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Special Report Jan. 17, 2020

Three Years Battling the Trump Administration’s Attacks on Our Health and Environment

Federal courts have checked some of the Trump administration’s worst environmental attacks, but harm continues

The massive coal-fired Navajo Generating Station looms behind Anthony's family home on the Navajo Nation, near Page, Ariz.
The massive coal-fired Navajo Generating Station looms behind Anthony's family home on the Navajo Nation, near Page, Ariz.
Darcy Padilla
The coal-fired Navajo Generating Station looms behind four-year-old Anthony's family home on the Navajo Nation, near Page, Ariz. A weakening or rollback of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would lead to devastating public health consequences.

I. Introduction

In This Report

→ Despite hard-fought victories, the administration’s efforts to attack environmental and safety protections continue unabated.

→ There is deep, intense corporate involvement, with no room for negotiation.

→ Earthjustice and other environmental, health, and community groups must marshal enormous resources to keep the nation from greater environmental harm.

Three years into the Trump administration, the attacks on our health and our environment are still pouring out of D.C. at a record pace. The motivation is simple: prioritize corporate profits over the safety and health of the people.

Federal courts have checked much of the administration’s regulatory rollback agenda. Yet even with three years of court smackdowns behind us, we can see how the administration is still striving — and managing — to weaken protections.

Environmental, health, and community groups have sued aggressively since early 2017 to defend these protections. To date, Earthjustice has sued the Trump administration more than 130 times on behalf of some 160 partners around the country to maintain existing health and environmental safeguards. Forty cases have led to a court decision on the merits. Earthjustice has won 33 and lost seven — an 83% success rate.

33 court rulings in favor of Earthjustice and our clients in three years of legal challenges to the Trump administration.

Despite these hard-fought victories, however, the administration’s efforts to attack environmental and safety protections continue unabated. This isn’t time for a victory dance. It’s time to double down on the work.

Consider this: In the three years since Trump took office, scientists have been increasingly warning of the looming climate crisis as more species face extinction and rising oceans swallow coastal towns and cities. Around the world, devastating floods, droughts, and wildfires are making communities uninhabitable, driving more and more people from their homes.

The United States should be taking monumental steps to reverse course on climate change and ushering in an equitable and just transition to renewable energy. Instead, the nation is on the verge of becoming a net exporter of oil for the first time as the administration looks to ramp up the use of fossil fuels.

To make matters worse, air pollution worsened in 2017 and 2018. Nearly 10,000 lives could have been saved if pollution levels had remained at their 2016 levels, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. The increase occurred partly because the administration has decreased enforcement against corporations that violate federal pollution limits. Make no mistake about it, the Trump administration is causing harm and erasing lives for polluter profits.

Meanwhile, the Senate has refused to consider legislation that would protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and block offshore drilling off our Atlantic, Pacific, and Florida Gulf Coasts as the Trump administration seeks to increase drilling in these areas.

Top: A firefighter fights a bushfire in Dec. 2019 on the outskirts of Bilpin, Australia. Emily Scott walks through the ruins of her house burned in the July 2018 Carr Fire in Shasta, Calif. Bottom: Augustin Dieudomme looks out at the flooded entrance to his Fayetteville, N.C., apartment complex after Hurricane Florence. The Porcupine caribou herd migrate south on the Hoola-Hoola River in the Arctic Refuge.
Clockwise from top left: David Gray / Getty Images; John Locher / AP; Florian Schulz; David Goldman / AP
Top: A firefighter fights a bushfire in Dec. 2019 on the outskirts of Bilpin, Australia. Emily Scott walks through the ruins of her house burned in the July 2018 Carr Fire in Shasta, Calif. Bottom: Augustin Dieudomme looks out at the flooded entrance to his Fayetteville, N.C., apartment complex after Hurricane Florence. The Porcupine caribou herd migrate south on the Hoola-Hoola River in the Arctic Refuge.

Earthjustice and other environmental, health, and community groups must marshal enormous resources to keep the nation from greater environmental harm as the Trump administration continues its war on the environment seeking to deregulate to save polluters money. As Drew Caputo, Earthjustice Vice President of Litigation for Lands, Wildlife, and Oceans, told Rolling Stone, Trump administration agency heads represent “an unvarnished extension of industry.”

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt; EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
From left: David Zalubowski / AP; Cliff Owens / AP
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (left) and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler are among the hundreds of former lobbyists now working in the Trump administration.

In fact, the administration has employed 281 former lobbyists — the vast majority of whom represented corporations — in government jobs over the last three years. That’s quadruple the number Obama appointed in a six-year period. These lobbyists seek to weaken required federal protections to reduce the costs of pollution-control technology for their friends in corporate America.

There’s a deeper, more intense level of corporate involvement in this era, according to Caputo, with no room for negotiation unlike there was with previous conservative administrations.

