September 12, 2017
Aimee Delach

The Trump administration’s dismantling of agencies and policies.

Early in the current presidential administration, then-strategist Steve Bannon laid out an agenda for what he called “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” It’s a radical ideology driven by the notion that government is not just too big and too expensive, but that it does too much to help people. Whether those are people in need of health insurance, or live downwind of a noxious chemical plant, or have been left behind by technological change, the Trump administration’s philosophy is that the government should be doing less for people. We know this because the budget and legislative proposals the president supports would uninsure millions, slash job retraining programs, and eliminate the Chemical Safety Board, among other things. Mr. Trump had even proposed cutting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget before two Category 4 hurricanes crashed into Texas and the Southeast, rendering that idea preposterous.

The administration’s view towards protecting people pales in comparison to its outward animosity to our wildlife, lands, water and climateWhile President Trump’s agenda to reduce or eliminate programs for people has been stalled, in part, due to executive incompetence, his aggressive efforts to roll back environmental protections are barreling forward.

Readers of this blog may recall Defenders sounding the alarm on the president’s nominees to lead the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) months ago, and that his “first 100 days” gave us ample cause to be concerned about this administration’s environmental agenda. In fact, the administration has been just as dreadful as we feared on matters like wolf recovery, climate change, and public lands.

But it’s actually worse than that. Bad policies are one thing, but the leadership at Interior and the EPA, Secretary Ryan Zinke and Administrator Scott Pruitt, are pursuing an even more dangerous goal: completely unmaking the framework of regulations that protect our wildlife, land, air and water and even beginning to dismantle the agencies themselves. And since the top echelons of both entities have thus far been unhindered by the vacancies, novices, and turnover that have plagued other departments and agencies, we might not be able to count on ineffectualness to save us from their odious designs.

On Order: The Unmaking of Conservation Agencies

As we have discussed before, the Trump administration has an unhealthy (pun intended) obsession with weakening the rules and the agencies that protect us from everything from dangerous pesticides to financial fraud. The umbrella directive for their most sweeping effort is an executive order that President Trump signed back in February – E.O. 13777, Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda. The order calls on all federal departments and agencies to identify and repeal or modify regulations that, in their view, hinder job creation or cost too much.

The executive branch has responded to the order with varying degrees of zeal. A search of the Federal Register, where all government notices are posted, shows that quite a few departments, including State, Agriculture, and Treasury have each published a single notice that references E.O. 13777. Several others (the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Energy) have responded with just two notices of potential regulatory revision. By comparison, the Interior Department has posted eleven, and the EPA has issued seven. Obviously, these guys are serious about eliminating environmental protections.

And getting rid of the rules may not be enough for these folks. Both Zinke and Pruitt are looking to take a sledgehammer to entire agencies: the EPA has announced that they hope to get rid of 1,200 employees (eight percent of that agency’s workforce) this year; for his part, Zinke supports cutting 4,000 Interior staff by next year. Both have spoken in support of the president’s proposed budget cuts of thirteen percent at Interior and nearly thirty percent at the EPA. A recent short-term budget deal in Congress has given employees at Interior and EPA a few months’ reprieve, but we expect that both Zinke and Pruitt will continue to pursue reducing their own ranks. You may be wondering, “Even if they do succeed in getting rid of some rules under E.O. 13777, won’t these budget cuts make it harder for them to enforce the protections for wildlife, air and water that remain?” The answer of course is YES. The fact of the matter is that federal conservation efforts are facing a trio of existential threats in the form of regulatory rollbacks, slashed budgets, and legislative assaults from Congress.

Take Action!

Defenders of Wildlife isn’t taking this lying down. In May, when the EPA first asked the public what public health and environmental regulations it should cut, our members joined the resounding chorus of “NONE OF THEM!” Last week we submitted a formal letter to the Interior Department in response to its request for public input on implementing E.O. 13777.  In that letter, we called on Secretary Zinke to bring transparency to Interior’s review of supposed “burdensome” regulations, and warned him against rolling back conservation regulations and policies, such as those designed to protect the National Wildlife Refuge System or implement the Endangered Species Act.  This week, we are asking our members and supporters to contact the Department to continue to press home the message that the regulations, rules and programs that protect our land, water and wildlife are NOT up for negotiation and must not be repealed, replaced or modified.

Please join Defenders in registering your support for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s conservation regulations, policies and programs by posting your comment here. You can create your own message, or insert the following statement into the comment box.

Dear Secretary Zinke:  I care deeply about public lands management and wildlife conservation, and am writing to inform you that the Interior Department’s conservation regulations, policies and programs play a fundamental role in conserving America’s lands, water and wildlife. The premise that conservation rules pose a burden on the American people is false; in fact, wildlife conservation provides significant, measurable benefits to present and future generations. 

For example, the National Wildlife Refuge System is home to more than 8,000 species, including 380 threatened and endangered plants and animals.  Fifty-nine National Wildlife Refuges were specifically established to protect imperiled wildlife.  Over 40 million people visited a National Wildlife Refuge in 2017 for the sole purpose of observing and photographing wildlife and nature. Refuges generate more than $2.4 billion to local economies, support over 35,000 jobs, over $792 in annual employment income and provide more than $342 million in annual tax revenue.  Refuge System ecosystem services like clean air, clean water and natural buffering from storms, provide $32.3 billion to local communities.  These figures reflect the value of the Refuge System and of the regulations and policies that support its protection and conservation. 

I urge the Interior Department to refrain from repealing, replacing or modifying any of the Department’s conservation regulations, policies and programs.  The fact is that conservation programs such as the National Wildlife Refuge System and the Endangered Species Act are necessary to protect our natural heritage and provide numerous benefits to the American people.

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Aimee Delach

Aimee Delach

Senior Policy Analyst, Climate Adaptation
Aimee Delach develops and analyzes policies to help land managers protect wildlife and habitat threatened by the impacts of climate change.

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