What Would a Trump Administration Mean for the EPA?

trump EPA

With Donald Trump’s recent victory in the presidential general election, environmental advocates and energy industry members alike are pondering a future for the industry under the upcoming Trump administration.

While it’s not exactly clear what the future will hold for sure, there are some things we can glean from Trump’s previous policy stances on energy – specifically, the EPA, long a target of derision and criticism from conventional energy providers.

Will the EPA Be Abolished?

The most high-profile stance Trump has taken on energy and the environment came during the primary season, when Trump vowed to outright eliminate the EPA in its entirety.

The EPA was created in 1970 by a Republican president, Richard Nixon. Since then, the agency has been a prime target for mostly-Republican lawmakers and energy advisors, in addition to conventional utilities that have had to navigate the regulations that have come in waves over the past 40 years.

During the Obama administration, the EPA has been the most active it has ever been. The president’s Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of the agency’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, control climate change, and increase incentives for renewable energy production – all to the consternation of conventional energy providers.

As mentioned, candidate Trump has promised on many occasions to get rid of the EPA altogether. Even if one can chalk that talk up to typical campaign bravado, it’s clear that a Trump administration would see much-reduced role for the EPA.

Even if he did want to eliminate the EPA, however, history is against him. To date, no cabinet agency in its entirety has ever been dismantled – and not for lack of trying. It’s actually rare for government departments to be abolished once they’ve been established, and that’s been constant for Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

Additionally, the majority of voters – on both sides of the aisle – like many of the environmentally-friendly provisions the EPA has established over the years. For example, 56 percent of voters surveyed believe protection of the environment should be a priority. While this doesn’t mean most voters are in favor of everything the EPA has ruled, it does mean that the general sentiment is in favor of the agency’s direction under President Obama.

It must also be said that public opinion on energy policy is largely broken out by region. For example, residents of coal-producing states like Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, are more likely to be opponents of the EPA than in other states. Put another way, hatred of the EPA’s more liberal policies tends to be concentrated in a minority of states instead of being widespread.

Prognosticating on the New EPA Head

While Trump likely won’t dismantle the EPA, the person who he appoints to head the agency will wield power and influence over the future direction of the agency over the next four years.

Unlike with other positions, Trump’s camp hasn’t named a definite candidate for EPA administrator. But there are a few leading candidates, including:

  • Kathleen Harnett White: White was formerly in charge of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She is a Distinguished Senior Fellow-in-Residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank. White also is the head of the Fueling Freedom project, which has as an aim to “build a multi-state coalition to push back against the EPA’s unconstitutional efforts to take over the electric power sector by regulating CO2 via the Clean Power Plan.” White would undoubtedly be an advocate for repealing the Clean Power Plan and reducing federal regulations against fossil fuels.
  • Scott Pruitt: Pruitt is the current Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma. In 2013, Pruitt filed the first of several lawsuits against the EPA, attacking the agency on behalf of Oklahoma utilities in opposition to new regulations governing coal-fired plants.
  • Leslie Rutledge: Rutledge is currently the Attorney General for the state of Arkansas. She has had almost two decades of experience as an attorney, but has only been in her current role since January 2015. Last October, she joined 23 other peers in suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, citing that “in a state like Arkansas where over half of the electricity is responsibly generated from coal-fired power plants, the impact will be felt in the pocketbooks of Arkansas utility ratepayers. These increased costs will have a direct impact on the state’s ability to grow good-paying jobs with fair, reasonable electric rates.”

The common tie that links these three leading candidates together is opposition not just to the EPA in general, but the Clean Power Plan in particular. They also come from states in which fossil fuels make up the vast majority of electrical production.

At this point, it’s premature to say what any of these candidates will do once in power. Environmental advocates are already bracing, however, for an expected wave of deregulation no matter who is appointed, since ultimately direction for the agency will be promulgated by the Trump administration and the conservative, pro-business faction that spearheaded its election.

The prospect of deregulation – or at least movement in that direction – has buoyed energy executives who have fought the EPA for eight years. Throw in the fact that a pending case before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals could be decided along partisan lines in favor of Republicans if it advances to the Supreme Court, and signs are looking up for the conventional energy industry.

Whether this new direction for oversight will lead to better bottom lines for the industry and better outcomes for the customers they serve has yet to be seen.