Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Obscure 2011 Law Creates Hurdle for Undermanned Trump Team

The Trump administration, eager to shred Obama-era priorities such as combating climate change, still has to comply with a 2011 law requiring it to weave its agenda into government operations. (Credit: Sean Hayford Oleary/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may doubt the urgency of addressing climate change, but a key planning document on his agency's website proclaims otherwise.

"Climate change poses risks to human health, the environment, cultural resources, the economy and quality of life," says EPA's 2014-2018 strategic plan, which touts Obama administration initiatives like the Clean Power Plan that Pruitt wants to unplug.

A similar mismatch is on display at the Energy Department, whose long-term strategy — adorned with a photo of former Secretary Ernest Moniz — pledges to support "international efforts to achieve significant global greenhouse gas emission reductions" even as President Trump vows to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

And the Interior Department's plan sets a goal to "understand, communicate and respond to the diversity of impacts associated with climate change across the various landscapes of the United States."

Five months after Trump was sworn in, the disconnect testifies to the flip side of the White House's eagerness to shred President Obama's record on environmental and energy policy: a still-to-be-fulfilled legal requirement to come up with a detailed agenda of its own.

Under a 2011 law, the administration is supposed to update long-term strategies for EPA and other agencies by early next year.  The task, which could force Trump appointees to flesh out their vision for government, promises to be daunting.

While lawmakers wanted to give incoming presidents a chance to set their own priorities, "I'm not sure this dramatic a change was anticipated," said Robert Shea, who oversaw efforts to sharpen government performance during George W. Bush's administration and is now a principal at consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP, which works with agencies on meeting the law's requirements.

Under Obama, for example, cutting greenhouse gas emissions wasn't just a job for EPA, it was a governmentwide priority that summoned federal agencies to boost reliance on renewable electricity sources to 20 percent of consumption by 2020.  By contrast, Trump's DOE secretary, Rick Perry, has suggested that wind and solar power could be a threat to national security.

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