Midnight Watch Project

A black and white illustration of the White House, with the face of a clock, 1 minute from midnight, overlaid.

The out­go­ing Trump admin­is­tra­tion took numer­ous mid­night actions on envi­ron­men­tal, cli­mate and ener­gy issues between the elec­tion and Inau­gu­ra­tion Day. Use the tabs at left to explore by issue area. As of the morn­ing of Jan­u­ary 20, 2021, the State Impact Cen­ter count­ed 24 envi­ron­men­tal, ener­gy, and cli­mate rules final­ized dur­ing the mid­night peri­od where state attor­neys gen­er­al have been active. Beyond the scope of our track­ing, ProP­ub­li­ca iden­ti­fied addi­tion­al roll­backs of envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, as well as a num­ber of rules in oth­er sub­ject mat­ter areas. The Biden admin­is­tra­tion has iden­ti­fied numer­ous mid­night rules, among oth­er reg­u­la­tions, that it seeks to review.

Climate Change

Car­bon Emis­sions Stan­dards for New Pow­er Plants

In Decem­ber 2018, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) pro­posed to weak­en New Source Per­for­mance Stan­dards for car­bon emis­sions from new and mod­i­fied pow­er plants. The agency’s pro­posed changes would allow new coal-fired pow­er plants to release up to 35 per­cent more car­bon emis­sions than allowed under exist­ing reg­u­la­tions. As state attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed in com­ments filed in March 2019, the pro­pos­al vio­lates the Clean Air Act’s man­date that New Source Per­for­mance stan­dards reflect the best” sys­tem for reduc­ing emis­sions, as the pro­pos­al would in fact allow emis­sions to increase. The EPA could final­ize the roll­back dur­ing the tran­si­tion period.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The EPA pub­lished the final rule on Jan­u­ary 13. The rule does not alter New Source Per­for­mance Stan­dards for new and mod­i­fied coal-fired pow­er plants as orig­i­nal­ly pro­posed, and instead estab­lish­es a new scheme for deter­min­ing whether emis­sions of green­house gas­es (GHG) from a par­tic­u­lar sec­tor are sig­nif­i­cant enough — a thresh­old set at 3% of over­all U.S. GHG emis­sions — to be reg­u­lat­ed under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act pro­vides no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the EPA’s arbi­trary 3% sig­nif­i­cance thresh­old, and the agen­cy’s fail­ure to accept pub­lic com­ment on the thresh­old scheme before final­iz­ing it like­ly runs afoul of the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act.

Green­house Gas Emis­sions Stan­dards for Airplanes

In August 2020, the EPA pro­posed the country’s first-ever green­house gas emis­sions stan­dards for air­planes. The stan­dards reflect exist­ing indus­try prac­tice and would have essen­tial­ly no effect on the avi­a­tion sector’s actu­al emis­sions, as state attor­neys gen­er­al empha­sized in com­ments filed in Octo­ber 2020. The stan­dards could be final­ized dur­ing the tran­si­tion period.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The EPA pub­lished the final rule on Jan­u­ary 11. A coali­tion of 13 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 15.

Delay­ing Fine Adjust­ment for Non-Com­ply­ing Automakers

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: On Jan­u­ary 14, the Nation­al High­way Traf­fic Safe­ty Admin­is­tra­tion (NHT­SA) pro­mul­gat­ed an inter­im final rule delay­ing the effec­tive­ness of its 2016 penal­ty adjust­ment for vio­la­tions of Cor­po­rate Aver­age Fuel Econ­o­my (CAFE) stan­dards until mod­el year 2022. The rule was a response to a peti­tion from the Alliance for Auto­mo­tive Inno­va­tion and comes after state attor­neys gen­er­al twice suc­cess­ful­ly sued NHT­SA for pre­vi­ous­ly delay­ing and rescind­ing the adjust­ment. The rule became effec­tive upon pub­li­ca­tion in the Fed­er­al Reg­is­ter and com­ments were due on Jan­u­ary 252021.

Guid­ance on Treat­ment of Green­house Gas­es Under NEPA

In June 2019, the White House Coun­cil on Envi­ron­men­tal Qual­i­ty (CEQ) pub­lished draft guid­ance on the treat­ment of green­house gas­es under the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA). The draft guid­ance pro­vid­ed lit­tle clar­i­ty to fed­er­al agen­cies on how to weigh green­house gas emis­sions and cli­mate impacts in NEPA reviews, and instead appeared to encour­age agen­cies to avoid such con­sid­er­a­tions alto­geth­er, as state attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed in com­ments filed in August 2019. The admin­is­tra­tion has since moved ahead with a broad over­haul of NEPA imple­ment­ing reg­u­la­tions, but the guid­ance remains unfi­nal­ized and its fate is unclear.

Clean Air

Nation­al Ambi­ent Air Qual­i­ty Stan­dards for Ozone

In August 2020, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) pro­posed to retain the exist­ing Nation­al Ambi­ent Air Qual­i­ty Stan­dards (NAAQS) for ozone, despite sig­nif­i­cant new sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence of ozone’s harm to human health that has emerged since the exist­ing stan­dards were adopt­ed in 2015, as state attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed in com­ments filed in Octo­ber 2020. The attor­neys gen­er­al also not­ed sig­nif­i­cant flaws in the process by which the EPA reached its deci­sion, includ­ing steps to arbi­trar­i­ly exclude sci­en­tif­ic experts, trun­cate and elim­i­nate impor­tant steps, reduce trans­paren­cy and cur­tail oppor­tu­ni­ties for pub­lic input.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The EPA pub­lished its final deci­sion on Decem­ber 31. A coali­tion of 16 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the deci­sion on Jan­u­ary 19.

