Tracker reveals White House moving ahead with environmental rollbacks despite COVID-19 restrictions

Mar 23, 2020

Trump Interior Department continues to make progress on outstanding policy changes as OMB holds meetings with oil and gas companies

Aaron Weiss, Deputy Director
Center for Western Priorities

March 23, 2020

DENVER—With ten months remaining in the Trump administration’s first term, an ongoing tracker by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP) finds the Interior Department is making progress on remaining policy changes, while the White House continues to advance environmental rollbacks despite the coronavirus pandemic. The tracker, launched in January 2020 and based on federal websites and databases, finds 76 policies Interior is seeking to implement, including efforts to expand fossil fuel development on public lands and further weaken protections for wildlife. Of those 76 policies, the department has finalized four, including land use plans to allow increased development on land cut from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah.

However, the Interior Department is moving forward with a wide range of controversial proposals, from permanently weakening enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to offering oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Currently, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is reviewing seven Interior Department proposed and final rules, which may soon be published:

  • A “secret science” rule, similar to one recently published by the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Weakening air quality rules for offshore drilling
  • Reopening loopholes to allow oil, gas, and coal companies to skirt royalties owed to taxpayers
  • Revising regulations requiring companies to show financial strength while drilling offshore
  • Increasing opportunities to privatize services within national parks
  • Further weakening enforcement of the Endangered Species Act
  • Modifying technical regulations regarding drilling on public lands in accordance with industry priorities

Within the last two weeks, OMB has held meetings with executives from the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP, Occidental Petroleum, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America on a proposal to reopen loopholes allowing oil and gas companies to skirt royalty payments to taxpayers on publicly-owned oil and gas. 

The analysis also identified 19 proposed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service actions to remove or downgrade protections for plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act—more than the 14 proposals to list new species.

As the country continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, organizations representing the nation’s states, cities, and counties have called for a formal pause on all active comment periods, stating they are unable to provide thoughtful input. Under Secretary David Bernhardt, the Interior Department has given no indication that it will pause new policy changes, instead proceeding with oil and gas lease sales and opening new comment periods on development projects.

“Instead of allowing Americans to focus on their health and well-being, the Trump administration is moving forward with destructive proposals to expand drilling and mining and reduce protections for wildlife,” said Center for Western Priorities Policies Director Jesse Prentice-Dunn. “With only ten months left in the Trump administration’s first term, the only question is how many new policies will Secretary Bernhardt add to his destructive legacy?”

The full list can be viewed and downloaded here

The tracker also highlights 10 of the most consequential policies Interior Secretary Bernhardt hopes to implement in the remaining months of the Trump administration’s first term. Some of these policies are in the process of being implemented while others have been identified for action by Interior Department agencies. 

More information on the Trump administration’s previous environmental rollbacks:

For more information, visit To speak with an expert on public lands, contact Aaron Weiss at 720-279-0019 or Sign up for Look West to get daily public lands and energy news sent to your inbox.