The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) plans to take legal action to combat the Donald Trump administration’s "anti-environment" agenda, senior officers said in a telephone briefing last week.
NRDC Chief Operating Officer Mitch Bernard and Aaron Colangelo, NRDC’s co-director of litigation, said the executive and legislative branches are “quite hostile to the environmental values that NRDC embraces. The judiciary, the third branch, is not," they continued. "It is independent, and, at the federal level, quite objective and competent. We think it [will be] a key battleground to check some of the over-reaching and unlawful backsliding that we expect."
The NGO's litigation tactics can be separated into two baskets, Bernard and Colangelo said. “The first is suing the federal government when they do something that we think is unlawful.” They said the NRDC will also take action when "the government fails to enforce existing law against private polluters.”
The NGO is ramping up its efforts to slow the rollback of regulations in places where it threatens public health or the environment by adding substantially to the 75 lawsuits it has already in process.
First the NRDC filed suit after the administration suspended a rule to prevent the discharge of mercury from dental offices, Colangelo told reporters last week. While it might not seem that significant, it turns out that American dental offices discharge as much as 5 tons of mercury is released each year. That’s a significant number.
Dentists, as well as the sewage treatment plant operators, who do not have the capability to deal with mercury, were on board with the rule to curb mercury releases . But the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect the Monday after Trump's inauguration (bad timing), was withdrawn along with all other scheduled regulations, as requested by the new administration.
One would think that, of course, the administration would allow the regulation to move forward once they realize how reasonable it is, but the NRDC isn't taking anything for granted, Colangelo said.
The NGO also filed suit to protect the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to list this bee as an endangered species, making it the first bee to be so listed. Pollinator populations have declined to a level some might consider a crisis. This particular species has declined by 90 percent in the past 15 years. Scientists have linked pollinator decline to the use of pesticides. The move to protect the bee, like the dental mercury rule, was withdrawn in response to Trump’s sweeping decree to halt pending regulatory moves upon taking office.
In both cases, the NRDC is pressing for the actions to be reinstated, Colangelo said.
A third lawsuit challenges the White House executive order that requires two regulations to be rescinded for every new regulation put forth, Bernard told reporters. He said the emphasis is on cost, with no regard to the benefit. The two regulations that are rescinded must cost as much or more to implement as the new regulation.
The idea here is that this administration intends to brook no additional costs associated with regulation. The fact that many regulations exist for the purpose of saving lives and that lives have value is not considered by this order, Bernard said. He further called the “completely arbitrary in the extreme” and said it may even be unlawful.
Bernard said NRDC will collaborate with other environmental and civil rights groups in challenging the administration and its allies in court.
Beyond the lawsuits, the NGO is also increasing its communications with the public. One initiative is to get the word out on what exactly the EPA does and why it is important. Trump appears to be doing everything he can to discredit and disempower the agency. NRDC says all Americans should be aware of how much the agency has done to protect them from the excesses of industry.
The NRDC also launched a Trumpwatch page on its website, which is dedicated to tracking the actions of the Trump administration relative to environmental issues.
Image credit: Flickr/Gage Skidmore
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