Nation­al Ambi­ent Air Qual­i­ty Stan­dards for Par­tic­u­late Matter

In April 2020, the EPA pro­posed to retain the exist­ing NAAQS for fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM2.5) and coarse par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM10), even though fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter is asso­ci­at­ed with an esti­mat­ed 45,000 deaths annu­al­ly in areas that meet exist­ing stan­dards, as state attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed in com­ments filed in June 2020. The attor­neys gen­er­al also not­ed that the EPA wrong­ly assert­ed that its deci­sion rais­es no envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice issues,” despite sig­nif­i­cant evi­dence that com­mu­ni­ties of col­or and low­er-income com­mu­ni­ties are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly exposed to and harmed by PM pollution.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The EPA pub­lished its final deci­sion on Decem­ber 18. A coali­tion of 17 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the deci­sion on Jan­u­ary 15.

Once In, Always In

On Novem­ber 19, the EPA pub­lished a final rule replac­ing its 25-year-old Once In, Always In” pol­i­cy, which required that once a facil­i­ty is clas­si­fied as a major source of haz­ardous air pol­lu­tants it must keep pol­lu­tion con­trols in place even if the facil­i­ty has the poten­tial to reduce emis­sions below major source thresh­olds. The agency pre­vi­ous­ly adopt­ed a sim­i­lar pol­i­cy through a guid­ance mem­o­ran­dum; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Cir­cuit dis­missed a chal­lenge to the guid­ance mem­o­ran­dum, hold­ing that it was not a final agency action.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: A coali­tion of 13 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 19.

Emis­sions Stan­dards for Eth­yl­ene Oxide

In Decem­ber 2019, the EPA pub­lished an advance notice of pro­posed rule­mak­ing to solic­it input on poten­tial revised emis­sions stan­dards for eth­yl­ene oxide (EtO), a flam­ma­ble and high­ly reac­tive gas used by more than 100 facil­i­ties across the Unit­ed States to ster­il­ize med­ical instru­ments and oth­er prod­ucts. In com­ments filed in Feb­ru­ary 2020, state attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed that exist­ing stan­dards fail to ade­quate­ly pro­tect 288,000 Amer­i­cans across 36 states who face an ele­vat­ed risk of EtO expo­sure, which is asso­ci­at­ed with can­cer, repro­duc­tive harm and neu­ro­tox­i­c­i­ty. The attor­neys gen­er­al also not­ed that a statu­to­ri­ly man­dat­ed review of the stan­dards is more than five years over­due, and urged the EPA to work with the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion (FDA) to sup­port research into effec­tive alter­na­tives to EtO ster­il­iza­tion. The EPA has thus far not moved for­ward with propos­ing revised standards. 

Sell-Through Peri­od for Non-Com­pli­ant Wood Heaters

In May 2020, the EPA pub­lished a pro­posed rule that would have allowed the con­tin­ued sale of wood-burn­ing heaters, boil­ers and forced-air fur­naces that do not com­ply with emis­sions stan­dards that took effect in May 2020. Air pol­lu­tants emit­ted by such appli­ances — in par­tic­u­lar, fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter — cause sig­nif­i­cant harm to pub­lic health, and are par­tic­u­lar­ly dan­ger­ous dur­ing a res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­ease pan­dem­ic. The pro­pos­al would have allowed retail­ers to con­tin­ue sell­ing non-com­pli­ant prod­ucts through Novem­ber 30, 2020, despite the fact that the EPA pre­vi­ous­ly con­clud­ed that there was insuf­fi­cient evi­dence of a need for a sell-through peri­od, as state attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed in com­ments filed in July 2020.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: In mid-Novem­ber, the EPA report­ed­ly noti­fied indus­try groups that it would not final­ize the pro­posed sell-through peri­od for non-com­pli­ant wood heaters.

Clean Water

Lead and Cop­per Rule Revisions

In Decem­ber 2019, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) pro­posed revi­sions to the Lead and Cop­per Rule under the Safe Drink­ing Water Act (SDWA). The pro­pos­al includes pro­vi­sions that weak­en impor­tant pub­lic health pro­tec­tions, includ­ing a reduc­tion in the annu­al rate at which water util­i­ties must replace lead pipes to address harm­ful lev­els of lead con­cen­tra­tion in water — a change that may vio­late the SDWA’s anti-back­slid­ing pro­vi­sion, as state attor­neys gen­er­al warned in com­ments filed in Feb­ru­ary 2020.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: The EPA pub­lished the final rule on Jan­u­ary 15.

Pre­lim­i­nary Reg­u­la­to­ry Deter­mi­na­tions for PFOS and PFOA

In March 2020, the EPA issued a pre­lim­i­nary deci­sion to reg­u­late only two per- and poly­flu­o­roalkyl sub­stances (PFAS) — per­flu­o­rooc­tanoic acid (PFOA) and per­flu­o­rooc­tane sul­fonate (PFOS) — under the Safe Drink­ing Water Act (SDWA). PFAS chem­i­cals can cause repro­duc­tive, devel­op­men­tal, liv­er and kid­ney dam­age and have been linked to can­cer. In June 2020, state attor­neys gen­er­al sub­mit­ted com­ments encour­ag­ing the EPA to estab­lish drink­ing water stan­dards for oth­er PFAS chem­i­cals under the SDWA, in addi­tion to PFOA and PFOS. The final reg­u­la­to­ry deter­mi­na­tion could be pub­lished dur­ing the tran­si­tion period.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: The White House com­plet­ed its review of the final rule on Jan­u­ary 14.

