Loading

Misled: The Impact of the Trump Administration’s Agenda on Working Families and the Environment

As the current presidential term comes to an end, the nation is at a natural moment for taking stock. In evaluating the Trump administration, Americans will want to know: has this President improved my situation in life and is the nation’s future brighter? Analysis of a range of policy actions made by the Trump administration reveals that overwhelmingly the answer to that fundamental question for working families is a resounding “no.” This report should provide workers and others with the information they need to understand the current impact of these policies and work toward changing them to protect workers and our communities.

There is no doubt the negative impacts of this presidency on working families will be studied in great detail in the years to come. For the purposes of this report, the impacts of some of the most egregious actions on workers’ rights and safety, environmental protection, job creation, and pandemic response will be reviewed. This report sheds light on the Trump administration’s actions that have negatively impacted working families, communities, and workplaces.

Over the course of the last three and a half years, the Trump administration rolled back numerous policies designed to protect workers, communities, and the environment. Under the false premise that these actions would create jobs, President Trump dismantled worker safety regulations, starved the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of staff and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of authority, and sabotaged policies that keep the nation’s air and water clean.

In 2018—even before the COVID-19 pandemic spread like wildfire through high-risk workplaces like meatpacking plants—the number of work-related deaths had increased 2% from 5,147 to 5,250, the highest worker fatality number reported since 2008. [1] Both before and after COVID-19 hit the United States, President Trump was showing companies that the government would not punish them for threatening the safety and health of their employees. For example, Trump overturned President Barack Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, rolled back the 2015 Joint Employers Rule, reduced the number of OSHA compliance officers to its lowest level in OSHA’s 49-year history, and failed to protect miners from harmful silica. [2,3,4,5,6]

We also see the impact of President Trump’s deregulatory actions on the nation’s air and water. Air pollution in the United States increased in 2017 and 2018, reversing 20 years of steady improvements in air quality. [7] This is particularly troubling as the nation now grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging research shows higher rates of COVID-19 fatalities in counties where residents have been chronically exposed to hazardous air pollutants. [8] Additionally, the impacts of harmful air pollution highlight the shameful state of environmental justice in the United States, as communities of color are more likely to be exposed to pollution and in turn develop health conditions that have made them more vulnerable to COVID-19. [9] In particular, Black and Hispanic communities have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic with shamefully high rates of infection and death. [10]

The actions of the Trump administration have given polluters permission to ignore safety hazards and to pollute the nation’s air and water. The Trump administration has rolled back the Clean Water Rule, the Lead and Copper Rule, the Chemical Disaster Rule, and bungled reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

While President Trump attempted to justify these and other rollbacks by calling the policies “job-killers,” not only does analysis show that is not the case, it also reveals several actions by the Trump administration that will cost the nation tens of thousands of jobs and cede global leadership on technologies needed to fight climate change and their innovation to other nations. [11] Despite the Trump administration’s own analysis that showed its rule rolling back the nation’s fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards would result in 60,000 fewer jobs in the future, the weakened rule was finalized. [12] Further analysis reveals that the number of jobs lost or forgone may be much higher. [13] In the same vein, the Trump administration has moved to roll back methane standards for the oil and gas industry, which could have created at least 50,000 jobs had they been enacted and fully enforced. [14]

These leadership failures by the Trump administration have exacerbated ongoing interconnected crises: economic inequality, racial inequality, and climate change. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “the bottom 90% of the American workforce has seen their pay shrink radically as a share of total income,” from 58% in 1979 to 47% in 2015. That is a loss of almost $11,000 per household, or $1.35 trillion in additional labor income. [15] There is a direct correlation with the decrease of worker power over this time, as the share of workers in a union fell from 24% in 1979 to under 11% now. [16]

Not just now, as unemployment has skyrocketed disproportionally during the pandemic, but historically—and persistently—Black Americans fare worse in the economy, having lower wages, less savings to fall back on, and significantly higher poverty rates as systemic racism has stacked the deck against people of color. [17] And they’re more likely to live in neighborhoods with more air pollution, which further increases the risk of more serious COVID-19 infections and other severe health impacts, and death. [18] A 2019 report found that Black and Hispanic Americans live in neighborhoods with more pollution even though they produce less pollution, whereas white communities are less polluted but white people produce more pollution. [19]

