When Congress adjourned for the month of August, pundits noted how little the Trump administration and Congress had accomplished in the first seven months of the new presidency. However, astute observers pointed out that the President is actually delivering on one of his campaign promises: eliminating environmental safeguards.
In the first several months of 2017, using an obscure law called the “Congressional Review Act,” Congress passed and President Trump signed into law 14 bills that strike down important health, safety, financial and environmental protections. The environmental safeguards that were eviscerated included the Stream Protection Rule, meant to discourage coal mining operations from polluting waterways with dangerous heavy metals and debris, and an important anti-corruption rule that required oil, gas, and mining companies to report payments to governments in every country in which they operate.
The Trump administration has rolled back—or is in the process of reversing—other safeguards and policies using the powers of the Executive Branch. For example, last month NOAA withdrew a proposed rule that would have protected endangered species—including whales, dolphins, and sea turtles—caught and killed in the drift gillnet fishery targeting swordfish off California. The White House withdrew guidance to federal agencies requiring them to consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts in all environmental reviews of agency actions. The administration is also questioning the value of our nation’s marine protected areas, including five marine national monuments and six national marine sanctuaries. And the Department of the Interior has initiated the planning process for a new offshore oil and gas leasing plan for 2019-2024 with the clear intention of expanding oil and gas leases into areas that are currently closed to drilling.
What’s the latest? The White House has directed federal agencies to request public comments on more ideas for rolling back public safeguards, under the guise of “streamlining” regulations. As part of this process, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put out a notice last month called “Streamlining Regulatory Processes and Reducing Regulatory Burden,” which is a request for “public input on identifying existing regulations that: eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation; are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective; impose costs that exceed benefits;” and so on.
The NOAA notice highlights rules that implement laws which are essential to ocean conservation, including:
- Marine Mammal Protection Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
- National Marine Sanctuaries Act
- Coastal Zone Management Act
We have invited other organizations to join us in sending a letter to NOAA opposing any attempts to roll back or weaken NOAA’s existing protections. We have encouraged thousands of Oceana supporters to sign a similar letter to NOAA. And we have joined the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, a national alliance of more than 160 consumer, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups—representing millions of Americans.
The NOAA notice is aimed at soliciting comments from special interests who want to gut protections that help the public and protect the environment for the benefit of all Americans. NOAA ought to be asking for guidance on how to better carry out its mission of conserving and managing our coastal and marine ecosystems and resources, not how to retreat from it.