Coal Ash Impound­ment Clo­sure Regulations

On Novem­ber 12, the EPA pub­lished the sec­ond part (first part here) of its roll­back of a 2015 rule gov­ern­ing the dis­pos­al of tox­ic coal ash in land­fills and sur­face impound­ments. Among oth­er changes, the sec­ond part of the roll­back would allow cer­tain unlined impound­ments to remain open indef­i­nite­ly. The attor­neys gen­er­al of Mary­land, Illi­nois, and Michi­gan filed com­ments opposed to the pro­posed rule.

Clean Energy & Energy Efficiency

Waiv­ing Ener­gy Effi­cien­cy Test Procedures

In May 2019, the Ener­gy Depart­ment pro­posed changes to the process by which appli­ance man­u­fac­tur­ers can seek waivers from Ener­gy Pol­i­cy and Con­ser­va­tion Act (EPCA)-mandated ener­gy effi­cien­cy test­ing pro­ce­dures. Under the pro­pos­al, the Ener­gy Depart­ment would ini­tial­ly grant such waivers by default with­out review, based on a sim­ple noti­fi­ca­tion from a man­u­fac­tur­er that they do not intend to fol­low the estab­lished test pro­ce­dures. In addi­tion, if the Ener­gy Depart­ment even­tu­al­ly denies a waiv­er fol­low­ing fur­ther review, the man­u­fac­tur­er would be allowed to con­tin­ue avoid­ing required com­pli­ance test­ing for an addi­tion­al 180-day grace peri­od. These changes would effec­tive­ly allow any com­pa­ny to man­u­fac­ture and sell non-com­pli­ant prod­ucts for at least half a year, and would bur­den con­sumers and busi­ness­es with cost­ly long-last­ing prod­ucts that do not meet ener­gy effi­cien­cy stan­dards, as state attor­neys gen­er­al warned in com­ments filed in Sep­tem­ber 2019.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The Ener­gy Depart­ment pub­lished the final rule on Decem­ber 11. A coali­tion of 15 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 19.

Effi­cien­cy Carve-Out for Fast-Cycle Wash­ers and Dryers

In August 2020, the Ener­gy Depart­ment pro­posed to estab­lish a new prod­uct class for fast-cycle clothes wash­ers and dry­ers, in order to exempt them from ener­gy effi­cien­cy stan­dards under the EPCA. Cur­rent­ly, all clothes wash­ers and dry­ers are sub­ject to ener­gy effi­cien­cy stan­dards. The Ener­gy Department’s pro­pos­al would cre­ate a cat­e­go­ry of wash­ers and dry­ers to carve out from the cur­rent stan­dards. These appli­ances would be sub­ject to oth­er stan­dards only if the Ener­gy Depart­ment under­took and final­ized an addi­tion­al rule­mak­ing. Such a relax­ation of stan­dards vio­lates EPCA’s anti-back­slid­ing pro­vi­sion that pro­hibits the depart­ment from estab­lish­ing a stan­dard that increas­es max­i­mum allow­able ener­gy use, as state attor­neys gen­er­al warned in com­ments filed in Octo­ber 2020.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The Ener­gy Depart­ment pub­lished the final rule on Decem­ber 16. A coali­tion of 15 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 19.

Spe­cial Treat­ment for Fur­naces and Water Heaters

In July 2019, the Ener­gy Depart­ment pro­posed an inter­pre­ta­tive rule for ener­gy effi­cien­cy stan­dards for res­i­den­tial gas fur­naces and com­mer­cial hot water heaters. The pro­pos­al assert­ed that non-con­dens­ing com­bus­tion tech­nol­o­gy prod­ucts and equip­ment are per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics” that are exempt under EPCA because adopt­ing an ener­gy effi­cien­cy stan­dard alleged­ly would result in the com­mer­cial unavail­abil­i­ty of non-con­dens­ing com­bus­tion tech­nol­o­gy prod­ucts and equip­ment in fur­naces and hot water heaters. State attor­neys gen­er­al filed com­ments in Sep­tem­ber 2019 oppos­ing the pro­pos­al on grounds that the Ener­gy Depart­ment had cor­rect­ly con­clud­ed in pri­or rule­mak­ings that non-con­dens­ing com­bus­tion tech­nol­o­gy prod­ucts and equip­ment are not per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics” under EPCA, and because the pro­pos­al would cost con­sumers bil­lions of dol­lars in lost ener­gy sav­ings and increase car­bon emis­sions by mil­lions of met­ric tons.

In Sep­tem­ber 2020, after con­sid­er­ing pub­lic com­ments on the July 2019 pro­pos­al, the Ener­gy Depart­ment pro­posed a sup­ple­men­tal inter­pre­ta­tive rule that would deem a res­i­den­tial gas fur­nace or com­mer­cial water heater’s com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with exist­ing vent­ing sys­tems a per­for­mance-relat­ed fea­ture.” This inter­pre­ta­tion of fea­ture” is incon­sis­tent with EPCA, as state attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed in com­ments filed in Sep­tem­ber 2020.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: The The Ener­gy Depart­ment pub­lished the final rule on Jan­u­ary 15.

Vine­yard Wind Project: Final EIS and Per­mit­ting Decision

In June 2020, the Bureau of Ocean Ener­gy Man­age­ment (BOEM) issued a sup­ple­ment to its Decem­ber 2018 draft envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment for Vine­yard Wind’s pro­posed 800-MW wind ener­gy project off the coast of Mass­a­chu­setts. In its sup­ple­ment, BOEM expand­ed its analy­sis to eval­u­ate cumu­la­tive impacts of the project and oth­er rea­son­ably fore­see­able off­shore wind ener­gy facil­i­ty projects in the Atlantic Out­er Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf area, fore­cast­ing 22,000 megawatts of wind devel­op­ment along the East Coast. In July 2020, Mass­a­chu­setts Attor­ney Gen­er­al Mau­ra Healey filed com­ments not­ing the impor­tance of the project to the state’s emis­sions reduc­tions tar­gets and tran­si­tion to clean ener­gy, and urg­ing BOEM to expe­di­tious­ly approve the project.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: On Decem­ber 1, Vine­yard Wind announced plans to switch the tur­bines used in the project. The Inte­ri­or Depart­ment respond­ed by ter­mi­nat­ing the fed­er­al review process for the project, in a notice pub­lished on Decem­ber 16.