The addition of the COVID-19 pandemic to a nation already in crisis has thrown our country into chaos. And again President Trump has failed to lead. With workplaces like meatpacking plants and nursing homes top hotspots for the virus, Trump’s OSHA and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have refused to issue an enforceable Emergency Temporary Standard to keep workers safe, instead offering only toothless voluntary guidance for employers. [20] The president declined to use his authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ensure that frontline workers have access to the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to stay safe and instead invoked it to force workers back into unsafe meatpacking plants. [21] All of this may have been avoided had it not been for the shortsighted rollback of the Obama-era pandemic response plans early in the Trump presidency. [22]

To be certain, a comprehensive look at the negative impacts of the Trump administration’s anti-worker, anti-environment agenda could fill volumes. More modestly, this report seeks to highlight some of the most egregious failures on workers’ rights and safety, environmental protection, and job creation taken during the current presidential term.

Worker Rights, Health, and Safety

Over the course of the last three-and-a-half years, the Trump administration has dismantled the nation’s protections for workers, prioritizing employer profits over the health and safety of working people. Long before the highly publicized actions of the administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump gave signals to employers that they will no longer be held accountable for the health and safety of their employees. [23] The corresponding uptick in work-related deaths is no surprise. A look at the administration’s actions on worker rights, health, and safety illustrates clearly that President Trump has not prioritized working families.

OSHA Inspections on the Downswing

During President Trump’s first three years in office, the number of OSHA inspectors and OSHA inspections dropped precipitously. In January 2019, OSHA stated that they employed 875 compliance officers, down from 952 in 2016. The number of inspectors on staff continued to decline to 870 in April 2019, this is the lowest number of compliance officers in OSHA’s 49 year history. [24] As a result, according to a 2019 report, there is only one OSHA inspector for every 79,000 workers in the United States, and at current staffing levels OSHA only has enough inspectors to inspect workplaces once every 165 years. [25]

The number and quality of inspections during President Trump’s first three years in office is also less than any three year period of the Obama or Bush administrations. While on the surface it appears that inspection rates are increasing—investigations are up from 27,662 in 2016 to 28,259 in 2018—a deeper dive shows a clear decline. When analyzed in terms of “enforcement units (EU)”—a measurement that gives weight to more complicated investigations that take more time—there is a clear decline in enforcement. In fiscal year 2018, OSHA reported 41,478 EU, down from a high of 42,900 EUs in fiscal year 2016. [26,27]OSHA is focusing more on quantity than quality, resulting in less enforcement of complex and significant cases. [28]

Public awareness of OSHA enforcement actions is declining as well. In 2018, OSHA drastically reduced the amount of press releases announcing enforcement actions; in 2018, there were only 158 press releases, down from 470 releases in 2016. [29] Deterrence is a key part of enforcing OSHA’s standards, as the agency is never able to visit every workplace. The threat of investigation and publicity around enforcement actions discourages employers from cutting corners on OSHA safety guidelines.

Less public awareness and less capacity to enforce make the threat of enforcement less credible to employers, and corresponds with more workplace injuries and illnesses, and less enforcement of complex, long-term cases. [30] In 2017, the job fatality rate rose in select industries like mining and transportation and workplace related injuries/illnesses continue to be massively under-reported. [31]

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Silica Regulation

Research has shown that the incidence of Black Lung in miners has doubled since the turn of the century. [32] In the 21st century, a spike in cases of Black Lung among miners—and particularly among younger and younger miners—is alarming and should result in immediate action from the government agency tasked with protecting the health and safety of miners. That has not been the case during the Trump administration, however. MSHA has not to date put forward a new mandatory standard for respirable crystalline silica, the most significant contributor to the resurgence of Black Lung disease. [33]

A 2016 report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated that the spike in cases of Black Lung demonstrate “an urgent need for effective dust control in coal mines to prevent coal workers’ pneumoconiosis [Black Lung].” [34]

Labor leaders and advocates have been calling on the MSHA to develop a new mandatory standard for respirable crystalline silica as the current standards have not been updated since 1985. [35] MSHA’s current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica is 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged during an 8-hour shift, double OSHA’s current PEL. Labor leaders have called on MSHA to lower the PEL for silica, enforce post-shift assessments of mine workers’ exposure to silica, require more miners to be sampled, address mining activities known to involve high concentrations of silica, and work with the medical community. MSHA released a request for information on the topic in late 2019, but has not released a proposal.

