The Climate Rules Being Rolled Back During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Amy Westervelt and Emily Gertz

Published April 6, 2020. Last updated August 17, 2020 12:22 pm ET

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August 2020 protest banner erected in Washington DC, reading in part: For Sale: 2020 GOP. Several politicians available! Features: COVID denial and indifference to 170,000+ deaths; climate change denial; controlled by oil and gas CEOs.

In August 2020, activists mounted a banner in front of the Trump International Hotel in Wash. D.C., criticizing Trump administration and GOP giveaways to the oil and gas industry under cover of the pandemic. (Credit: Getty Images for Climate Power 2020/Jemal Countess)

The fossil fuel industry and its allies in the Trump administration wasted no time in leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to increase the federal government’s financial favors to oil and gas, waive regulations that the industry finds onerous — including attempts at wholesale rollbacks of the nation’s most critical environmental conservation laws — and push forward with controversial oil and gas permitting and lease sales.

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Federal  Government

August 2020

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July 2020

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June 2020

Trump Administration Grants Millions in Oil and Gas Royalty and Rent Cuts

The Bureau of Land Management has granted every request to date by oil and gas drillers for royalty rate cuts, according to reporting by the Associated Press — all of which so far have come from Utah oil and gas producers. The BLM slashed the rates for Utah from 12.5% to 2.5%, and is likely to grant similar cuts to other states as well. Although the royalty relief is limited to 60 days, the reductions will probably put a sizable dent in the federal government’s onshore oil and gas royalties for 2020, which totaled $2.9 billion in 2019, according to AP, including $94 million from Utah. About half that amount went to the state government. Back in late March, a group of Republican senators asked Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to offer royalty relief and automatic lease extensions for oil and gas operations on public lands. Status: As of May 20, 2020, the agency continues to accept applications for reduced royalties.

Wyoming Public Lands Drillers Go Rent-Free

The Bureau of Land Management has suspended rent payments by oil and gas drillers across tens of thousands of acres of public lands, the Associated Press reported on May 21, 2020. “The suspensions to date have all been in Wyoming and were linked by agency officials to the pandemic.” President Trump’s recent executive order urging agencies to rescind any rules that could “inhibit economic recovery” has activist groups worried that these rent suspensions, as well as many other climate and environmental rollbacks, could become permanent.

President Orders Agencies to Make Pandemic Rollbacks Permanent

As the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 passed 90,000, President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to “address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery.” The order specifically instructed agency chiefs to review the regulations they have changed or paused during the pandemic crisis, “and determine which, if any, would promote economic recovery if made permanent.” These rollbacks include suspending environmental reviews and safety rule enforcement for pipeline projects, and pausing royalty payments by fossil fuel firms. Status: Executive order signed on May 19, 2020.

May 2020

Trump Administration Grants Millions in Oil and Gas Royalty and Rent Cuts

The Bureau of Land Management has granted every request to date by oil and gas drillers for royalty rate cuts, according to reporting by the Associated Press — all of which so far have come from Utah oil and gas producers. The BLM slashed the rates for Utah from 12.5% to 2.5%, and is likely to grant similar cuts to other states as well. Although the royalty relief is limited to 60 days, the reductions will probably put a sizable dent in the federal government’s onshore oil and gas royalties for 2020, which totaled $2.9 billion in 2019, according to AP, including $94 million from Utah. About half that amount went to the state government. Back in late March, a group of Republican senators asked Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to offer royalty relief and automatic lease extensions for oil and gas operations on public lands. Status: As of May 20, 2020, the agency continues to accept applications for reduced royalties.

Wyoming Public Lands Drillers Go Rent-Free

The Bureau of Land Management has suspended rent payments by oil and gas drillers across tens of thousands of acres of public lands, the Associated Press reported on May 21, 2020. “The suspensions to date have all been in Wyoming and were linked by agency officials to the pandemic.” President Trump’s recent executive order urging agencies to rescind any rules that could “inhibit economic recovery” has activist groups worried that these rent suspensions, as well as many other climate and environmental rollbacks, could become permanent.

President Orders Agencies to Make Pandemic Rollbacks Permanent

As the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 passed 90,000, President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to “address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery.” The order specifically instructed agency chiefs to review the regulations they have changed or paused during the pandemic crisis, “and determine which, if any, would promote economic recovery if made permanent.” These rollbacks include suspending environmental reviews and safety rule enforcement for pipeline projects, and pausing royalty payments by fossil fuel firms. Status: Executive order signed on May 19, 2020.

April 2020

Federal Regulator Moves to Weaken Natural Gas Pipeline Regulations

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has proposed “amendments to the Federal Pipeline Safety Regulations that are intended to ease regulatory burdens on the construction, maintenance, and operation of gas transmission, distribution, and gathering pipeline systems.” Status: Proposed rule change published on April 9, 2020. Public comment period closes August 10, 2020.

Wetland and Stream Protection Rollback Finalized

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its “Navigable Waters Protection Rule.” This rollback of Obama-era clean water reforms leaves most of the nation’s wetlands unprotected, and weakens clean water requirements for various industrial facilities, including power plants and petrochemical plants. Status: Rollback finalized April 21, 2020.

Public Comment Period Opens on Wyoming Pipeline Project

The Bureau of Land Management has opened a 90-day period for the public to comment on its proposed plans for 2,000 miles of fossil fuel pipeline in Wyoming. While environmental groups have raised concerns about the effects on sage grouse habitat, the project also has the potential for significant climate impacts. The plan’s carbon capture component, which sounds like climate change mitigation, is geared at enhancing oil recovery. If the BLM permits the project, it stands to benefit both the state’s oil and gas industry, and its dying coal mining industry. Status: Notice published April 17, 2020 in the Federal Register. Public comment period ends July 17, 2020.

March 2020

No Penalties for “Violations of Routine Compliance Monitoring”

The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it “does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations,” in situations that it deems “COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request.” Status: Agency memo issued on March 26, 2020.

Quarterly Oil and Gas Lease Sale Proceeds in Colorado

In late March, the Bureau of Land Management announced a $83,294.00 sale of nine oil and gas leases across 10,415 acres (16.3 square miles) ofJackson and Las Animas counties. “The BLM offered 20 parcels totaling 18,960.83 acres,” according to its press release, but despite the agency’s unabated push to lease fossil fuel development amid the COVID-19 pandemic, apparently just over half went unsold. Status: Sale held March 26, 2020.

EPA Makes Waives Some Toxic ChemicalS Regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency granted immediate regulatory relief and fee exceptions from the Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal law regarding the safety of chemicals used in commerce. The waivers apply to a wide range of chemical manufacturers, including petrochemical manufacturers. Status: Effective March 25, 2020.

State, Regional, and Local Governments

California

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Colorado

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Kentucky

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Louisiana

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Massachusetts

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Michigan

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Minnesota

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Missouri

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Montana

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North Carolina

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PENNSYLVANIA

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South Dakota

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Texas

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Utah

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West Virginia

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