Changes to FERC’s Trans­mis­sion Incen­tives Policy

In March 2020, the Fed­er­al Ener­gy Reg­u­la­to­ry Com­mis­sion (FERC) pro­posed revi­sions to its elec­tric­i­ty trans­mis­sion incen­tives pol­i­cy. Under Sec­tion 219 of the Fed­er­al Pow­er Act, FERC estab­lish­es incen­tives-based, includ­ing per­for­mance-based, rate treat­ments for the devel­op­ment of reli­able and afford­able trans­mis­sion projects. In June 2020, state attor­neys gen­er­al sub­mit­ted mul­ti­state com­ments (and Vir­ginia sub­mit­ted state-spe­cif­ic com­ments) express­ing con­cern that most aspects of FERC’s pro­pos­al would impede progress on need­ed projects for the rapid­ly chang­ing grid, and would lead to unjust and unrea­son­able rates. FERC could final­ize its revi­sions dur­ing the tran­si­tion period. 

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: The pro­pos­al was struck from the agen­da for FER­C’s open meet­ing on Jan­u­ary 19.

Public Lands

Arc­tic Refuge Seis­mic Sur­vey­ing and Lease Sale

In August 2020, the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment (BLM) issued a record of deci­sion to open the Coastal Plain of the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas leas­ing. The deci­sion was based on a Sep­tem­ber 2019 envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment that, among numer­ous oth­er flaws and defi­cien­cies, ques­tioned the exis­tence of cli­mate change while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly assert­ing that the impacts of oil and gas devel­op­ment on the Arc­tic Refuge ecosys­tem would be insignif­i­cant rel­a­tive to the impacts of cli­mate change, and failed to ana­lyze envi­ron­men­tal impacts asso­ci­at­ed with seis­mic sur­vey­ing that would pre­cede drilling activity.

Lease Sale

On Novem­ber 17, BLM pub­lished a call for nom­i­na­tions and com­ments for tracts of land for oil and gas drilling in the Arc­tic Refuge, giv­ing the oil and gas indus­try 30 days — until Decem­ber 17, 2020 — to pro­vide com­ments on the tracts that have been iden­ti­fied for poten­tial sale. Nor­mal­ly, BLM would take some time to review the com­ments before pub­lish­ing a notice of sale, which would iden­ti­fy a lease sale date at least 30 days in the future.

On Decem­ber 7, BLM pub­lished a notice of sale announc­ing an Arc­tic Refuge lease sale sched­uled for Jan­u­ary 6, 2021. Tak­ing these steps out of sequence — pub­lish­ing a notice of sale ten days pri­or to the clos­ing of the pub­lic com­ment peri­od for BLM’s call for nom­i­na­tions — is high­ly unusu­al and poten­tial­ly unlaw­ful. The rel­e­vant reg­u­la­tions require that a detailed state­ment of the sale, includ­ing a descrip­tion of the areas to be offered for lease, the lease terms, con­di­tions and spe­cial stip­u­la­tions and how and where to sub­mit bids shall be made avail­able to the pub­lic imme­di­ate­ly after pub­li­ca­tion of the notice of sale.”

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: BLM pro­ceed­ed with the lease sale on Jan­u­ary 6, but received few bids and col­lect­ed a mere $7 mil­lion in fed­er­al rev­enue. No major oil and gas com­pa­nies sub­mit­ted bids, and the biggest play­er in the auc­tion was an eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion owned by the State of Alaska.

Seis­mic Surveying

BLM accept­ed com­ments through Novem­ber 6, 2020 on a pro­posed plan to con­duct seis­mic sur­vey­ing — a sub­sur­face resource explo­ration tech­nique that pos­es a sig­nif­i­cant threat to polar bears and oth­er wildlife — in the east­ern por­tion of the Coastal Plain. State attor­neys gen­er­al filed com­ments warn­ing that BLM has failed to pro­vide the pub­lic with any infor­ma­tion about the envi­ron­men­tal impacts” of the plan, which are expect­ed to be sig­nif­i­cant giv­en that it will like­ly involve seis­mic test­ing across a third of the Coastal Plain and con­struc­tion of hun­dreds of miles of snow access trails, mul­ti­ple airstrips, and thou­sands of miles of receiv­er lines.”

  • On Decem­ber 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pub­lished a pro­posed inci­den­tal harass­ment autho­riza­tion relat­ed to the plan’s impacts on polar bears. The Ser­vice accept­ed com­ments through Jan­u­ary 7.
  • On Decem­ber 16, BLM pub­lished notice of an envi­ron­men­tal assess­ment and pro­posed Find­ing of No New Sig­nif­i­cant Impact (FONNSI) for the pro­posed seis­mic sur­vey­ing. BLM accept­ed com­ments through Decem­ber 30.