OSHA/MSHA Emergency Temporary Standard

Throughout the course of the ongoing pandemic, workplaces have become COVID hot spots. Two of the largest sources of outbreaks are in food processing plants and long-term care facilities. Data from several countries early in the outbreak showed almost 50% of infections came from the workplace. [36] That data is borne out in Colorado, where state tracking of the 9,188 confirmed COVID-19 outbreak cases on August 18 found 50% were workers in the reporting facilities, most notably nursing homes, restaurants, food and beverage manufacturing, and construction. [37] Those working in the healthcare industry are, of course, at highest risk, but cashiers, flight attendants, teachers, bus drivers, hairdressers, and food service workers also have a higher occupational risk. [38]

OSHA and MSHA have the power to issue and enforce an Emergency Temporary Standard, requiring employers to take steps to reduce workplace hazards. Essentially, such a standard could require employers to follow CDC guidelines. However, the agency has declined to issue such a standard, instead releasing voluntary guidances.

The guidances issued by OSHA are—by the agency’s own admission—unenforceable, so if a company doesn’t adhere to them there is no accountability. [39] Calls for such a standard from lawmakers, labor advocates, and impacted workers have grown and the U.S. House of Representatives included a requirement for an Emergency Temporary Standard in their HEROES Covid-19 relief package. But six months into the pandemic, OSHA has refused to issue an emergency temporary standard, arguing that a standard is not necessary before both Congress and the D.C. circuit court. [40] Additionally, OSHA has been derelict in enforcing its existing standards during the pandemic. As of July 21, OSHA had issued just a small number of citations related to the pandemic. [41] One of these citations was issued to Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where nearly 1,300 workers contracted the virus and at least four employees died from it. The citation included a fine of just $13,494, an amount the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called a “slap in the face” to meatpacking workers. [42]

RACIAL JUSTICE FOCUS: Trump's Use of Defense Protection Act to Send Meatpacking Workers Back to Unsafe Conditions Overwhelmingly Impacted Workers of Color

The Defense Production Act (DPA) dates back to the 1950s and gives the president power to require a business to prioritize the productions of goods and materials needed in a time of crisis. Early in the pandemic it became clear that not only did the nation not have the PPE needed to keep frontline workers safe, but that the domestic supply chain had been neglected to the point that getting that PPE would not be easy. [43]

President Trump has neglected to use his authority under the DPA to produce the critical materials needed to keep workers safe, but he has invoked the DPA once during the pandemic. With COVID-19 tearing through the nation’s meatpacking plants and several plants reporting hundreds of cases, President Trump invoked the DPA to force them to stay open. As of September 11, at least 203 meatpackers had died of COVID-19 and 42,534 workers had been diagnosed with the virus. [44]

Ethnic minorities make up 61% of meatpackers in the United States. According to a CDC report looking into COVID-19’s impacts on the meatpacking industry, nearly 90% of the meatpackers that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 were racial or ethnic minorities. Hispanic workers made up 56% of coronavirus cases while Black workers accounted for 19% and Asian workers 12%. Although white workers make up 39% of the overall workforce they accounted for only 13% of the cases. [45]

Throughout the crisis at meatpacking plants, several public officials have taken to blaming minority members themselves for the outbreaks and not the poor working conditions that have existing in meatpacking plants long before the pandemic.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar defended Donald Trump’s decision to use the Defense Production Act to force meatpacking plants to remain open by stating that he believes infected employees were being exposed to the virus in their communities and bringing it into processing plants as opposed to being exposed to the virus in the plants themselves. [46] Similarly, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, stated during a hearing that an outbreak in Brown County, Wisconsin was “due to the meatpacking” not “just the regular folks in Brown County.” [47] Also in Wisconsin, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stated that “it's because of a large immigrant population where, you know, it's just a difference in culture where people are living much closer and working much closer." [48]

Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order

In 2014, President Obama signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order in response to a 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation that revealed that millions of dollars of federal contracts were going to companies with multiple violations of labor and civil rights laws. [49,50] The order was intended to ensure that all entities contracting with the federal government comply with existing labor and civil rights laws—including several that protect women, people of color, and people with disabilities. [51] The rule was designed to ensure government procurement using taxpayer dollars supports businesses that treat their workers ethically.

