What to Expect in Environmental Regulation for 2017

By McGuire Woods.

The inauguration of President Donald J. Trump on Jan. 20 began a period of change expected to include the rollback of programs, withdrawal of regulations, and changes to policy that will affect all aspects of environmental regulation. While many questions linger regarding the priorities of the new administration, certain issues like the Clean Power Plan and “waters of the United States” definition are sure to rank high on the list. 

Expect certain states, like California, to continue implementing a comprehensive environmental regulatory agenda, although federal action could threaten clean air programs in those states if the Trump administration withdraws the Clean Air Act waivers supporting them. There may also be an increase in lawsuits filed by nongovernmental organizations against both governmental and private actors in response to dissatisfaction with how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces the laws. 

The following are some of the more material areas to track in 2017.

Clean Power Plan (CPP)

CPP was promulgated by EPA on Aug. 3, 2015, as part of the Obama administration’s effort to address climate change through the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing fossil-fired (coal and natural gas) energy generating units (EGUs). First proposed in June 2014, CPP arose from EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases were a pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and that U.S. emissions of CO2 as the predominant greenhouse gas should be reduced, by 2030, to a level 32 percent below their 2005 levels. 

To meet this ultimate goal and interim goals in 2022-2029, EPA applied what it called the best system of emission reduction and the three “building blocks” of efficiency, shifting from coal to gas and increased renewables to determine emission performance rates for all EGUs, dividing the country into three regions based on the nation’s electric grid. EPA then applied those standards to come up with CO2 reduction goals for each state, with each state having the option to meet its goals through an emission standards plan or a state measures plan, as well as emissions trading among sources and states.