Coronavirus Doesn’t Slow Trump’s Regulatory Rollbacks

Source: By Lisa Friedman, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2020


An oil-covered bird in Goleta, Calif., after a spill there in 2015. ” data-testid=”photoviewer-expand-button”>Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
 WASHINGTON — As much of his government battles the coronavirus outbreak, President Trump is pushing ahead with major reversals of environmental regulations, including a restriction on scientific research that some doctors worry would complicate future pandemic controls.

Federal employees across multiple agencies said the administration was racing to complete a half-dozen significant rollbacks over the coming month. They include a measure to weaken automobile fuel efficiency standards, which one person familiar with the plans said would be issued as early as next week.

Other efforts include loosening controls on toxic ash from coal plants, relaxing restrictions on mercury emissions and weakening the consideration of climate change in environmental reviews for most infrastructure projects.

The aggressive timeline is aimed at shielding the policies from easy reversal if Democrats win the White House or control of the Senate in the 2020 election. While it is hardly unusual to see a push to finalize policies toward the end of an administration, several agency officials said they were surprised that political leaders had shown no sign of letting up amid the pandemic.

A dozen federal workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about agency work, all described a relentless atmosphere at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. Several people said they had been told to expect no “slippage” or relaxation of deadlines, although thousands of federal employees, like much of the nation, are working from home and juggling child care and work responsibilities.

The administration also has denied requests to extend public-comment periods in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet in at least one case, a policy to shield oil companies and other businesses from fines if they unintentionally kill birds, the administration has twice requested an extension for legal briefs in the court fight over the policy, citing school closures and other personal challenges posed by the pandemic.

95 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump

A comprehensive list of environmental policies the Trump administration has targeted, often in an effort to ease burdens on the fossil fuel industry and other big businesses.

With an election looming, the urgency of completing regulations is real. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can overturn a regulation or federal rule within 60 days of it being finalized. If Democrats win control of the White House and Senate in November, and keep control of the House, any rule completed after late May or early June would be vulnerable.

“The administration understands the electoral map has turned against it,” said Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University.

 E.P.A. and Interior Department officials said they were sensitive to the circumstances around the coronavirus and would consider delays on a case-by-case basis. But they also emphasized that the