The Trump administration revoked the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order in the spring of 2017, allowing bad-actor companies to gain federal contracts as labor law violations need not be reported.

Many non-profit organizations dedicated to fighting for equal rights for women spoke out against the administration’s revocation of the order. The requirements for wage transparency and the barring of forced arbitration clauses in sexual harassment cases in President’s Obama’s order were critical to protecting women workers. [52] Civil rights groups have flagged that companies no longer have to disclose 3 years’ worth of violations of the Equal Employment Opportunity executive order of 1965. [53]

‘Volks’ Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Recordkeeping Rule

The Obama administration’s OSHA published a rule in December 2016 greatly extending the time period OSHA has to issue official injury and illness recordkeeping violation citations. Before this rule—which extended the citation period to five years—OSHA had only six months to cite employers if they found illegal errors in their illness and injury recordkeeping logs.

By signing a Congressional Review Act resolution overturning the rule, President Trump gave employers a “get out of jail free” card by setting the time period OSHA has for citation back to six months from five years. [54]

The repeal was directly linked to worker injury reporting issues at Tesla, where investigations have found the company delaying reporting injuries until after the 6 month period for citations, allowing them to get off the hook for endangering workers with little effort. Essentially, weak reporting standards allow employers to avoid being cited for their higher injury and illness rates. [55] Even while gaming the system, Tesla has racked up more violations than the 10 other biggest automotive companies in the United States combined. [56]

Tesla is notorious for delaying reporting of worker injuries.

This does not only impact low-road employers, according to former head of OSHA David Michaels, as all employers will face pressure from having to compete with companies that under-report, creating a race to the bottom. [57]

The AFL-CIO, other labor groups, and non-profits vehemently opposed the revocation of the 2016 rule, arguing that the additional oversight granted in the Obama rule through the extended reporting and citation period was necessary for safety, especially given the ratio of inspectors to work places. [58]

2015 Joint Employer Rule

The 2015 Joint Employer Rule expanded the definition of what qualified as “joint employment.” Essentially, joint employment is the sharing of an employee between two or more companies or supervisors—most commonly this applies to workers for temp firms, contractors, and franchises. Under the 2015 rule more types of employees could be included under the “joint employment” umbrella.

In 2017, Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) overturned the 2015 NRLB ruling that the Obama Board had adopted, returning the definition of “joint employment” to the pre-2015 status quo. [59] By some estimates, roughly 14 million Americans can be considered as working in a joint employment situation and could potentially be negatively impacted by the rule. [60]

Research indicates that employees of outsourced labor services are paid far lower wages and have fewer benefits compared to direct-employed workers. [61] On top of suppressed wages, the rule dramatically narrows the likelihood that a company can be liable for overtime or minimum wage violations. As a result, employers can more easily exploit temporary, franchised, or contracted workers, knowing that they are not able to raise grievances. The Economic Policy Institute states that these changes will cost workers more than 1 billion dollars annually in lost wages. [62]

RACIAL JUSTICE FOCUS: Attacks on Wages Disproportionately Impact Workers of Color

Attacks on workers’ wages are felt even more acutely by Black workers, who are already paid less than white workers. Black workers are paid on average 73 cents to the dollar compared to white workers. The wage gap persists regardless of education, and even with advanced degrees Black workers make far less than white workers at the same level. While the poverty rate for white Americans sits at about 8.1%, for Black households it’s 20.7%.

This injustice also exists for Hispanic workers: In 2015, Hispanic men earned 69% of white men’s earnings and controlling for education, Hispanic made an average of $26 an hour compared to white men at $32 an hour. [63]

2016 Electronic Recordkeeping Rule

The Obama administration’s original 2016 Electronic Recordkeeping Rule proposed a number of new recordkeeping requirements, updating existing outdated rules. The existing rules at the time required employers in most industries with more than ten employees to keep records of all work-related injuries and illnesses. Under the 2016 Electronic Recordkeeping Rule, larger employers—those with more than 250 employees—and many businesses in high risk industries would have been required to electronically submit to OSHA their full employee work-related illness and injury logs along with supplementary incident reports. With the rollback of the rule, OSHA can now only request full employee work-related illness and injury logs or view them at the workplace, as only the summaries are available electronically. This severely hinders the ability of OSHA to analyze and compare the logs.

