On Deepwater Horizon anniversary, tracker reveals Interior Department moving ahead with dozens of environmental rollbacks

Apr 20, 2020

DENVER—With nine 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 some progress on remaining policy changes and continues to advance environmental rollbacks despite COVID-19 public health restrictions. The tracker, launched in January 2020 and based on federal websites and databases, finds 77 policies Interior is seeking to implement, including efforts to expand fossil fuel development on public lands and further weaken protections for wildlife. Of those 77 policies, the department has finalized six, including five land use plans to allow increased development on public lands in Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. The agency is in the process of finalizing an additional 34 policy changes, and has identified another 37 policy changes on which it has not started.

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. While the Interior Department has already rolled back safety regulations implemented in the wake of the disaster, it continues to advance a fleet of additional policy changes, including dramatically expanding offshore drilling, weakening air quality standards for offshore drilling, offering oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and permanently weakening enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a move that would allow drillers to escape prosecution for killing birds in oil spills.

Additionally, 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

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. However, Under Secretary David Bernhardt, the Interior Department has taken more than 65 actions since President Trump signed the first coronavirus aid bill, including opening or closing at least 34 public comment periods.

“Instead of allowing Americans to focus on their health and wellbeing, Interior Secretary Bernhardt 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 nine 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 westernpriorities.org. To speak with an expert on public lands, contact Aaron Weiss at 720-279-0019 or aaron@westernpriorities.org. Sign up for Look West to get daily public lands and energy news sent to your inbox.