Obama adviser: EPA’s agenda today is to serve big business

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, April 2, 2018

President Trump’s regulatory rollback is facing some big legal hurdles.

That’s thanks in part to the work of legal whiz and Obama-era climate adviser Lisa Heinzerling, who has repeatedly called attention to the administration’s missteps in delaying or suspending rules.

In a Washington Postop-edthis week headlined “Trump is losing his war on regulations,” Heinzerling noted that courts have blocked multiple attempts to delay or rescind rules because of legal or procedural errors.

The Minnesota native and Georgetown University Law Center professor also recently testified before the House Small Business Committee, telling lawmakers that U.S. EPA’s deregulatory agenda is hurting small firms while fattening the pockets of big corporations (E&E Daily, March 8).

Before Trump took office, Heinzerling racked up an impressive list of accomplishments in environmental law.

In 2007, she was the lead author of the winning briefs in the Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA, which led to the agency’s endangerment finding for greenhouse gases. A recent survey of more than 400 environmental lawyers and law professors ranked Massachusetts v. EPAas the most significant case in all of environmental law.

In 2008, she joined President Obama’s transition team at EPA. Then, in 2009, she served as senior climate policy counsel to then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson before becoming associate administrator of the agency’s Office of Policy in 2010.

In between teaching courses at Georgetown, Heinzerling sat down with E&E News to chat about feeling nostalgic for the Obama era, pushing back on conservative rhetoric about regulatory reform and realizing her passion for writing fiction.

Why are you concerned about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s deregulatory agenda?

Part of the concern is that the explanations for rolling back these rules, they’re just not very well-considered in light of EPA’s mission and in light of the scientific evidence. Some people will say to me, “You know, it’s really too bad that the EPA today doesn’t have an agenda.” And I actually view it more cynically than that. I think there is a huge agenda to serve big business. Period, full stop. And that is inconsistent with the underlying law and scientific evidence.

Has Pruitt proposed rolling back certain rules that you helped craft or implement?

The climate rules, for example, were considered during the time I was at EPA, even if they weren’t finalized yet. So I’m thinking of the later iterations of the motor vehicle rules, the Clean Power Plan, rules on heavy trucks. Those were either in development or had precursors that were issued during my time there.

You recently testified before Congress on the benefits of regulations, and you butted heads with several GOP congressmen and industry representatives. Was that frustrating?

That’s pretty par for the course, being a minority witness. You’re pretty much alone in that situation. I think some of the people did seem well-intentioned. But I still think they’re misguided in the sense that the deregulatory agenda isn’t about small businesses. It’s largely about big businesses. There’s a mismatch between what seems to be a well-intentioned concern about small businesses and the way this deregulatory agenda is working out in practice.

What was it like being the lead author of the winning briefs in Massachusetts v. EPA?

That was great. It was really interesting to work with that many lawyers from states, cities, environmental groups and health advocacy groups on a case that was so important.

Why was it so important?

The [George W.] Bush administration had said, “We don’t have authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. And even if we did, we wouldn’t.” So that left EPA essentially powerless to use the main relevant statute to address climate change. Massachusettswas important because it said that EPA had that legal authority, and that it couldn’t basically give flimsy reasons for not exercising that authority. It became effectively impossible for EPA after that to say, “We won’t do anything about climate change.”

Are you concerned that Pruitt will go after the endangerment finding?

I don’t know what he’ll do with respect to that. I’ve stopped trying to predict, honestly. But I think it rests on really solid legal and scientific footing.

What was it like serving as senior climate policy counsel to Lisa Jackson?

I enjoyed it tremendously. It was really rewarding and challenging to come into the agency and effectively begin to implement the Massachusetts v. EPAdecision, to really try to think about what it meant for the agency’s authority and obligations. I was really pleased and honestly a little surprised when I came to the agency to find how much work on environmental rules had already been done and been stifled [under the Bush administration].

What was the atmosphere at EPA under Jackson like?

I remember at the beginning, there was this palpable sense of relief and excitement about the new administration. One of Lisa Jackson’s early phrases for her speeches and her statements about her priorities was “back on the job.” And I just had the sense from people all over the agency that they were so happy to be back doing the work that they came to the agency to do. There was a real sense of purpose and an eagerness to get going on important environmental problems.

Where did you grow up?

Chaska, Minn. It was a rural town in those days. Now it’s a suburb of Minneapolis.

Did you always have an appreciation for the environment?

Yes. My siblings and I used to spend just about every day in the summer outside. We had a little creek, a little ravine and a creek near our house, and we would just leave in the morning and hang out there, catching various insects and tadpoles, and then come home at the end of the day. That’s how we spent our summers.

How do you spend your free time these days?

I recently took a fiction writing class, which was really fun. I used to like to write fiction, and I’m hoping to return to that. But after you spend the day writing, it’s hard to do that at night.