The intent of this rule was to provide much greater transparency into worker safety in a variety of ways. The Obama administration argued that this data access would improve working conditions by preventing workplaces injuries and illnesses; provide timely data access to employees themselves, customers, researchers, and more; and promote “complete and accurate reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses.” [64]

The Trump administration’s OSHA moved to rescind many of the requirements included in the 2016 Rule. The original rule was to be phased in during 2017 and 2018, but OSHA delayed enforcement until they promulgated the new rule, effective February 2019. [65] This new rule reverts many of the illness and injury recordkeeping requirements back to the previous standards. The 2019 Rule abolishes the electronic reporting requirements for businesses with 250 or more employees. They are still required to maintain these records on-site, and OSHA can view them at the worksite, but these employers are now only required to electronically submit an annual summary of work-related injuries and illnesses with far less detail.

This makes it harder for federal and state agencies, unions, and the public health community to identify and work to solve occupational safety and health problems.

Endangering Communities, Air, and Water

The Trump administration has proudly publicized its deregulatory agenda on the environment, rolling back safeguard after safeguard designed to keep the nation’s air and water clean and to protect the health and wellbeing of Americans. As of July 2020, the administration had completed or was in the process of completing 100 rollbacks of the rules that protect the environmental causes of human health problems. [67]

With fires raging in the West, President Trump has continued to deny the impacts of climate change.

Clean Water Rule

On the surface, the Clean Water Rule, issued in 2015, simply provides a definition for the scope of what counts as a “water of the United States.” This seems small, but is extremely important as it determines what bodies of water are covered by the 1972 Clean Water Act, the pivotal law that protects water across the country from pollution and degradation, and spells out the minimum requirements to protect water quality for the environment and health of people who use the water.

The Clean Water Rule sought to clarify the definition, by stating that the “waters of the United States” extended beyond navigable waters and their permanent tributaries, requiring protection to upstream bodies like headwaters and wetlands, as these waters affect the health of ground water and navigable waters downstream. Backed up by guidance from the scientific community, the Clean Water Rule confirms and solidifies the broad interpretation of “waters of the United States” and removes gray areas and loopholes. [68]

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt delayed implementation of the Clean Water Rule for two years, allowing the Trump EPA to develop an alternative rule. In February 2017, President Trump issued an executive order calling for the repeal of the Clean Water Rule and replacement of it with a new rule with a more narrow interpretation. [69] In April 2020, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers published a final rule repealing the Obama-era rule and replacing it with the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule.”

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule radically narrows the definition of “waters of the United States.” Under the final rule, only navigable waters, tributaries to navigable waters, select lakes and ponds, and wetlands adjacent to navigable waters and tributaries are protected. Left unprotected are bays, groundwater, many lakes and wetlands, headwaters, springs, prior converted cropland, and ephemeral streams. [70] The EPA has also issued guidance that specifically calls out groundwater as being unprotected by the Clean Water Act, allowing polluters to dispose of waste in ways that contaminate groundwater. [71]

The EPA estimates that 18% of streams and half of the country’s wetlands would no longer be protected by the Trump rule. Especially at risk are wetlands and waterways in the arid areas of the western United States. The loss of wetland protection is very concerning as wetlands filter industrial pollution and urban runoff, protect communities by controlling floodwaters, and buffer coastal areas against storm surge. [72] The loss of ephemeral stream protection is also problematic. According to an EPA estimate, 35% of streams are considered ephemeral or reliant on rainfall, but many of these seasonal or intermittent bodies of water are a major source for key watersheds like the Rio Grande. Flooding in ephemeral systems can bring large amounts of pollution downstream, endangering water supplies and ecosystems. [73] The repeal leaves the drinking water of approximately 117 million U.S. residents—over a third of all Americans—exposed to additional pollutants. [74]

Lead and Copper Rule

The Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) sets limits for the concentration of lead and copper in water and enforces violations if that amount is exceeded. As it stands, the rule is not sufficient to protect Americans from lead exposure and is often complicated and difficult to enforce.

