On the campaign trail, Donald Trump said he would cancel international climate agreements and revoke restrictions on oil and gas drilling.
Now, as the New York real estate magnate prepares to move into the White House, Texas industry lawyers and conservationists are expecting environmental rules on air, water, and waste issues to be rolled back.
In Texas, a loosening of federal smog standards could mean San Antonio officials won’t have to take action to cut down polluted air. In Travis and Williamson counties, property rights activists have new found hope that a Trump administration’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will ease habitat protections for some endangered species.
The softening of regional federal haze rules could make it easier for utilities to operate coal-fired power plants. And in Texas’ coastal areas, the change in EPA makeup could make it easier for strip mall and subdivision developers to drain wetlands.
Since surprising election returns came rolling in Tuesday night, industry lawyers in Texas have been huddling together and briefing clients about a suddenly new regulatory landscape.
For years, the state of Texas and prominent state industries — oil and gas, mining, homebuilding — have filed suits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the federal government expanded rules aimed at tamping down smog, greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. Now, with a president-elect who has scorned environmental regulation as harming economic growth and with a like-minded Congress as his partner, industry leaders woke up Wednesday giddy and environmentalists anxious.
By 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, Pam Giblin, who represents energy and chemical companies in the Austin office of Baker Botts, had already participated in two conference calls discussing which EPA rules could be unwound by executive action — and which through the courts and legislative action. Next week, she said, she will have a seminar for clients.
The new administration “has a right to revise things,” Giblin said. “The expectation is that (Trump) will have more receptivity to the cost-benefit argument and to the science arguments that industry has been putting forth.”
Environmental activists were dejected on Wednesday, but still looking for ways to rally.
“What I told our troops is that it ain’t over till it’s over, and in politics it’s never over,” said David Foster, director of Clean Water Action in Texas. “We’ll soldier on.”
A community like Austin, far from the oil-and-gas centers of coastal or West Texas, could be largely insulated from changes on the federal level.
“We should feel lucky we live in a community where we have decided that our aquatic resources, where we recreate, our natural resources meet high (environmental) standards,” said Thomas Weber, Travis County environmental quality program manager. “As long as our community stays united enough to maintain that, we won’t see a large effect from something that happens nationally.”