There is a big untold story over the last four years of the Trump administration that involves unelected bureaucrats who suffocated America’s energy industry under President Barack Obama before they were corralled and brought to heel by President Donald Trump’s EPA.
Lost in the news coverage of the Capitol Hill riots on Jan. 6 and the inauguration of a new president is a remarkable record of achievement on energy and environmental policy by President Trump. Over the past four years, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency demonstrated that it is possible to alleviate the regulatory burden on average citizens and private businesses while improving air quality and cleaning up hazardous waste.
Recently, the agency released a “2020 Year in Review” documenting some of the most significant and enduring achievements of the Trump years. And yet, Google searches that make use of “Trump,” “deregulation,” “Year in Review,” or any close approximation to those words and phrases fail to produce any reference to the report and its major takeaways. There are several that deserve scrutiny for the benefit of posterity.
What a hostile press and its Big Tech allies are working to suppress in the current news cycle will be available for policymakers, political scientists, and historians to compare and contrast with the record of the new administration. Among the list of accomplishments that have gone largely unheralded is the fact that the Trump team finalized 78 deregulatory actions saving the American people roughly $99 billion. What’s remarkable here is that the agency actually surpassed the “two-for-one” deregulatory goal of a Trump executive order that called for two deregulatory actions for every new regulation that was issued.
Here are some pertinent details taken from the “Year in the Review” report:
Since January 2017, EPA has finalized more than five deregulatory actions for every new final regulatory action. In calendar year 2020 alone, EPA finalized 28 deregulatory actions, saving Americans an estimated $92 billion in regulatory costs. EPA has an additional 32 deregulatory actions in development expected to save billions more.
Andrew Wheeler, the Trump administration’s EPA administrator, anticipated that his agency’s record of achievement will become more evident and apparent over time once modern controversies give way to objective facts. “This report shows a year of accomplishments that, in terms of both policy and regulatory actions, rivals any year in the agency’s history; an extraordinary statement that I am happy to stand behind,” Wheeler said in a press release. “From the first ever emissions standards for aircraft, to drafting the nation’s newest recycling goal and finalizing the first overhaul of the Lead and Copper Rule in 30 years, this list of achievements will stand the test of time.”
Contrary to what self-described environmental advocacy groups have long maintained, Wheeler and his team have continuously demonstrated that deregulation can occur in tandem with environmental improvements.
Back in 2017, when Trump’s deregulation efforts began in earnest, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York–based green activist group, claimed the administration would remove “fundamental safeguards” and jeopardize clean air and clean water. But what does the record show?
As the EPA’s Superfund program marks its 40th anniversary, Wheeler and crew stand out from their predecessors in terms of the environmental progress and financial relief they have delivered to the American people.
In the past four years, they either “fully or partially deleted 82 sites” from what’s known as the National Priorities List, which matches the site total over the two terms of the Obama administration. Not too shabby. How do those comments from the Natural Resources Defense Council hold up in retrospect?
“For the second consecutive year, EPA deleted all or part of 27 sites from the NPL in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, which was the largest number of deletions in a single year since FY 2001,” the “Year in Review” document explains. “This represents the fourth year in a row that EPA has significantly increased the number of sites deleted from the NPL, helping communities move forward in reusing and redeveloping the land by making it clear that cleanup is complete.”
There’s more. Since 2017, combined air pollution emissions have dropped more than 7 percent, according to EPA figures, while the economy surged ahead.
Nixon and EPA History
With an eye toward history, Wheeler delivered comments at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California this past September where he called out “single issue advocacy” in the name of climate change, which he views as detrimental to the environment and American interests.
It was Nixon who created the EPA a little more than 50 years ago in 1970, and it is under a subsequent Republican president that the agency has taken incremental but important steps back in the direction of operating in the public interest. Wheeler drove this point home in his comments, which can be viewed here on YouTube.
“Unfortunately, in the past decade or so, some members of former administrations and progressives in Congress have elevated single issue advocacy — in many cases focused just on climate change — to virtue-signal to foreign capitals, over the interests of communities within their own country,” Wheeler said. “Communities deserve better than this, but in the recent past, EPA has forgotten important parts of its mission. It’s my belief that we misdirect a lot of resources that could be better used to help communities across this country.”
In his remarks, Wheeler also called attention to failed polices of Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who has blocked the construction of pipelines that would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York and New England. Cuomo invokes climate change as a rationale for his policies. But as Wheeler explained to audience members at the Nixon Library, the carbon footprint of natural gas pipelines is much smaller than the impact of transportation natural gas supplies across the ocean from Russia and other foreign sources. Think about the logistics involved with the shipping and distribution that could have been avoided if Cuomo made use of the energy resources available in the Marcellus Shale, which cuts across Pennsylvania and his own state.
From an environmental and national security standpoint, Cuomo’s policy stance is a lose-lose since it results in greater environmental degradation and puts U.S. citizens in the awkward position of drawing vital natural resources from a hostile foreign power like Russia.
By unleashing America’s energy potential, the Trump administration put the United States in a stronger position to confront foreign adversaries, fuel economic growth, and project American military power.
Wayne Crews, vice president for policy and a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, puts it well in a blog post. The Trump approach, he says, “has been to regulate bureaucrats rather than the public.”
There’s an argument to be made that the United States was in a stronger position to absorb the economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic than it otherwise would have been in the absence of deregulation efforts that gave rise to heightened business activity. Trump’s final days in office would have been better spent challenging climate change orthodoxy and highlighting his most important policy achievements instead of crashing against the rocks with allegations of voter fraud that could not get a hearing in court.
By contrast, the early signs and indications for what President Biden has in store for the country are not encouraging. The New York Times reported early on that Biden would cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit, to the detriment of average Americans and to the advantage of America’s overseas adversaries. The pipeline is designed to carry as much as 830,000 barrels a day of Canadian and North Dakota crude to refineries in Texas and Louisiana, where it can be processed into oil and used to export overseas to bolster domestic supplies.
Steve Milloy, a former Trump/Pence EPA transition team member, and the editor of JunkScience.com, commented on the impact and fallout from Biden’s policy stance.
“Joe Biden’s plan to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline is simply senseless,” Milloy said in statement. “Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefits and taxes will be sacrificed on the altar of climate change, even though the cancellation of the permit will have absolutely no effect on the climate. The Canadian oil will be produced and transported to the US and elsewhere anyway, including by riskier means — i.e., trains. Biden promised during the campaign to phase-out fossil fuels, but his Keystone XL decision merely represents a phasing out of common sense.”
The danger to America comes not from climate change, but from climate change policies championed by the new administration. Sadly, that will be quite a departure from the significant (albeit underreported and unappreciated) successes of President Trump and his administration.
The Institute for Energy Research, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that advocates for free-market policies, has collected figures that show that the United States became energy independent under Trump in 2019 for the first time in 62 years — meaning that the country produced more energy than it used, thanks in large part to the oil and gas industry. In the coming months, these same fossil fuels will play a critical role in the transportation and distribution of the vaccines for COVID-19. That’s just a hard reality, which creates complications for Biden’s promises on the campaign trail. Like many career politicians, Biden tells different audiences what he thinks they want to hear rather than what he might actually do once in office. Green activists who helped to elect Biden may see the other end of that boot.
Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg and the Heritage Foundation in D.C.