Unlike other regulatory and environmental issues, the Trump administration has expressed interest in regulating lead in drinking water. In 2017, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declared a “war on lead,” and President Trump has called for stronger enforcement. [75] The EPA released a draft of a proposed rule in November 2019. [76] While the proposed rule makes some small improvements to the existing Lead and Copper Rule, the rule does not go far enough, and is even actively harmful in some ways. [77]

One of the biggest issues is the extension of the timeline for replacement of lead pipes. The proposed rule treats full lead service line replacement as a last resort, instead prioritizing corrosion control that creates a protective coating inside pipes. Even with corrosion control, lead pipes are still a danger to millions of Americans. EPA estimated there are between 6.1 and 10 million lead service lines running from water mains to single and multi-family residences and other buildings, such as schools, hospitals, and day-care centers. [78] The looser timeline will extend the length of time needed to replace dangerous lead water pipes from 13 years to 33 years. [79] As a result, Americans will continue to be exposed to lead in their drinking water and disasters like the Flint, Michigan, water crisis will continue to happen.

The rule also fails to lower the current “action” level at which point corrective action must be implemented. The action levels in the rule are not based on the protection of health but on EPA’s evaluation of corrosion controls’ ability to reduce lead levels at the tap. [80] Under the rule, levels below 10 or 15 parts per billion (ppb) would not prompt immediate action. However, at those levels communities would still experience negative health impacts.

RACIAL JUSTICE FOCUS: Water Systems in Communities of Color More Likely to Be Contaminated

Lead contamination is a serious health problem. The health effects of lead exposure are powerful and permanent. Lead harms the brain and nervous system and if exposure occurs during fetal development or infancy, it can decrease IQ, diminish academic abilities, and increase the occurrence of attention deficits and problem behaviors.

There is no safe blood lead level and, even in very small quantities, lead can affect the developing brain and central nervous systems of children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Children living at or below the federal poverty level and those who live in older housing are at greatest risk.” [81] Because systemic racism has left more than 20% of the Black population in poverty, Black children are at greater risk of elevated blood lead levels than white children.

Chemical Disaster Rule

The Chemical Disaster Rule—an amendment to the Risk Management Program—was enacted in response to several chemical releases and explosions during the Bush and Obama administrations, most notably the 2013 explosion of a chemical plant in West, Texas, that killed 15 people and injured another 180. [82] From 2004 to 2013, there were over 2,200 chemical accidents, 1,500 of which caused harm. [83]

A 2013 explosion of a chemical plant in West, Texas, which killed 15 people and injured another 180, prompted the development of the Chemical Disaster Rule.

When developing the Chemical Disaster Rule, the EPA determined that prior regulations had failed to prevent 2,000 accidents over a decade. [84] The measures in the rule strengthen preparedness and prevention standards for chemical releases, explosions, and natural disasters and allows the public better access to information on hazard planning, including requiring facility operators to disclose chemicals used at facilities, requiring employee training and documentation, and requiring facility operators to provide better information to communities and to coordinate with first responders and local officials.

The Trump EPA suspended the Chemical Disaster Rule for nearly two years in an attempt to keep it from going into effect. After a legal challenge from the United Steelworkers (USW), the Union of Concerned Scientists, and communities affected by chemical disasters, a federal court determined the rule had to go into effect and reinstated it. [85] The EPA proceeded to roll back major portions of the Chemical Disaster Rule in 2019, rescinding the majority of the measures and weakening the rest. Some items removed or weakened from the revised amendment include: [86]

  • Post-incident third party audit and root cause analysis requirements;
  • Requiring facilities to consider use of safer technologies, chemicals, and processes;
  • Training requirements for supervisors responsible for process; and
  • Requiring public disclosure of the types of chemicals used in a facility.

The repeal of the Chemical Disaster Rule puts millions of lives at risk. Nearly 180 million Americans live in a worst-case scenario zone for a chemical disaster, and one in three children go to school near a hazardous chemical facility. [87] During the year and a half the rule was suspended, public reports showed that more than 70 chemical disasters occurred at facilities that would have been subject to the rule. [88] USW president Tom Conway stated that rescinding the common sense requirements in the chemical disaster rule “…will allow a profit-hungry industry to police itself while putting workers, first responders and the public at risk”. [89]

