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As environmental rollbacks continue, Trump inspires a growing pushback

The latest move, to resume offshore drilling, stirs bipartisan opposition in Congress.

Opposition to the administration’s rollback agenda is taking many forms.

Second of two parts

As Donald Trump works to ensure his status as the most environmentally regressive president since the 19th century, he is also making an important contribution in the opposite direction: galvanizing pushback. 

Opposition to the administration’s rollback agenda is taking many forms, demonstrating a strength and steadiness that I think could also prove historic. And this is not my first time committing journalism on a turnover of presidential power from a Democrat with a modest and late-blooming portfolio of environmental progress to a Republican who raced to undo a series of sensible protections that industry found inconvenient.

Perhaps you, too, recall the battles of George W. Bush’s first term over the roadless rule, indefinite exemption of coal-fired power plants from clean air standards, the suppression of science, the censoring of internal dissent, the ideologue appointees devoted to retreat (remember Gale Norton and Dirk Kempthorne?). After a few years the anti-environment agenda was big enough for book-length treatment, and Bob Devine wrote one — “Bush Versus the Environment,” still on my shelf.

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Ronald Reagan and his team took swings at environmental progress, too (remember James Watt and Anne Gorsuch Burford?). And both Bush and Reagan inspired significant pushback on environmental protection but not, I think, to the degree we’re already seen in Trump’s first year — starting with the sheer volume of multistate litigation by attorneys general working in concert.

Fully 17 states, including Minnesota, went to court on the eve of Trump’s inauguration to block his promised  weakening of interstate rules on power-plant emissions. A similar group sued in April to block his threatened trashing of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which remains untrashed, and may or may not be meaningfully revised in a process sure to take years at least. Other multistate challenges have been raised over efforts to weaken efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances.

According to a count by David Hasemyer at Inside Climate News, collaboratives of attorneys general had sued nearly two dozen times by mid-December over “climate change, energy and the environment,” an important limiting term. The tally does not include, say, the 11-state lawsuit defending strengthened rules on  safety programs, disaster preparedness and accident investigation at chemical plants, inspired by the horrific 2013 fertilizer explosion at the storage plant in West, Texas.

Just as I think it’s a mistake to give Trump too much credit too early for starting fights he may not actually win, I don’t assume the success of these challenges. I will just point out that when the plaintiffs are a bunch of states, rather than a bunch of nonprofits, the funding is likely to be comparatively ample.

And there have been some early wins, including a court order directing the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management to stop delaying enforcement of certain curbs on methane flaring — a disgusting waste of a natural resource we’re striving to conserve elsewhere — and foot-dragging at the EPA on application of a national ozone standard.

To be sure, states have banded together in past administrations to sue presidents and the agencies below them — or acted singly; EPA chief Scott Pruitt,  as Oklahoma attorney general, filed 14 lawsuits against the outfit he now heads. So, too, have governors joined in coalitions to make regional progress at a pace faster than Washington is delivering.

In the Bush administration, a lot of the action was around initiatives to address global warming in the face of White House indifference, and Trump’s first year has been one of renewal for workaround endeavors.

Last October, the governors of California, New York and Washington established a U.S. Climate Alliance to develop and demonstrate ways for states to work on “reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement” without any involvement from Trump and Co. With the addition of Maryland this month, membership stands at 13 states (including Minnesota) and Puerto Rico.

California continues to expand a cap-and-trade policy for its economy — which, by some measures, is larger than all but five of the world’s national economies — and a nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the eastern U.S. is poised to extend its work through 2030.

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Pushback of a different and significant kind has been rising just in the last month against the administration’s moves to reopen nearly all of the nation’s coastline to oil drilling over the next five years.

Barely had the announcement been made when Ryan Zinke, the Interior secretary, indicated that Florida’s coastline would be still be protected as a favor to the Republican governor, Rick Scott,  which brought a complaint for equal treatment from New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, which led to an Interior Department clarification that Florida wasn’t being exempted. 

The fumbling wasn’t all that untypical, but the breadth of pushback has been, and has reached well into the Republican caucuses in Congress. From Griffin Connolly at Roll Call, reporting that northeastern lawmakers have “united across party lines to hazard against President Donald Trump’s offshore drilling plan”:

The risk of an oil spill off the Maine coast “far outweighs any potential benefit,” Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday, citing the environmental fragility of the state’s $1.7 billion lobster fishing industry.

“We oppose any effort to open waters off the coast of Maine or any proximate area to offshore drilling, which could negatively affect the health of Maine’s fisheries and other coastal resources, threatening to harm not only the environment but the state’s economy as well,” King and Collins wrote.

Both House members from Maine, Republican Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Chellie Pingree, oppose lifting the coastal drilling moratorium protections. In Massachusetts, Sen. Ed Markey has pledged to “pursue all legislative tools available” to counter the Interior Department’s drilling plan.

Other opponents: Florida Sens. Marcio Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D), and a number of governors and Congress members from both parties in California, Oregon and Washington, including 37 U.S. senators … Rhode Island’s Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. David Cicilline (both D) … Gov. Christie’s Democratic successor, Phil Murphy, along with New Jersey’s entire Congressional delegation … Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal ….

Oh, and the Defense Department, because the U.S. Navy is accustomed to conducting regular military exercises in offshore drilling zones of the mid-Atlantic states, and apparently wasn’t consulted before the plan was rolled out.