Donald Trump in Des Moines, Iowa, in July 2023. Photo: Scott Morgan/Reuters
Donald Trump and his advisers have made campaign promises to eliminate crucial environmental regulations and boost the planet-warming fossil fuel sector.
These plans include the systematic dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency with the most power to address the climate crisis and environmental justice, according to a range of Trump advisers and allies. It is a potential future that “scares” experts.
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“I think it would be devastating,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.
During his first stint in the White House, Trump successfully proposed cutting the EPA budget. Hundreds of scientists and other experts fled the agency as the government rejected scientific findings and weakened environmental regulations.
Attacks on the agency could intensify during a second Trump term, experts and insiders say.
“They’ll be better prepared to do things that really make a difference,” said Jeff Holmstead, who led the EPA’s air office during the Bush administration.
Trump’s first term was marked by ethics violations and scandals — something Holmstead attributed to a lack of experience. This time, Trump officials have more detailed plans, including a long-term proposal to dismantle regulatory agencies, which Gerrard said would have cascading effects.
We would see much more effort on fossil fuels
“You would see a brain drain because fewer young people want to work there,” he said. “We would see much more effort on fossil fuels, and the prospect of a second Trump administration is already making clean energy investors nervous.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Mandy Gunasekara, Trump’s EPA chief of staff, criticized Biden’s EPA for alleged overreach. “In many ways, this administration has used EPA as a tool to make it harder for the specific types of industries and technologies that they don’t like to exploit,” she said. “Exhibit A is their disdain for fossil fuels.”
In Project 2025, a presidential election agenda Put forward by the Heritage Foundation and other conservative organizations, Gunasekara outlined ways to downsize the organization and divert it from its focus on the climate crisis.
A second Trump EPA, Gunasekara said, would promote closer relationships with the fossil fuel industry — a sector that scientists say must be phased out to avoid climate catastrophe — and would cut back on programs focused on equity and relief that “ not being part of the core function or not ‘delivering on the core mission’.
That means closing the Environmental Justice and Civil Rights office, which Biden launched last year. Gunasekara described the agency as a “political arm of the EPA” that delivers no tangible benefits. The offices of Public Engagement and Environmental Education, as well as the International and Tribal Affairs, which she said could be replaced by the narrower Office of the American Indian, would also be among the first to go.
Closing these offices would amount to “tyranny,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, deputy director of Newark, New Jersey’s Ironbound Community Corporation, a grassroots environmental organization. “We on the front lines don’t often have the political power to ensure that institutions remember us.”
The EPA’s public engagement and justice-oriented offices, she said, are some of the most important resources for grassroots organizers seeking to protect their communities from pollution.
The Biden administration has taken steps to promote environmental justice, including requiring that 40% of the benefits of certain investments flow to underserved communities.
“I wish it had gone further, but at least it made visible that frontline communities have a disproportionate amount of pollution [but] are not receiving the same share of funding,” Lopez-Nunez said. That program would likely disappear under a second Trump administration.
Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, the Biden administration has allocated billions of dollars in grants over the coming years to communities hit hard by pollution and climate threats.
But if elected, Gunasekara says Trump should work with Congress to roll back those subsidy programs. “A large portion of the IRA took enormous amounts of taxpayer money and donated it to the EPA without much oversight,” she said.
A second Trump administration would also repeal the EPA rules. A 2023 proposal to tighten carbon pollution standards for U.S. coal and gas plants would be revisited, Trump’s allies say. That includes a 2023 proposal from the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to increase fuel efficiency requirements for new vehicles, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (Cafe) standards.
This latest rule has become a key target for Trump, who has also attacked the Inflation Reduction Act’s electric car subsidies and repeatedly vowed to repeal Biden’s “insane electric vehicle mandate.”
“EVs have a place in the market, but they will not replace conventional vehicles for many purposes,” said Myron Ebell, who headed the EPA transition team prior to Trump’s first term. He said the Trump administration should not only reject Biden’s proposed strengthening of cafe standards but also relax the existing standard.
A more conservative Supreme Court, which has already stripped away some of the EPA’s ability to address water pollution and power plant emissions, will also help “reduce regulatory overload,” said Tom Pyle, head of the transition team for The United States. Department of Energy for Trump’s first term.
“But we’re not quite done yet,” he says. “The EV mandate must be completely withdrawn and the Cafe standards must be enforced and reviewed. This government is moving way too fast for people to be comfortable with this technology.”
Another change Gunasekara proposed: closing the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and instead letting individual program offices, such as the air program and water program, handle their own enforcement. It would be a way to counter “unnecessary tension between the regulator and the regulated,” Gunasekara said.
When I think of the EPA… getting cozy with the industry, I think that’s terrible
In practice, experts say this would lead to much less aggressive enforcement of pollution controls.
“When I think about the EPA… getting cozy with the industry, I think that’s terrible because I think about how many deaths there are going to be as a byproduct,” Lopez-Nunez said.
Lopez-Nunez has long criticized Biden’s EPA for not doing enough for communities hardest hit by pollution and the climate crisis.
‘But at least we were able to have a dialogue [the] EPA,” she said. “That no longer exists under Trump.”