Nation­al Petro­le­um Reserve-Alas­ka Inte­grat­ed Activ­i­ty Plan

In June 2020, BLM released a final envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment (EIS) and inte­grat­ed activ­i­ty plan (IAP) to open an addi­tion­al 6.6 mil­lion acres of the Nation­al Petro­le­um Reserve-Alas­ka to new oil and gas leas­ing. The expan­sion would include cru­cial wildlife habi­tat — includ­ing areas around the Teshekpuk Lake wet­lands com­plex — that BLM des­ig­nat­ed as off-lim­its to leas­ing in its 2013 inte­grat­ed activ­i­ty plan, which was com­plet­ed after exten­sive research and broad pub­lic involve­ment. The EIS fails to pro­vide a defen­si­ble, evi­dence-based jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the expan­sion of leas­ing into these areas, as state attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed in com­ments filed on the draft EIS in Jan­u­ary 2020. The attor­neys gen­er­al also high­light­ed the plan’s fail­ure to ade­quate­ly account for the plan’s poten­tial cli­mate impacts, espe­cial­ly with regard to migra­to­ry birds, empha­siz­ing that con­di­tions are worse now for the Reserve’s wildlife than they were in 2013 as a result of the inten­si­fy­ing impacts of cli­mate change.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: On Jan­u­ary 4, BLM pub­lished a record of deci­sion adopt­ing the new inte­grat­ed activ­i­ty plan. Under the new IAP, rough­ly 82% — 18.6 mil­lion acres — of the Nation­al Petro­le­um Reserve-Alas­ka will be open to oil and gas drilling.

Val­u­a­tion Rule

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: On Jan­u­ary 15, 2021, the Inte­ri­or Depart­ment pub­lished a final rule elim­i­nat­ing sev­er­al key pro­vi­sions in the 2016 Val­u­a­tion Rule, which had reformed pro­ce­dures for deter­min­ing the roy­al­ties owed to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment from coal, oil and gas extract­ed on pub­lic lands. The rule will take effect on Feb­ru­ary 16, 2021. The rule will become effec­tive on Feb­ru­ary 16, 2021. Cal­i­for­nia and New Mex­i­co twice suc­cess­ful­ly sued to defeat pri­or attempts to delay and repeal the Val­u­a­tion Rule.

Off­shore Oil and Gas Development

In Jan­u­ary 2018, the Inte­ri­or Department’s Bureau of Ocean Ener­gy Man­age­ment (BOEM) pro­posed a revised Out­er Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leas­ing Pro­gram for 2019 – 2024. The plan would open more than 90% of the Unit­ed States’ off­shore waters for oil and gas explo­ration and devel­op­ment, includ­ing areas adja­cent to East and West Coast states that strong­ly oppose such devel­op­ment off their shores and lack the onshore infra­struc­ture need­ed to receive and process oil and gas. Many of the areas includ­ed in the plan have lit­tle pro­duc­tion poten­tial, and open­ing them for leas­ing is sim­ply not worth the envi­ron­men­tal and eco­nom­ic dis­rup­tion, much less the risk of a dis­as­ter with adverse effects per­sist­ing for many years,” as state attor­neys gen­er­al empha­sized in com­ments filed in March 2019. The admin­is­tra­tion paused the plan fol­low­ing a March 2019 deci­sion by the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Alas­ka that vacat­ed a sim­i­lar attempt to restart off­shore leas­ing in Arc­tic waters; that deci­sion was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Cir­cuit, which has not yet issued a rul­ing. Pres­i­dent Trump has since placed a 10-year mora­to­ri­um on off­shore ener­gy devel­op­ment off the coasts of Flori­da, Geor­gia, South Car­oli­na, and North Car­oli­na, and the fate of the revised OCS leas­ing pro­gram remains unclear.

Exclud­ing For­est Ser­vice Actions from NEPA Reviews

On Novem­ber 19, the U.S. For­est Ser­vice pub­lished a final rule that will allow a range of actions by the ser­vice to pro­ceed with­out under­go­ing full Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA) review. The rule expands two exist­ing cat­e­gor­i­cal exclu­sions and cre­ates six new exclu­sions for activ­i­ties with poten­tial­ly sig­nif­i­cant envi­ron­men­tal impacts, includ­ing activ­i­ties relat­ed to recre­ation spe­cial uses, admin­is­tra­tive sites, recre­ation sites, and restora­tion and resilience projects, along with two [cat­e­gor­i­cal exclu­sions] for cer­tain road man­age­ment projects.” The changes took effect imme­di­ate­ly upon the rule’s publication.

Restrict­ing LWCF Implementation

On Novem­ber 9, Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary David Bern­hardt issued an order that would effec­tive­ly give state and local gov­ern­ments the abil­i­ty to block fed­er­al acqui­si­tions of land through the Land and Water Con­ser­va­tion Fund (LWCF). The order requires the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to obtain a writ­ten expres­sion of sup­port by both the affect­ed Gov­er­nor and local coun­ty or coun­ty-gov­ern­ment-equiv­a­lent” before com­plet­ing a LWCF-fund­ed acqui­si­tion. The LWCF pro­vides funds for states to spend on qual­i­fy­ing projects; nei­ther the lan­guage nor the struc­ture of the LWCF allows for states to also exer­cise a veto over fed­er­al con­ser­va­tion invest­ment deci­sions. Both Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers who cham­pi­oned the leg­is­la­tion sharply crit­i­cized the order, as did con­ser­va­tion groups.


