Donald Trump is Ramming Through ‘Midnight’ Rollbacks That Benefit Corporate Polluters

Washington, D.C. — Donald Trump is using his last weeks of presidential power to sneak through more than two dozen anti-science policies and rollbacks of health and environmental protections — the vast majority of which would benefit Big Oil and polluter CEOs.

In its mad dash to sell off our natural resources and gut important health and environmental protections, the Trump administration is rolling over ethics rules, cutting short public input periods, and ignoring regulatory processes.

This eleventh-hour scheme includes leasing land for oil drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge, changing popular energy efficiency standards, and undermining critical air quality standards – actions that will all have devastating repercussions for our communities and public health. 

“Over the past four years, the Trump administration has acted as a front for fossil fuel industry lobbyists, fostering a culture of corruption. Trump and his team delivered massive profits to Big Oil executives by destroying more than 100 environmental protections that stood in their way,” said Lori Lodes, Executive Director of Climate Power 2020. “The Biden-Harris administration has said it is ready to take bold climate action and end fossil fuel subsidies, so it’s no surprise Trump officials are spending their final days burning through controversial last-minute policy changes.”

Climate Power analyzed 22 of Trump’s ‘Midnight resolutions’ and found that an overwhelming number directly benefit fossil fuel and mining interests.

Trump administration “Midnight Resolutions” since November 3, 2020:

  • Drilling in the Arctic: In his final weeks as President, Trump is auctioning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the highest bidder. His rush to shell out leases by January 6, 2021, for oil drilling has thrown law, process, and science to the wind; placed a direct threat to the livelihoods of the Gwich’in people, and ignored the dire environmental threats of drilling in the Arctic region. [NPR, 12/3/20]
  • Fast Tracking Logging and Pipelines in Our National Forests: On November 18, the Trump administration finalized a rule to allow logging, pipelines, and roads in our National Forests without environmental review. [The Hill, 11/26/20; Washington Post, 11/18/20]
  • Undermined the Land and Water Conservation Fund: Days after the election, Interior Secretary Bernhardt signed an order gutting the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Trump had used to greenwash his record throughout the election. [Huffington Post, 11/20/20]
  • Letting Polluters Off The Hook For Cleanup Costs: On November 24, the Trump administration finalized a set of rules determining that fossil fuel companies, power plants, and chemical manufacturers don’t have to set aside funds to pay for the cleanup of toxic waste and other disasters. [Harvard Environmental and Energy Law Program, 11/30/2020]
  • Gutting Environmental Review for Liquified Natural Gas Exports: On December 4, the Department of Energy finalized a rule to make it easier for companies to export LNG by gutting environmental review requirements. This change could help push through a proposed facility in Coos Bay, Oregon owned by Pembina Pipeline. [Federal Register, 12/4/20; Alaska Journal,02/26/2020 ]
    • Who stands to benefit: Pipeline owners, including Pembina Pipeline, and the LNG Industry including BP, EQT, Exxon, Chesapeake Energy, Southwestern Energy, and Occidental Petroleum.
  • Weakening Testing Requirements for Energy Efficient Appliances: The Department of Energy is preparing to finalize a rule that makes it easy for manufacturers of dishwashers and air conditioners to produce less energy-efficient appliances. DOE sent the final rule to the White House on November 5 for review. [ProPublica, accessed 12/8/20; Federal Register, 10/30/20]
  • Weakening Efficiency Standards for Furnaces and Showerheads: On December 4, Trump’s DOE sent a final rule for review to the White House that weakens energy efficiency standards for furnaces, showerheads, and other appliances. [Bloomberg, 8/12/20]
  • Setting Weak Standards for Airplane Emissions: On December 2, the US EPA moved forward with a rule to allow planes and other aircraft to operate without making any changes – repressing necessary changes to the weak standards they already meet. [New York Times, 6/22/20]
  • Locking in Less Energy Efficient Furnaces and Water Heaters: On December 4, DOE sent a rule to allow less energy-efficient gas furnaces and hot water heaters to the White House for final review. [ProPublica, accessed 12/8/20]
    • Who stands to benefit: Oil and gas interests, including the American Gas Association, American Public Gas Association, Natural Gas Supply Association, National Propane Gas Association, and Spire, Inc., and utility companies.
  • Weakening the Endangered Species Act – Redefining “Habitat”: In November, The US Fish and Wildlife Service sent a final rule for White House review to create a new, more limited definition of the term “habitat” which would threaten protections for critical species. [Midnight Watch, 11/17/20]
  • Weakening the Endangered Species Act – Changing Critical Habitat Process: The US Fish and Wildlife Service sent a final rule to the White House on November 12 which would change the process for designating critical habitat protection, skewing it in favor of fossil fuel industries. [Midnight Watch, 11/12/20]
  • Downplaying the Risk Posed by Ethylene Oxide: On November 20, the EPA released a draft risk assessment for ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing carcinogenic gas, which notably did not endorse a method for evaluating the cancer risks. The administration had previously finalized a rule to limit amounts of the chemical; it was widely criticized because it did not go as far as scientists recommended and media investigations exposed chemical industry lobbying connections. The EPA is accepting comments on the draft risk assessment until January 19, 2021. [The Intercept, 1/12/20; Midnight Watch, 11/20/20
  • Allowing Construction of a Lithium Mine in Thacker Pass, Nevada: After more than a decade of review, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management issued a final environmental impact statement on December 7 for the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Humboldt County, Nevada. The final permit is expected in early 2021 ahead of the inauguration. [Mining Technology, 12/7/20]
  • Expanding a Copper Mine in White Pine County, Nevada: In early December, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved expanding a copper mine in White Pine County, Nevada despite previous plans to retire the mine. The decision to expand the mining operation was published the same week the mine received an award for the previous reclamation from the same BLM Nevada office. [Elko Daily Free Press, 12/4/20]
  • Changing How the Benefits of Clean Air are Calculated: In mid-December, Trump’s EPA finalized another rule that would stop federal agencies from including the cost of pollution or benefits from clean air protections when determining the cost of action. This would effectively make it harder to justify new protections for clean air and make it harder for agencies to protect our health and safety. [Bloomberg, 6/4/20, New York Times, 12/9/20]

