Trump administration quickly implements executive actions

By Jamila Blake

©Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

Since taking office on Jan. 20, the Trump administration has taken several executive actions, including issuance of twelve executive orders and twelve presidential memoranda. Some of these actions align with typical changes that come with a new administration, while others address promises made on the campaign trail.

Some of these recent actions will impact wildlife and wildlife professionals. The Trump administration has taken steps towards reducing regulation costs, exploring long-term plans to trim the federal workforce, discussion to move forward with the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, and the construction of a wall along the southern border of the United States. Some restrictions have also been enacted surrounding agency communication, particularly on climate change and environmental policy.

Agency Regulations

A memo titled Regulatory Freeze Pending Review, issued for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on Jan. 20, required the immediate withdrawal of all regulations that had been sent to the Office of Federal Register but not yet published. For regulations that had been published and not taken effect, the memo calls for postponement for at least 60 days. This freeze will likely be lifted once lead agency nominees are confirmed. On Jan. 30, the White House released the Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs. This order, which many have referred to as the “one in, two out” rule directs for zero regulatory costs for fiscal year 2017. To offset the costs incurred by any new regulation implemented in FY2017, agencies would be required to identify two existing regulations to revoke.

In reaction to the recent regulatory reform, a variety of groups have raised a number of concerns, like the potential impacts for the Endangered Species Act. Legal professionals well versed on the ESA don’t believe that species delistings would be prevented, even though stipulations for monitoring must be implemented for recovered species. Experts say the Order shouldn’t affect U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s process for listing species either, although it is likely that the ESA will see changes in USFWS’ ability to limit take of a species and make critical habitat designations. Harvest regulations is another area that professionals are seeking clarification for on the “one in, two out” rule. USFWS and other agencies must set regulations, like hunting seasons for  waterfowl and migratory birds, each year. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs issued an interim guide to aid in agency implementation of the EO.

On Feb. 8, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, and the Communications Workers of America sued President Trump over the “one in, two out” executive order. The groups filed a complaint and released a separate document outlining why they believe the Order to be unconstitutional.

Agency Workforce

A federal hiring freeze was also instituted via a presidential memorandum on Jan. 23. According to the memo, any vacant positions existing at noon Jan. 22 cannot be filled, but anyone who accepted a job prior to that date and had a start date before Feb. 22 can still report to work. Other exceptions to the hiring freeze will allow “appointment of seasonal employees and short-term temporary employees necessary to meet traditionally recurring seasonal workloads” so agencies, like the National Park Service, can to hire seasonal employees. This memo also calls for a long-term plan to reduce the federal workforce be developed within 90 days.

Pipelines

Under the Obama administration, TransCanada Corporation was denied permits to move forward with construction of the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL). Through a presidential memorandum issued on Jan. 24, Trump invited TransCanada to resubmit its application and gave the Secretary of State 60 days to make a decision on whether the project “would serve the national interest.” On Jan. 26, TransCanada resubmitted its application for a cross-border permit. Another memorandum called on the Secretary of Commerce to develop a plan within the next six months that mandates the use of American-made steel to complete pipeline projects. These memos were accompanied by the Presidential Memorandum Streamlining Permitting and Reducing Regulatory Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing. Groups on both sides of the issue have voiced their opinion over the recent revival of KXL.

The National Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and Pipeline Safety Trust developed a document in February 2011 outlining the Tar Sand Pipeline Safety Risks. The document points to issues for species, like whooping crane, that would be heavily impacted by construction and oil production. In a recent story, NRDC referred to KXL as “a project that would have jeopardized ecosystems, drinking water sources, and public health while increasing our reliance on dirty energy” and touched on implications for climate change. Supporters of KXL have promoted the economic benefits of the project. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “I’ve been on the record for many years supporting it because it leads to economic growth, and good jobs for Albertans.”

Border Walls

Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements calls for immediate construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and directs for the hiring of 5,000 more border patrol officers. The Wildlife Society released a position statement in 2010 on The Impacts of Border Security Measures on Wildlife. The creation of an impermeable barrier, in addition to the current 700 miles of border fencing authorized under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, could prohibit cross-border movement for species like Mexican gray wolves (Canis lupus baileyi), jaguars (Panthera onca), desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii and Gopherus morafkai), and pygmy-owls (Glaucidium gnoma).

Other Actions and Cabinet Status

Since Inauguration, several other actions have occurred under the new administration. The White House website has seen some changes, including removal of references to climate change and the Council on Environmental Quality. It is currently unclear if the U.S. will remain a part of the Paris Agreement. A grants freeze was implemented at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow for a review of the program; the freeze was lifted after a week for all but a few items.

Currently, six of the fifteen cabinet positions have been confirmed. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) has seen bipartisan support and will likely be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. Zinke was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is awaiting a floor vote.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Global Climate Change and Wildlife.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on The Impacts of Border Security Measures on Wildlife.

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Jamila's articles here.