How hard will it be to erase the Trump rollbacks?

Hikers in Death Valley National Park, Furnace Creek on March 7, 2020. Photo via iStock
Hikers in Death Valley National Park, Furnace Creek on March 7, 2020. The Trump administration, days before leaving, tried to undo a California desert protection plan. Photo via iStock

How long and how difficult will it be for Biden to reverse rollbacks and fix the environmental damage they have caused? There’s no easy answer.

Midnight mischief — last-minute actions by a lame duck — can generally be undone quickly through executive order or sometimes swift congressional action. In addition to the directives he issued in his first day in office, Biden pledged to freeze the last-minute “midnight regulations” that had yet to take effect.

Other policies and guidance documents can be rapidly rewritten via executive order. But some will need to follow new federal rulemaking procedures and public comment periods that can take years. 

The Biden administration also can stop defending cases in which the Trump administration has been sued, and then begin the process of remaking a new rule. 

For instance, with only days left, the Trump administration proposed to undo a California desert protection plan that took decades to develop. The changes would remove protection of more than 2 million acres, allow for mining operations and strip additional conservation safeguards from another 2 million acres near Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks.

The new administration can simply allow an unfinalized, last-minute proposed rule like this to wither on the vine.

What about the first 100 days? Biden’s campaign laid out a 100-day to-do list and pledged to fund nearly $2 trillion in environmental initiatives. Among the elements of the Biden environmental agenda:

  • Achieve 100% clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2050
  • Include climate change considerations in foreign policy and national security plans
  • Focus on environmental justice and public health
  • Reduce emissions from cars and trucks and encourage fuel efficiency
  • Wean the country off fossil fuels and discontinue new domestic oil and gas drilling