THE LIGHTBULB

Early in President Trump’s term, a powerful group of manufacturers delivered to his deputies a “wish list” of regulations they wanted rewritten.

Two years later, the Trump administration appears to have largely followed through on those requests, according to a new report.

An analysis from Public Citizen, a left-leaning nonprofit consumer rights advocacy group, examined how various government agencies have responded to the 132 requests that the group, the National Association of Manufacturers, submitted to the Trump administration about two months into his presidency.

Public Citizen found just 71 of those requests seemed to actually line up with major government rules on which the Trump administration could take action. Of those, government agencies — such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department — moved to modifiy, delay or get rid of 60 of them during Trump's time in office. That's about 85 percent. 

Matt Kent, a regulatory policy associate at Public Citizen who wrote the report, said his work “is strong evidence that our government agencies are working for the corporations they are supposed to be regulating instead of working to protect the public.”

When reached for comment, Ross Eisenberg, NAM’s vice president for energy and resources, conceded that “there’s no denying that we’ve been effective advocates for our members and have had a great partner in the Trump administration.”

But he added that in virtually every instance the association has asked the administration to reconsider a rule, it has also asked for a replacement. “What too often gets lost in this conversation is that we aren’t simply saying 'no' to regulation — what we are pushing for is smarter, better regulation,” he said.

Among the lobbying group’s priorities when Trump first took office, according to the March 2017 list, was reversing the decline in coal-fired power, which could raise energy costs for manufactuers.

So it asked the Trump administration to lift a moratorium on coal-mining leases on federal lands and rewrite the Obama-era Clean Power Plan meant to reduce heat-trapping emissions from coal power plants.

By 2018, the administration had fulfilled both of those requests.

Those regulatory changes also included the EPA endorsing the scientifically contentious idea that the burning of wood for energy is “carbon neutral” and the White House withdrawing guidance directing federal agencies to consider climate-change impacts in legally mandated environmental reviews of construction projects.

NAM submitted its “wish list” at the request of the Commerce Department, which had asked the public for suggestions to reduce regulatory burdens on manufacturers.

The association’s roster of members, which with 14,000 includes manufacturers of all sizes, spans economic sectors to include the machinery manufacturer Caterpillar, the tire company Goodyear, the carmaker Toyota, the pharmaceutical firm Merck, chip maker Intel and electronics giant Samsung, as well as the energy firms Southern Co., Devon Energy, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.

In Trump’s Washington, NAM has emerged as an influential player in helping to shape both the regulations its members face and also the president’s image as job creator-in-chief.

NAM gave Trump a platform to speak at its annual meeting toward the end of 2017 at the same time the lobbying group was pushing members of Congress on the president's biggest agenda item at the time: passing a package of tax cuts.

NAM, of course, is not the only lobbying group with the administration’s ear. Others, such as the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute, asked for many of the same regulatory rollbacks that NAM has.

But Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen, said the NAM list is a useful “proxy” for understanding how industry in general has influenced regulators over the past two years.

“Given just how broad-based the push to deregulate has been,” Narang said, “we think that this NAM report is one of the best proxies in terms of demonstrating that corporate and special interests are both driving and benefiting from the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda.”

Oftentimes, those different lobbying groups would work together.

In June 2018, for example, while meeting at NAM, an API representative discussed with Andrew Wheeler, then the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy administrator, an item on the NAM priority list from a year before: a reconsideration of Obama-era emission standards on new oil and gas wells.

Staffers for both Wheeler, who eventually become the EPA’s top official, and his predecessor in that job, Scott Pruitt, were in frequent contact with NAM lobbyists, according to emails released to the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act.

When reached for comment, EPA spokesperson James Hewitt said the agency “has met with a diverse range of stakeholder groups” over the past two years.

Unlike the previous administration, he added, “we find engagement crucial in helping craft lawful, responsible regulations that protect our environment and our economy.”

A good chunk of the manufacturers’ requests — 61 of 132 — were too vague or inconsequential to be associated with a major regulatory action that the Trump administration could take, according to Public Citizen.

And there are another 11 specific requests that the Trump administration did not take action on — or even, at times, took action counter to the wishes.

Immigration was one of those issues. For example, NAM has asked — to no avail so far — that the spouses of highly-skilled H-1B visa holders be allowed to work in the United States as well.

POWER PLAYS

— EPA experts called for asbestos ban: Officials at the EPA ignored advice from agency scientists and lawyers regarding a move to issue a rule that limited but did not outright ban asbestos, the New York Times reports, the latest example of the Trump administration brushing off career government workers. In an August memo, more than a dozen experts from within the agency called for an outright ban of the known carcinogen: “Given the significant number of asbestos sites that EPA has to clean up due to improper disposal or abandonment, opening the door to new uses of asbestos is not an economically-wise or health-protective idea,” they wrote. “Rather than allow for (even with restrictions) any new uses for asbestos, EPA should seek to ban all new uses of asbestos because the extreme harm from this chemical substance outweighs any benefit — and because there are adequate alternatives to asbestos.”