Endan­gered Species Act: Def­i­n­i­tion of Habi­tat”

In August 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice and Nation­al Marine Fish­eries Ser­vice pro­posed a new, restric­tive def­i­n­i­tion of the term habi­tat” under the Endan­gered Species Act (ESA). By nar­row­ly defin­ing habi­tat, the pro­pos­al threat­ens to arbi­trar­i­ly lim­it the Ser­vices’ abil­i­ty to recov­er imper­iled species by reduc­ing — in some cas­es poten­tial­ly severe­ly — the amount and type of crit­i­cal habi­tat that can be pro­tect­ed under the Act,” as state attor­neys gen­er­al warned in com­ments filed in Sep­tem­ber 2020.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The Ser­vices pub­lished the final rule on Decem­ber 16, defin­ing habi­tat” for the pur­pos­es of crit­i­cal habi­tat des­ig­na­tions as the abi­ot­ic and biot­ic set­ting that cur­rent­ly or peri­od­i­cal­ly con­tains the resources and con­di­tions nec­es­sary to sup­port one or more life process­es of a species.” A coali­tion of 18 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 19.

Endan­gered Species Act: Crit­i­cal Habi­tat Des­ig­na­tion Process

In Sep­tem­ber 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pro­posed changes to the process for des­ig­nat­ing crit­i­cal habi­tat for pro­tec­tion under the ESA. The pro­posed changes would skew the process in favor of devel­op­ment and extrac­tive indus­tries by giv­ing pri­vate par­ties inap­pro­pri­ate influ­ence over whether the Ser­vice under­takes analy­ses of the ben­e­fits of exclud­ing areas from crit­i­cal habi­tat des­ig­na­tions, and over the infor­ma­tion used in such analy­ses. The changes threat­en to reduc[e] — poten­tial­ly dras­ti­cal­ly — the amount of crit­i­cal habi­tat ulti­mate­ly des­ig­nat­ed and pro­tect­ed” under the statute, as state attor­neys gen­er­al warned in com­ments filed in Octo­ber 2020.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pub­lished the final rule on Decem­ber 18. A coali­tion of 18 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 19.

Migra­to­ry Bird Treaty Act: Elim­i­na­tion of Pro­hi­bi­tion on Inci­den­tal Take

In Feb­ru­ary 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pub­lished a pro­posed rule that would rede­fine the scope of the Migra­to­ry Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to no longer pro­hib­it the inci­den­tal take” of migra­to­ry birds. The pro­pos­al would reverse decades of reg­u­la­to­ry prece­dent in order to shield indus­tries and devel­op­ers that reck­less­ly kill migra­to­ry birds from lia­bil­i­ty under the MBTA. The change direct­ly con­flicts with the MBTA’s text, leg­isla­tive his­to­ry and fun­da­men­tal pur­pose pro­tect­ing migra­to­ry birds, as state attor­neys gen­er­al empha­sized in com­ments filed in March 2020. The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice released a final envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment on Novem­ber 27.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pub­lished the final rule on Jan­u­ary 7. A coali­tion of 11 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 19.

Revised Method for Eval­u­at­ing Impacts of Pes­ti­cides on Endan­gered Species

In May 2019, the EPA pro­posed changes to its process for eval­u­at­ing risks posed by pes­ti­cides to endan­gered species. The pro­pos­al would lim­it the scope of the agency’s review of the effects of pes­ti­cides on endan­gered species, includ­ing species on the brink of extinc­tion, and pre­cludes any analy­sis of the effects of cli­mate change” on the habi­tats of list­ed species. State attor­neys gen­er­al filed com­ments in August 2019 warn­ing that the pro­pos­al con­tra­venes the Endan­gered Species Act’s pol­i­cy of insti­tu­tion­al­ized cau­tion” by unlaw­ful­ly allow­ing the EPA to rely on incom­plete and unre­li­able data and unrea­son­ably restrict­ing the poten­tial habi­tat areas to be ana­lyzed. The EPA could final­ize the changes dur­ing the tran­si­tion period.

Safety & Toxics

Risk Eval­u­a­tion for Asbestos

In April 2020, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) released a draft risk eval­u­a­tion for asbestos, find­ing that cer­tain con­di­tions of asbestos use — includ­ing the import of asbestos and asbestos-con­tain­ing prod­ucts — present no unrea­son­able risk to human health and the envi­ron­ment. As not­ed by state attor­neys gen­er­al in com­ments filed in June 2020, the EPA failed to con­sid­er all uses of asbestos in its eval­u­a­tion, exclud­ed expo­sure to lega­cy asbestos from con­sid­er­a­tion, and even con­ced­ed that the use of com­mer­cial and con­sumer asbestos does in fact present an unrea­son­able can­cer risk.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: The EPA pub­lishedfinal risk eval­u­a­tion for chrysotile asbestos on Decem­ber 18.

Risk Eval­u­a­tion for Perchloroethylene

In May 2020, the EPA released a draft risk eval­u­a­tion for per­chloroeth­yl­ene (PERC), a haz­ardous chem­i­cal com­mon­ly used in dry clean­ing. The draft risk eval­u­a­tion includes numer­ous defi­cien­cies and under­es­ti­ma­tions of the risk that PERC pos­es to human health and the envi­ron­ment. It is par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious from an envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice per­spec­tive, due to dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly high expo­sure rates to PERC among res­i­dents of low-income com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, as high­light­ed in com­ments filed by state attor­neys gen­er­al in July 2020.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: The EPA pub­lished the final risk eval­u­a­tion on Decem­ber 18.

Pes­ti­cide Rereg­is­tra­tion Deci­sion for Flonicamid

In Sep­tem­ber 2020, the EPA pro­posed an inter­im rereg­is­tra­tion deci­sion for the pes­ti­cide floni­camid. In com­ments filed in Novem­ber 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra high­light­ed the inad­e­qua­cy of the pro­posed inter­im deci­sion, empha­siz­ing that the EPA will vio­late the Fed­er­al Insec­ti­cide, Fungi­cide, and Roden­ti­cide Act (FIFRA) if it moves for­ward with­out review­ing rel­e­vant stud­ies and suf­fi­cient­ly ana­lyz­ing the threat that floni­camid pos­es to pol­li­na­tors. The EPA could final­ize the inter­im rereg­is­tra­tion deci­sion dur­ing the tran­si­tion period.

Risk Assess­ment for Eth­yl­ene Oxide

On Novem­ber 20, the EPA releaseddraft risk assess­ment for eth­yl­ene oxide (EtO), a car­cino­genic gas used as a fumi­gant to ster­il­ize med­ical equip­ment and spices. Notably, instead of endors­ing a defin­i­tive method for eval­u­at­ing the can­cer risks of EtO expo­sure, the draft risk assess­ment pro­vides a range of meth­ods, some of which sug­gest EtO’s car­cino­genic poten­tial is far low­er than esti­mat­ed by the EPA’s inde­pen­dent Inte­grat­ed Risk Infor­ma­tion Sys­tem (IRIS) pro­gram. The EPA will accept com­ments on the draft risk assess­ment through Jan­u­ary 192021.

Super­fund Finan­cial Assur­ance Requirements

On Decem­ber 2, the EPA issued final rules lim­it­ing the finan­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty of three indus­tries under the Com­pre­hen­sive Envi­ron­men­tal Response, Com­pen­sa­tion, and Lia­bil­i­ty Act (the Super­fund statute). Under Super­fund, if the own­ers and oper­a­tors of a site con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with haz­ardous sub­stances are unable to fund cleanup efforts, the EPA will use tax­pay­er funds to clean up the sites. The pace of EPA-fund­ed cleanups is often con­strained by fund availability.

Under the EPA’s final rules, own­ers and oper­a­tors in the three indus­tries — fos­sil fuel-fired pow­er plants, the petro­le­um and coal prod­ucts man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try, and the chem­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try — will not be required to estab­lish and main­tain evi­dence of finan­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty to fund the cleanup of haz­ardous sub­stances. Con­se­quent­ly, own­ers and oper­a­tors in the three indus­tries could declare bank­rupt­cy to avoid Super­fund lia­bil­i­ty, leav­ing tax­pay­ers on the hook to pay for EPA’s cleanup of the con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed sites, and leav­ing near­by com­mu­ni­ties wait­ing on the EPA to com­plete its cleanup activities.

Regulatory Processes

EPA Restric­tions on Use of Sci­ence in Rulemakings

In March 2020, the EPA released a sup­ple­men­tal pro­pos­al to mod­i­fy and expand its April 2018 pro­pos­al to lim­it the agency’s reliance on sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies that do not pro­vide pub­lic access to all under­ly­ing data and method­olo­gies. The new pro­pos­al directs the agency to give pref­er­ence to stud­ies with pub­lic data — a change from the agency’s orig­i­nal pro­pos­al to dis­qual­i­fy stud­ies with­out pub­lic data alto­geth­er — but extends the orig­i­nal proposal’s restric­tions beyond for­mal rule­mak­ing process­es to apply to all of the EPA’s sci­ence and research. The pro­posed restric­tions are a solu­tion’ in search of a prob­lem” and will only detract from the robust­ly trans­par­ent peer review process that EPA cur­rent­ly uses to eval­u­ate the integri­ty of sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies and mod­el­ing,” as state attor­neys gen­er­al empha­sized in com­ments filed in May 2020. The EPA’s final rule has been under review at the White House since Sep­tem­ber 2020, and could be pub­lished dur­ing the tran­si­tion period.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENTS: The EPA pub­lished the final rule on Jan­u­ary 6. A coali­tion of 18 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 19.

Changes to Cost-Ben­e­fit Analy­sis of Clean Air Act Regulations

In June 2020, the EPA pro­posed dras­tic changes to its approach to cost-ben­e­fit analy­ses of envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions under the Clean Air Act. The pro­pos­al would estab­lish a one-size-fits-all method­ol­o­gy for cost-ben­e­fit analy­ses, and would bar con­sid­er­a­tion of co-ben­e­fits, which result from reduc­tions in pol­lu­tants that are not the direct sub­ject of the reg­u­la­tion. In August 2020, state attor­neys gen­er­al filed com­ments object­ing to the pro­pos­al, empha­siz­ing that fail­ing to con­sid­er co-ben­e­fits not only dis­re­gards fun­da­men­tal eco­nom­ic prin­ci­ples but vio­lates EPA’s statu­to­ry duties and under­cuts the agency’s core mis­sion to pro­tect human health and the environment.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: The EPA pub­lished the final rule on Decem­ber 23. A coali­tion of 18 state attor­neys gen­er­al chal­lenged the final rule on Jan­u­ary 19.

Changes to Reg­u­la­to­ry Enforcement

In Jan­u­ary 2020, the White House Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get (OMB) issued a request for infor­ma­tion regard­ing poten­tial changes to reg­u­la­to­ry enforce­ment and adju­di­ca­tion. In the request, OMB solicit­ed pro­pos­als that would lim­it the abil­i­ty of fed­er­al agen­cies to inves­ti­gate and enforce laws that pro­tect the envi­ron­ment, pub­lic health and civ­il rights. OMB pre­sent­ed no evi­dence or exam­ples of defi­cien­cies in the cur­rent enforce­ment sys­tem, as state attor­neys gen­er­al empha­sized in com­ments filed in March 2020. The attor­neys gen­er­al high­light­ed that enforce­ment actions under this admin­is­tra­tion have actu­al­ly declined, con­tra­dict­ing OMB’s premise that enforce­ment actions are increas­ing. The pro­pos­al could be final­ized dur­ing the tran­si­tion period.

Changes to NEPA Analy­sis of Trans­porta­tion Infra­struc­ture Projects

On Novem­ber 23, the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment pro­posed changes to its Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA) pro­ce­dures. Com­ments on the pro­pos­al were due Decem­ber 23, 2020, which may pro­vide the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment with suf­fi­cient time to final­ize the rule before Inau­gu­ra­tion Day. 

NEPA requires that before the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment pro­vides funds to con­struct a trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture project, such as expand­ing a high­way or build­ing a light rail line, it must con­duct a NEPA analy­sis of the project’s poten­tial envi­ron­men­tal impacts, includ­ing green­house gas emis­sions. Near­ly all trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture projects receive some lev­el of fed­er­al fund­ing and thus are sub­ject to NEPA.

The pro­pos­al would roll back the Trans­porta­tion Department’s NEPA require­ments to mir­ror the Coun­cil on Envi­ron­men­tal Quality’s July 2020 final rule that elim­i­nat­ed sev­er­al key, long-stand­ing NEPA oblig­a­tions — includ­ing, for exam­ple, the require­ment to ana­lyze cli­mate-relat­ed and oth­er cumu­la­tive” and indi­rect” envi­ron­men­tal effects. The changes would lim­it the abil­i­ty of fed­er­al agen­cies, includ­ing the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment, to com­pre­hen­sive­ly eval­u­ate the impacts of their actions on the envi­ron­ment and pub­lic health, as state attor­neys gen­er­al warned in com­ments filed in March 2020.

Executive Actions

Chang­ing of FERC Chairmanship

On Novem­ber 5, Pres­i­dent Trump named James Dan­ly as chair­man of the Fed­er­al Ener­gy Reg­u­la­to­ry Com­mis­sion (FERC). He replaces Neil Chat­ter­jee, who will remain on FERC as a com­mis­sion­er. The pres­i­dent may name a new chair­man from the sit­ting com­mis­sion­ers at any time. Although both Dan­ly and Chat­ter­jee are Repub­li­cans appoint­ed by Trump to FERC, Chat­ter­jee has tak­en some steps as chair that may be seen as too friend­ly to clean­er tech­nolo­gies, such as final­iz­ing Order 2222, which aims to remove bar­ri­ers to the par­tic­i­pa­tion of dis­trib­uted ener­gy resource aggre­ga­tors in whole­sale elec­tric­i­ty mar­kets. He also recent­ly con­vened a tech­ni­cal con­fer­ence to dis­cuss car­bon pric­ing in orga­nized whole­sale mar­kets, and FERC issued a pro­posed pol­i­cy state­ment on the same top­ic short­ly there­after. Dan­ly dis­sent­ed from Order 2222 and the pro­posed pol­i­cy state­ment. As Chair­man, Dan­ly will still have a sin­gle vote, but he will also be able to guide the path of the agency.

Removal of U.S. Glob­al Change Research Pro­gram Director

On Novem­ber 6, the White House removed cli­mate sci­en­tist Michael Kuper­berg from his lead­er­ship post at the U.S. Glob­al Change Research Pro­gram (USGCRP), where he was expect­ed to over­see devel­op­ment of the Fifth Nation­al Cli­mate Assess­ment, slat­ed for final­iza­tion in 2023. Mr. Kuper­berg, who led USGCRP through the devel­op­ment of the Fourth Nation­al Cli­mate Assess­ment, has been direct­ed by the admin­is­tra­tion to return to his pre­vi­ous posi­tion as a sci­en­tist at the Ener­gy Depart­ment. USGCRP is respon­si­ble for coor­di­nat­ing efforts by 13 fed­er­al agen­cies to pro­duce a Nation­al Cli­mate Assess­ment every four years, as man­dat­ed by Congress.

The fol­low­ing week, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion installed David Legates, a sci­en­tist who has down­played the harms of cli­mate change, to over­see USGCRP. The admin­is­tra­tion also placed a sec­ond offi­cial, Ryan Maue — who holds sim­i­lar­ly ques­tion­able views on cli­mate — into a USGCRP over­sight role.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: Legates and Maue were removed from their posi­tions at USGCRP in mid-January.

Frack­ing Memorandum

In Octo­ber 2020, Pres­i­dent Trump issued a mem­o­ran­dum on hydraulic frac­tur­ing. The mem­o­ran­dum directs cer­tain offi­cials to assess the poten­tial effects of efforts to ban or restrict” frack­ing and oth­er inno­v­a­tive tech­nolo­gies.” The mem­o­ran­dum direct­ed the Ener­gy Depart­ment to sub­mit two dif­fer­ent reports to the pres­i­dent by Jan­u­ary 9 on the eco­nom­ic impacts and nation­al secu­ri­ty impacts of pro­hibit­ing or restrict­ing the use of fracking.

Weak­en­ing of Civ­il Ser­vant Protections

In Octo­ber 2020, Pres­i­dent Trump issued an exec­u­tive order that would cre­ate a new pol­i­cy­mak­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion of fed­er­al employ­ees that would no longer receive civ­il ser­vice pro­tec­tions and could be fired as at-will employ­ees. Con­cerns have been expressed that polit­i­cal appointees at fed­er­al agen­cies could then fire reclas­si­fied employ­ees sim­ply because they are per­ceived as insuf­fi­cient­ly loy­al to the pres­i­dent. The exec­u­tive order requires fed­er­al agen­cies to com­plete a pre­lim­i­nary review of their work­forces with­in 90 days of the issuance of the order — Jan­u­ary 19, 2021 — to deter­mine which employ­ees should be reclassified.

🔴NEW DEVEL­OP­MENT: With the excep­tion of the White House Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, fed­er­al agen­cies large­ly failed to imple­ment the exec­u­tive order before the change in administrations.