Trump energy allies see ‘massive momentum’ after a big week

Source: By Robin Bravender, E&E News • Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2024

Former Trump administration energy and environment officials are optimistic about the prospect of a second Trump term and a new legal landscape for regulations.

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally on Nov. 2, 2023, in Houston. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

It’s been a huge week for former President Donald Trump’s allies in the energy and environment world.

Conservatives were already gleeful after Thursday’s presidential debate prompted heartburn among Democrats wondering whether President Joe Biden is fit for his reelection bid.

Then on Friday, the Trump-stacked Supreme Court obliterated the Chevron legal doctrine that’s long been reviled by conservatives. And a pair of high court rulings Monday on presidential immunity and on legal challenges to regulations handed more victories to Trump and his Republican and industry allies.

“There’s massive momentum,” said Mandy Gunasekara, who served as EPA’s chief of staff during the Trump administration.

“People who support the conservative cause and want to see a check on bureaucratic growth are extremely excited about the court decisions, and they’re also cautiously optimistic with regard to the debate and President Trump’s momentum,” she said.

Democrats are looking to rally after a rough week as they attack the Supreme Court’s high-stakes rulings and recalibrate after their hand-wringing over Biden’s fitness was on public display. Political insiders on the left and the right acknowledge that the November presidential election is still a long way off and momentum could shift again.

But at the moment, conservatives are optimistic about the prospect of a second Trump term for which the courts have paved the way to give agencies less leeway on environmental regulations — and they see climate rules as particularly ripe for attack.

“It looks like Trump is in the best possible position right now, and the Supreme Court at the same time is reducing the size and scope of the administrative state, so for Republicans you’d think this last week has been a good one,” said Mike Catanzaro, who served as an energy adviser in the Trump White House and is now president and chief policy officer at CGCN Group.

Conservatives are celebrating last week’s ruling to overturn the Chevron doctrine, a legal theory that has helped agencies defend their regulations in court. They also heralded Monday’s decision in a case called Corner Post v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, where the high court cleared the way for new lawsuits over old rules.

Climate regulations stand to be particularly vulnerable under the new legal landscape, Catanzaro said, in part because legislation hasn’t caught up with climate change.

“At the end of the day, we haven’t really legislated in this space,” Catanzaro said. He noted that the Biden administration’s big climate law, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, relies heavily on incentives rather than climate regulations.

Climate change will likely be one “of the top areas of policy affected most” by the Chevron overhaul, he said.

Andrew Wheeler, who served as EPA administrator during the Trump administration, posted on the social media platform X that the decision overturning Chevron “will make regulatory agencies justify their rule making more.”

When an agency “does a major pivot in application of a law, without a change in Congressional authority,” Wheeler wrote, those regulations “will probably be more at risk.” He pointed to recent Biden EPA rules clamping down on greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes and power plants.

David Bernhardt, who served as Interior secretary during the Trump administration, said he appreciates the court’s decision in the ruling overturning Chevron, and said it clarifies that courts may not defer to agencies’ interpretations just because a statute was ambiguous.

“There is no doubt in my mind, as somebody who spent a lot of time in the executive branch, that routinely, agencies have stretched and stretched and stretched what they perceived to be ambiguities in the law to reach outcomes that they hoped, recognizing that they were going to receive a highly deferential standard of review,” Bernhardt said.

‘A holy grail’

The ruling to overturn Chevron — although expected in legal circles — was widely celebrated among conservatives.

Unraveling Chevron has been “a holy grail” for conservatives, said George David Banks, who worked on climate policy in the Trump White House.

The day the ruling came down, Gunasekara said she got “all sorts of emails with extra exclamation points.”

“It’s a very big deal and it opens the gate for reconsideration of a lot of environmental decisions and rules and that — coupled with President Trump’s continued improvement in the polls — has people really excited with an opportunity to change the trajectory of the administrative state from administrative growth to being pared back and level set,” she said.

“It was a very good week,” said Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research who served on Trump’s 2016 presidential transition team.

But while conservatives are “celebrating their wins” for the moment, “this isn’t the end — this is just the beginning,” Pyle said. “There’s a lot of work to do,” but “there’s potential for a paradigm shift and a restoration between the checks and balances of the three branches” of government.