BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Down to its final weeks, the Trump administration is working to push through dozens of environmental rollbacks that could weaken century-old protections for migratory birds, expand Arctic drilling and hamstring future regulation of public health threats.
The pending changes, which benefit oil and gas and other industries, deepen the challenges for President-elect Joe Biden, who made restoring and advancing protections for the environment, climate and public health a core piece of his campaign.
“We’re going to see a real scorched-earth effort here at the tail end of the administration,” said Brian Rutledge of the National Audubon Society.
The proposed changes cap four years of unprecedented environmental deregulation by President Trump, whose administration has worked to fundamentally change how federal agencies apply and enforce the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and other protections.
Some decisions, if they go into effect, will be easy for Biden to simply reverse. He already has pledged to return the United States to the Paris climate accord as a first step in his own $2 trillion climate plan. But he faces years of work in court and within agencies to repair major Trump cuts to the nation’s framework of environmental protections.
One change that Trump wants to push through would restrict criminal prosecution for industries responsible for the deaths of the nation’s migratory birds. Right now, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is a vital tool for protecting more than 1,000 species of birds. Federal prosecutors use the act to recover damages, including $100 million from BP for its 2010 oil-rig spill into the Gulf of Mexico, which killed more than 100,000 seabirds.
Earlier moves by the Trump administration, which are now facing court challenges, remove protections for millions of miles of waterways and wetlands, narrow protections for wildlife species facing extinction, and open more of the hundreds of millions of acres of public land to oil and gas drilling.
“What we’re seeing at the end is what we’ve seen all along, which is a fealty to private interests over public interests,” said David Hayes, former deputy secretary of the Interior Department under President Barack Obama. “They seem intent on finalizing these as a kind of ideological point.”
Many of the final rollbacks still pending under the Trump administration have significant implications for oil and gas companies. That includes steps this week toward a sale of energy leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.