The inspector general’s office overseeing the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has released a new report outlining serious corruption in the environmental rulemaking process during the Trump administration. Under the leadership of Trump era EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the former president’s administration largely benched staff experts from the EPA during the development of a national standard for fuel emissions from vehicles.
In the description of the inspector general’s office, Pruitt concluded while on the job that, during the emission rulemaking process, staffers at the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would be responsible for “all modeling and analysis on behalf of both agencies,” including their own and Pruitt’s. In the end, the Trump administration finalized a rule requiring an increase in fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent per year — which is starkly lower than a requirement for an about 5 percent per year increase in fuel efficiency that had been set to take effect with Obama in charge.
Including EPA experts in the rule development process could, of course, have led to feedback against the planned lighter guidelines. As summarized by The Washington Post, Trump’s allies at the EPA “failed to properly document and consider the concerns of staff experts while unwinding standards for tailpipe emissions,” and the walling off of the work was substantive — a staffer at the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation told investigators with the agency’s inspector general’s office that “no one at the EPA ever saw NHTSA’s model or input files” in the six months leading up to the release of the finalized loosened emissions rule.
As summarized by the Post, inspector general’s office investigators also concluded that the Trump administration neglected “to properly analyze the rollback’s impact on Americans especially vulnerable to auto emissions, including poor and minority communities often situated near highways and children susceptible to developing asthma.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) commented as follows after the new inspector general report’s release:
‘Like many things in life, how you conduct yourself matters. This is especially true when it comes to agencies engaged in federal rulemaking. Government actions affect the health and well-being of people across our country and our planet, so it’s critical that these decisions are made through a deliberate, thoughtful process.’
The Biden administration has now already moved to undo the Trump era approach to greenhouse gas emission standards. For starters, authorities have announced plans to undo a ban imposed during the Trump era on individual states instituting their own vehicle emission standards. That restriction meant that states could have been forced to go along with looser environmental protection rules from the Trump administration, no matter any willingness of local authorities to go farther in protection efforts.