Expected action:

  • Mining on Sacred Tribal Lands in Arizona: The Trump administration is working to allow fast track environmental review to allow mining on an area considered sacred by Native American tribes. The area, Oak Flat, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contains Apache burial grounds, sacred sites, petroglyphs, and medicinal plants. “Last month tribes discovered that the date for the completion of a crucial environmental review process has suddenly been moved forward by a full year, to December 2020, even as the tribes are struggling with a Covid outbreak that has stifled their ability to respond. If the environmental review is completed before Trump leaves office, the tribes may be unable to stop the mine.” [The Arizona Republic, 12/11/2020]
    • Who stands to benefit: Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of British-Australian mining groups BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.
  • Drilling and Mining in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico: It appears that the Trump administration is attempting to fast track review to allow drilling and mining on “thousands of square miles of public lands around New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.” The proposal is currently under review at White House OMB. [AP, 11/19/20]
    • Who stands to benefit: Oil and gas interests, including WPX Energy, ConocoPhillips Co., and Encana Corporation.
  • Extending Harmful Standards for Ozone Pollution: Over the objections of its own scientists, Trump’s EPA is getting ready to extend standards for ozone pollution, which is a key component of smog. This harmful pollution is linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, and thousands of emergency room visits every year. A final rule is expected sometime in January 2021. [Law 360, 12/3/20]
    • Who stands to benefit: Coal baron Robert Murray previously sued to block the already-weak ozone standards. The coal industry, along with oil and gas interests opposed toughening standards for ozone.
  • “Secret Science” Rule: Another rule the Trump team is expected to finalize during the lame-duck period is one to effectively remove science from public health policymaking. This “secret science” rule would require scientists to make underlying public health data fully available under the guise of a push for transparency. In reality, it would create a catch-22 situation; to meet the transparency requirements of the proposed EPA rule, scientists would have to violate health privacy laws – meaning they will not be able to use critical public health data and science in policymaking. This rule was sent to White House OMB in September and the final is expected any day. [Law 360, 12/3/20]
  • Refusing to Ban a Toxic Pesticide that Causes Brain Damage in Children: Any day, Trump’s EPA is expected to go against the recommendation of agency scientists to officially refuse to ban chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide that causes brain damage in children. In September 2020, EPA released a risk assessment that downplayed the health impacts on children’s brain development and directly contradicted agency scientists’ findings. [New York Times, 9/23/20]