On January 2, the Senate confirmed a lengthy list of President Trump’s nominations by voice vote. Some of the confirmed geoscience-related agency nominees include Kelvin Droegemeier as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Daniel Simmons as assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the Department of Energy, and Teri Donaldson for inspector general at the Department of Energy. Mary Neumayr was also approved to head the Council on Environmental Quality and Alexandra Dunn to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemicals office.
For the third time in 2018, the federal government went into a partial shutdown on December 22, with Congress and the president still at an impasse over border security funding. The year ended with several unfinished spending bills, leaving agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) with a funding lapse until another short-term resolution or permanent funding deal is enacted for fiscal year (FY) 2019.
On December 11, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army proposed a revised definition of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule to clarify the scope of waters federally regulated under the Clean Water Act. The proposed revision would limit where federal regulations apply, clearly outlining what would be considered “waters of the United States” in addition to specific exclusions from the definition.
A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on October 3 to gauge expert opinion on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” proposed rule. The proposed rule directs the EPA to use “peer-reviewed information, standardized test methods, consistent data evaluation procedures, and good laboratory practices to ensure transparent, understandable, and reproducible scientific assessments.” Two witnesses testified in favor of the rule, asserting it would ensure timely scientific and administrative accountability, while a third witness expressed concern that the rule is focused on reducing regulations, not promoting transparent or sound science.
On August 21, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing coal-fired electric utility generating units and power plants across the country. The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule would replace the 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP) Rule. On August 24, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks and establish new standards for model years 2021 through 2026.
Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on August 1 to discuss the EPA’s priorities going forward under this administration. Wheeler assumed his current position after Scott Pruitt resigned on July 6. During the hearing, Wheeler emphasized the EPA’s focus on certainty and transparency, specifically in risk communication, enforcement and regulation, and communications with state and local governments.
On August 16, the South Carolina District Court ruled that President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13778 to suspend the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Finalized in 2015, the Clean Water Rule—also called the Waters of the United States or WOTUS rule—clarified the scope of federal water protected under the Clean Water Act. The nationwide halt of the applicability date rule effectively reinstates the WOTUS rule in twenty-six states.
Following numerous ethics investigations, President Donald Trump announced the resignation of Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 5, with Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler now as acting administrator. On July 18, President Trump nominated Lane Genatowski for Director of Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) in the Department of Energy (DOE), and Dr. Scott for Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics in the Department of Agriculture.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a twelve-hour public hearing on July 17 to hear oral comments on the proposed rule entitled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.” More than one hundred preregistered individuals presented testimony to a panel of EPA representatives. The comment period for the proposed rule ends on August 16, 2018.