— Trump cheers “GREAT NEWS” for Ohio plant: Trump excitedly announced on Twitter that General Motors plans to sell its warehouse in Lordstown, Ohio, a move that comes after the president weighed in on the carmaker's layoff of 4,500 employees at the factory. Following the president’s missive, GM confirmed it is “in discussions” to sell the recently shuttered plant to a small electric vehicle company Workhorse Group, The Post’s Heather Long reports. The company said any agreement would have to be greenlighted by the United Automobile Workers union, but the union said it would continue to urge GM to bring work to Lordstown. “The UAW’s position is unequivocal: General Motors should assign a product to the Lordstown facility and continue operating it,” UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said in a statement.

— "They don’t like me": During his first campaign rally in Florida ahead of 2020 there, Trump pledged $448 million to disaster recovery efforts there. In a tweet ahead of his arrival and during his remarks, the president pointed fingers at Democrats for blocking aid from getting to the region still reeling seven months after Hurricane Michael. He also claimed Puerto Rico is undeserving of additional federal aid to continue to deal with recovery after Hurricane Maria in 2017, as The Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Reis Thebault report. Disagreement between the president and Democrats over funding for the U.S. territory has caused an aid bill to stall in Congress. During his speech, Trump “pulled a small bar chart out of his suit coat and held it up to the crowd. Puerto Rico, he said, has received more relief money than any other state or territory, falsely claiming that the federal government had provided Puerto Rico with $91 billion in aid.” “That’s Puerto Rico,” he said, pointing to the tallest bar. “And they don’t like me.”

— The latest litmus test: Most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have expressed opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, E&E News reports. “[S]ince the Silver State has the fourth nominating event for Democrats, a big step toward the presidency that can set the tone for the rest of the primary season, support for Yucca is seen as a non-starter,” per the report. For one, six senators running for president — Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California — have signed on as co-sponsors on a bill from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada that would allow the state to veto the project. “Any candidate hoping to win the support of Nevadans must be against Yucca Mountain,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

— California to ban controversial pesticide: The state said Wednesday it would ban widely-used chlorpyrifos, citing the harmful effects on child brain development. “The ban, which is expected to take six months to two years to take full effect, comes as other states have started taking similar action,” The Post’s Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report, noting federal regulators have allowed the pesticide to stay on the market. The California Environmental Protection Agency said California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) wants to put $5.7 million toward a transition to “safer, more sustainable alternatives” to the pesticide used on crops like oranges, grapes and almonds.

THERMOMETER

— How the climate is affecting life in Alaska: After a season of mostly warm records in Alaska, there are other tangible disruptions that have affected infrastructure, plant life, ice melt and other areas key to local communities. There has been an early melt-off on rivers across the state, and in recent weeks two men died when ice gave way under four-wheelers on the Kuskokwim River, The Post’s Ian Livingston reports. The Tanana River at Nenana, for example, saw its ice melt entirely on April 14, the earliest in 103 years by six days. Melting sea ice has also meant a shorter crabbing season, and melting permafrost has impacted roads and buildings, Livingston adds.

— “It is very unusual”: In less than two months' time, nine gray whales have washed up in the San Francisco Bay area, which is about three times what the Marine Mammal Center says it sees in a normal year, The Post’s Kayla Epstein reports. Experts say the primary causes have been boat strikes or malnutrition. “While gray whale populations are stable, California’s shifting ocean climate and a warming Alaska could be putting pressure on the animals this year," she reports.

— The U.S. is virtually drought-free for the first time in decades: Just 2 percent of the United States is affected by drought, about the smallest area since the government started monitoring in 2000, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported. That follows the nation’s 12 wettest months on record, from May 2018 to April 2019. “The sudden lack of drought is remarkable considering that in January 2018, nearly 40 percent of the nation suffered from a lack of precipitation,” The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. “But since then, storm after storm has eaten away at the dry conditions.”

OIL CHECK

— Exxon shareholders vs. the SEC: As major investment firms use their power to pressure corporate executives to take action on issues like climate change, the Securities and Exchange Commission has been siding with the companies, issuing guidance that has effectively blocked such shareholder resolutions from getting on meeting ballots, The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. The SEC allowed 11 resolutions about climate change to be left off shareholder ballots this year, out of a total of 62 climate-related resolutions and 400 total resolutions, Mufson writes, citing data from the Sustainable Investments Institute. He details one such fight over a proposal to have oil giant ExxonMobil  “disclose short-, medium- and long-term greenhouse-gas targets ‘aligned with’ reductions established by the Paris climate agreement in 2015 in an effort to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, if not 1.5 degrees.” ExxonMobil appealed to the SEC, which in a letter last month said shareholders were trying to “micromanage the Company.”

— Three Mile Island will close next month: Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, the site of one of the worst nuclear accidents in U.S. history, is set to shutter at the beginning of next month after Exelon Corp. said it didn’t see a “path forward for policy changes before the June 1 fuel purchasing deadline for TMI.” A nine-figure plan from state lawmakers meant to provide financial rescue for Three Mile Island and other nuclear power plants has stalled, the Associated Press reports.The power the plant provides is expected to be replaced by electricity from coal and natural gas-fired generation.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery holds a hearing on FEMA contracting.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on “The Long Overdue Need to Reform the Mining Law of 1872.”
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee holds a hearing on a diverse STEM workforce.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the 2020 fiscal year Energy Department budget