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Reform

In 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Act) was passed by Congress with strong bipartisan support, amending and overhauling the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the primary law managing toxic chemicals. [90] Before the Lautenberg Act was passed, tens of thousands of chemicals were allowed to remain on the market without review of their safety, chemical companies were able to get away with putting new chemicals on the market without proper review and were allowed to hide information from consumers and state governments, and it was difficult to ban chemicals known to be dangerous. [91]

The Lautenberg Act required the EPA to issue a framework to govern how the EPA prioritizes and tests existing chemicals. While the EPA under the Obama administration drafted proposed rules, the Trump EPA was responsible for finalizing the framework. Specifically, that task fell on EPA’s Chemical Safety Office, where leadership included Nancy Beck, a former executive at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association. [92] The rules finalized by the Trump EPA dramatically changed how chemicals are evaluated and prioritized, and reinterpreted the framework that the Obama EPA proposed.

The Trump administration’s failure to carry out the Lautenberg Act puts lives at risk. Americans will continue to be exposed to new and existing toxic chemicals, and the reforms in the Lautenberg Act will be harder to enforce in future administrations due to the weakened framework proposed by the Trump administration.

The Trump EPA has already made deadly decisions on many chemicals that are proven to be dangerous. For example, the EPA under Obama proposed a ban on all uses of methylene chloride—a highly dangerous chemical used in paint strippers—in early 2017. In 2019, the Trump EPA implemented a watered-down version of this proposal, banning the use of methylene chloride in retail use but still allowing commercial use. [93] Because workers—including auto mechanics, building renovators and construction workers, and industrial laborers—comprise the majority of deaths and exposures to methylene chloride, they will continue to be exposed to the highly dangerous chemical and have few protections due to the commercial exemptions in the rule. [94] To allow commercial use of this deadly chemical. The Trump EPA ignored language in the Lautenberg Act that requires protection of workers as a vulnerable population.

Another tragic call was made evident in late 2019, when the EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) took issue with the Trump Administration’s review of 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen found in many cosmetics, detergents, plastics, and shampoos. Committee members criticized the EPA’s review, finding it had not employed a “transparent and objective method for gathering the relevant scientific information,” noting serious issues with the design and implementation of the review and observing serious errors and inconsistencies in their data. More seriously, the SACC criticized the Trump EPA for excluding consumers from consideration, and for not assessing for inhalation, ingestion, and dermal routes of exposure of the general population. [95]

Finally, the Trump EPA’s distortion of the Lautenberg Act allows for new chemicals containing isocyanates, known carcinogens, to be approved with “vastly higher limits” than previously. [96] Isocyanates are widely used in manufacturing foams, fibers, coatings, and paints and are frequently used in the automotive industry as well as to produce building insulation. [97]

Because of the Trump administration’s dangerous decisions, the general public will continue to be exposed to known hazardous chemicals like 1,4 dioxane and isocyanates and workers will still be exposed to methylene chloride. Poorly tested chemicals will enter or remain in active commerce and Americans will continue to develop illnesses from occupational and environmental chemical exposure.

Roll Back of Obama-era Pandemic Response Plans

In 2016, under the Obama administration, the National Security Council developed the “Playbook for Early Response to Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents.” [98] The document is in essence a “how-to” guide for dealing with pandemics. It covers topics including when to invoke the DPA and when to release PPE from the Strategic National Stockpile. The document was uncovered in late March as hospitals across the country were reporting shocking shortages of PPE and medical equipment. Had the playbook been followed, the government should have begun a federal-wide effort to get that equipment more than two months prior. [99]

The Trump administration did not follow the playbook and even after it had been released publicly by the media, and despite the plan's existence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed that the Obama administration hadn’t left a plan. [100] Throughout the course of the pandemic, President Trump has stated that “nobody ever expected a thing like this.” [101] However, documents show just how expected it was. Beyond the playbook, the Obama administration prepared for the incoming Trump administration—shortly before Trump took office—a tabletop exercise on pandemic response and Trump’s own administration engaged in a similar activity dubbed the “Crimson Contagion” scenario just last year. [102,103] Additionally, in 2018, President Trump disbanded the office tasked with pandemic response, the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was formed in 2015 under the Obama administration.