Patrice Simms, Earthjustice Vice President of Litigation in Washington, D.C., says the lack of respect for federal law is ever-present. The underlying strategy of the Trump administration seems to be: “It’s only illegal if we get caught.”

Despite these challenges, Earthjustice will not rest. We will continue in our fight for justice for the planet and its people. We invite you to read about our many victories and ongoing challenges over the last three years in the struggle for clean air, clean water, healthy communities, and a zero emissions, 100% clean energy world.

II. The Victories

Federal courts have checked much of this administration’s regulatory rollback agenda. Learn about two key rulings.
Brianna, a Mississippi resident, and her new dog Dixie in front of the travel trailer serving as their family's temporary home at the Ingalls-Wright Emergency Group Site, in November 2005.
Mark Wolfe / FEMA
Brianna, a Mississippi resident, and her new dog Dixie in front of the travel trailer that served as their family's temporary home in November 2005.

Formaldehyde in Composite Wood Products

Earthjustice successfully sued to end the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s delay in setting health and safety protections that limit the use of formaldehyde in composite wood products, including plywood, particleboard, and fiberboard.

Our Clients

A Community Voice, Sierra Club

The use of formaldehyde, a carcinogen linked to breathing illnesses and asthma, gained nationwide attention after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when displaced Gulf Coast residents were placed in emergency housing and began suffering severe headaches and breathing problems.

Excessive amounts of formaldehyde were used in the paneling, cabinets, and flooring in manufactured housing and travel trailers.

Chairman Austin Nunez at the San Xavier Mission on November 12, 2019.
Mamta Popat
Austin Nuñez is Chairman of the San Xavier District, Tohono O’odham Nation, which fought a proposed open-pit copper mine on sacred sites in Arizona. “There are good people who believe in the sovereignty of Native nations, and their fundamental, inherent right to land and water,” says Nuñez.

Rosemont Copper Mine

Earthjustice litigation helped protect ancestral burial lands of three Native American tribes from destruction after the U.S. Forest Service approved a plan for a mile-wide open pit copper mine in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains.

Our Clients

Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Hopi Tribe

Hudbay Minerals planned to remove ancestral remains, sacred items, and funerary objects relevant to the history and cultures of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the Hopi Tribe.

The Forest Service abdicated its obligation to protect these cultural resources and instead granted the mining company a free pass to desecrate this culturally and ecologically critical site.

Read about more victories as we continue the battle for healthier communities and a healthier world in 2020.

III. Ongoing Challenges

Earthjustice and other environmental, health, and community groups must marshal enormous resources to keep the nation from greater environmental harm.
The Cheswick Generation Station in Pennsylvania.
Darcy Padilla
Nicole Horseherder of the Navajo activist organization Tó Nizhóní Ání lives near the Navajo Generating Station. “We looked to the Mercury & Air Toxics Standards as a guiding blueprint for the Navajo Nation to adopt its own pollution standards that would be just as stringent,” she says.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning to undermine the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that drastically reduce hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired and oil-fired power plants all over the nation.

In Oct. 2019, Earthjustice issued a special report examining the deeply flawed analysis that the U.S. EPA is using to undermine the Mercury & Air Toxics Standards.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards prevents as many as 11,000 premature deaths each year among people who live near power plants and face lung and heart illnesses from power plant emissions.

Earthjustice has been in ongoing communication with allies on Capitol Hill about the magnitude of this attack on public health and is prepared to aggressively defend these protections through litigation in federal court.

An explosion and fire occurred at the TPC Group chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas, on November 27, 2019.
U.S. Chemical Safety Board
An explosion and fire occurred at the TPC Group chemical plant in Port Neches, Tex., on Nov. 27, 2019.

The Chemical Disaster Rule

The administration is attempting to gut the Chemical Disaster Rule, which improves safety at 12,000 facilities around the U.S. that store dangerous substances, including refineries and chemical plants.

Our Clients

Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Coalition For A Safe Environment (Wilmington, CA), California Communities Against Toxics, Del Amo Action Committee, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Air Alliance Houston, Community In-Power & Development Association (Port Arthur, TX), Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Clean Air Council (Philadelphia, PA), Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (West Virginia)

These facilities consistently suffer malfunctions, explosions, and major releases of hazardous and cancer-causing substances.

Last year, as the nation celebrated Thanksgiving, 50,000 people in Port Neches, Texas, were evacuated from their homes after two chemical plants exploded.

Communities like those living in Port Neches are more vulnerable because the administration has been fighting implementation of the safeguards intended to protect their lives.

Earthjustice sued the administration in December to try to stop the illegal gutting of these protections.

Read more about ongoing challenges as we continue the battle for healthier communities and a healthier world in 2020.

IV. Media Inquiries

For more information about this report, or to contact Earthjustice attorneys involved in litigation defending environmental and public health protections, please contact:

Keith Rushing.
Keith Rushing National Communications Strategist
In This Report