump's attacks on responsible journalism is to keep investigating and calling out the lies."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking Trump administration environmental rollbacks, along with who’s fighting back and what’s going right.

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bad

Trump’s Justice Department is investigating the agreement between California and four automakers to (mostly) maintain strict targets for reducing tailpipe pollution over the next The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are reporting

Trump officials say they’re examining the deal because it may break federal anti-trust laws. But insiders have told the Times that “the investigation was meant as a show of force to companies that have displeased the president.”

One environmental law expert tells the Times that the investigation is “an unprecedented effort to use the Justice Department to intimidate or punish companies that had angered the president.”

The Obama administration spent years developing the 2012 fuel efficiency rule. It calls on automakers to hit a series of rising fuel efficiency targets in the next several years, up to 54.5 miles per gallon by 20205.

Going further on the same or less fuel translates to less spew of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (as well as other health-harming air pollutants like tiny burnt carbon particles) from tailpipes, and this rule was the Obama administration’s marquee move to slash these climate-heating emissions.

Trump took the first public step to overturn the rule on August 2, 2018, barely a year and a half into his term. “But that rollback has become bogged down,” reports The New York Times, “largely because staff members have been unable so far to prepare adequate documents detailing the legal, technical, economic and scientific justifications for it.”

better

A new legal opinion from the investigative arm of Congress is shining an additional spotlight on the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Constitution.

In a 17-page finding released this week, the Government Accountability Office has ruled that the Department of Interior illegally redirected national park entrance fees during the December-January government shutdown. (Damage to the parks was one of several environmental tolls of the shutdown, as I covered in (de)regulation nation in late January.)

Congress has allocated those funds to upgrading and repairing park facilities. But during the shutdown Interior spent them on tasks such as cleaning up restrooms and picking up trash, without Congressional authorization.

The Trump administration did not cooperate with the investigation, which Congressional Democrats requested. But the agency is trying to deflect the damaging finding, as Politico reports, by wondering how anyone can argue against scrubbing clean some public toilets.

The next question is whether Interior will take the legally required next steps: formally report the violation of the law to Congress, name the responsible officials, and describe how it will make sure this particular breakage of the law doesn’t happen again.

If any of this sounds familiar, that might be because the White House has ordered the Department of Defense to move $3.6 billion out of projects approved by Congress, and into constructing 175 miles of Trump’s border wall. “Article I of the Constitution gives the power of the purse to the legislative branch,” notes an analyst in the Washington Post. “But if the Defense Department can move money against legislators’ wishes and simply ask them to refill those coffers to save priority projects, the executive branch effectively assumes that power.”

a friendly civics refresher

“Under the US Constitution, only Congress has the power to specify where public funds may be spent. ‘The Constitution places the power of the purse in Congress: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law . . .’,” writes Kate Stith of Yale Law School. “In specifying the activities on which public funds may be spent, Congress defines the contours of federal power. This requirement of legislative appropriation before public funds are spent is at the foundation of our constitutional order.”

goodish

Last week one of the nation’s most powerful business lobby groups “released a scathing report saying the [Trump administration’s tailpipe pollution] proposal would lead to ‘chaos and confusion throughout the country,’” reports Greenwire.

It’s an unusual stance for the US Chamber of Commerce, which is notorious for endorsing climate denial, and using its financial might to lobby against rational climate action and energy policy reform.

But after losing over a dozen major companies (including Apple, Nike, and Johnson & Johnson) as members over these positions, as Vox reports, the group “has recently softened its stance on climate change.”

“For now, it is widely seen as a smokescreen. The leadership of these trade groups is dominated by fossil fuel money and loyal to the GOP,” Vox goes on. But the new public rhetoric is a sign of internal tension that some lawmakers are already taking advantage of.

“This younger generation of millennials** has created a situation where most of corporate America understands the reputational risk of denying or delaying action on climate,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D New Mexico) tells Vox. “That has not caught up with the Chamber, and that mismatch has allowed us to drive a wedge.”

** The same group of voters Trump hopes to gaslight on his regressive climate and environmental policies, as I noted in a recent (de)regulation nation.

great

California will fight for its emissions agreement with automakers, despite the Trump administration’s threat of “legal consequences.”

“We remain undeterred,” said Governor Gavin Newsom, according to the Los Angeles Times. “California stands up to bullies and will keep fighting for stronger clean-car protections that protect the health and safety of our children and families.”

The LA Times also reports that California’s air quality chief is equally committed to the deal with automakers, which she negotiated. “Consumers might ask, who is Andy Wheeler protecting?,” Mary Nichols said in a statement. (Andrew Wheeler is the head of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency.)

California’s authority to set its own standards for tailpipe pollution is written into the Clean Air Act. (Policy nerds refer to this provision as “the California waiver.”) The Trump administration is poised to try and strip California of this power, The New York Times reports.


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. You’ll find links to my reporting and more biographical goodness at my website .

Please send tips and suggestions to: emily@deregnation.com

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This week’s quote is by legendary reporter and newscaster Dan Rather: