Initial Wave of Environmental, Energy Changes Under the Trump Administration

by Holland & Knight LLP
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In the initial week of the Trump Administration, a lot has happened and more changes are planned. Here are the highlights from Week One:

Confirmation Hearings

Confirmation hearings were conducted for Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Rick Perry as Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) and Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. Pruitt has responded to a series of supplemental questions. Senate votes to confirm Perry and Zinke are scheduled for early next week.

Interim Agency Appointments

Catherine McCabe is the Acting Administrator at EPA, and Mike Flynn is the Acting Deputy Administrator. The beachhead transition team is in place. At the Department of Justice (DOJ), Jeffrey H. Wood is the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. Cheryl LaFleur is the Acting Chair at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). With the demotion and announced resignation of Commissioner Norman Bay, FERC will soon lack a quorum in order to conduct business. Kristine Svinicki has been nominated to lead the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Acting National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds has been in the spotlight in the controversy over a Park Service retweet regarding the size of the Inauguration Day crowds.

Regulatory Freeze on Final Regulations

On Jan. 26, EPA imposed a regulatory freeze on 30 final regulations that have not yet gone into full effect. While many of these regulations involve routine approvals of state programs, others involve more significant changes to current regulatory programs. Of particular interest are the following:

These rules are stayed for 60 days. The Administration may reopen the rulemaking process for one or more of these rules after the regulatory delay has expired.

Streamlining of the Environmental Permitting Process

The Administration issued an Executive Order intended to expedite the permitting of high priority infrastructure projects, and it has signaled its support for the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline. TransCanada has taken the cue and reapplied for the cross-border permit needed to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

Restrictions on Communications with the Media and the Public

The beachhead team at EPA has instructed all agency personnel that they may not communicate with the media and the public via social media, Facebook or other means. Agency personnel have also been informed that they must seek permission before speaking at conferences or publishing research. These restrictions have been described as a "short pause" as the Administration conducts an assessment of how EPA and other agencies are communicating with the public.

Potential EPA Staff Cuts

Former transition team member Myron Ebell has announced an aspirational goal of cutting EPA staff by two-thirds.

What's Ahead

So what should we expect in Week Two of the Trump Administration? The current talk in Washington is the Administration's potential use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to undo certain regulations promulgated in the past six months (such as the methane venting and flaring rule and the stream protection rule), a new Supreme Court nomination and more confirmations of political appointees.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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