Giving away today’s and tomorrow’s jobs

President Trump built his 2016 campaign around a promise of jobs. He would create jobs, he said, by rolling back regulations he deemed unnecessary. As the previous section demonstrated, he did in fact roll back many regulations—putting the health and safety of Americans at risk. The Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda has had hugely negative societal impacts. However, that agenda has proven to be bad for jobs and the economy as well.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regularly releases a report to Congress looking at the monetized costs and benefits of federal regulations. In 2016, The OMB estimated that during the Obama administration major federal regulations resulted in annual net benefit between $103 and $393 billion. [104]

And, what about Trump’s claim that this deregulatory agenda will help spur job growth? Analysis reveals that not only did his rollbacks fail to create good jobs, in many cases they cost the nation the creation of jobs.

Fuel Economy and Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards

Under the Obama administration, the EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) set world-leading standards to improve fuel economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. These ambitious standards helped boost investment and innovation in the automotive sector, with companies not only rising to the manufacturing challenge but also creating American jobs while doing so. This job creation came when it was needed most, right on the heels of the Great Recession, helping the auto industry rebuild and once again start to thrive.

But automakers didn’t just rebuild from a recession, they rebuilt to produce vehicles that were far cleaner, more efficient, and more globally competitive ¬¬while simultaneously maintaining the performance, safety, and design innovation that customers demand. Doing so spurred more rapid retooling of automaker facilities and meant billions of dollars in increased purchases of advanced technology built by hundreds of domestic suppliers. BlueGreen Alliance research found that in 2017, under the Obama-implemented fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, more than 1,200 U.S. factories and engineering facilities in 48 states—and 288,000 American workers—were building technology that improved vehicle fuel economy. [105] Moreover, the advanced, fuel-efficient cars, SUVs, and trucks built by these workers saved families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars at the pump.

BlueGreen Alliance research in 2017 identified more than 1,200 U.S. factories and engineering facilities in 48 states—and 288,000 American workers—building technology that improves vehicle fuel economy.

In April 2018, then EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that after completing a required mid-term review of the standards, the EPA would pursue weakening these already implemented rules, starting down a path that has created considerable uncertainty in the domestic auto industry and putting U.S. technology leadership at risk. In August 2018 the administration released a proposal to flat line the rules instead of continuing to require improvements in fuel economy and pollution reduction. [106] While the EPA and DOT continued to tout the move as a means to boost the economy and protect the industry, their own analysis found that rolling back the standards would cut industry investment in vehicle components and technology by around $30 billion per year, and result in 50,000-60,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in the American auto industry.

BlueGreen Alliance analysis of the proposed rule found that at least 89,000 future jobs could be lost or foregone as a result of the rollback. [107] While the threat appears particularly acute for those that make the most advanced technologies and materials, the rollback threatens jobs and investment across the industry. Additionally, deeply weakening the standards will significantly slow adoption of advanced technologies in almost every vehicle subsystem and cut demand for products made by hundreds of manufacturers and hundreds of thousands of workers all across the country.

A final rule was not released until March 2020 after reports that the administration was struggling to make the math work in their favor, creating additional doubt around the facts upon which this rulemaking was developed. [108] The final rule abandoned the administrations’ initial plan to flat line the fuel economy requirements and instead mandates a 1.5% increase in fuel economy that was not only a less ambitious target that the 5% in the previous clean car standards but far short of what the industry was already on track to achieve. [109] The final rule too would result in tens of thousands of lost jobs and tens of billions in lost manufacturing investment across the country.

The Trump administration also revoked the “California Waiver,” which allowed California to set stronger standards for their state—standards which 13 other states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted. This decision breaks apart the longstanding stakeholder agreement that enabled automakers to jointly comply with state and federal rules across the auto market, and further undermines the certainty companies need to invest. The action comes despite the fact that many automakers have signaled a strong desire to return to a broadly agreed package of clear, strong standards. Indeed, many manufacturers throughout the supply chain have already invested in research and development, plant equipment, and new staff to meet the demand for new technology that was anticipated under the previous strong standards.

Instead, the Trump administration’s actions to step away from global leadership on clean cars strands those manufacturers’ investments, puts those jobs at risk, and cedes the next generation of automotive investment and jobs to other nations. Both the weakened rulemaking and the withdrawal of the California waiver are being challenged in court.

Methane Standards for Oil and Gas

In 2016, the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for methane emissions from new, reconstructed, and modified sources in the oil and gas industry aimed to protect workers and local communities, address climate change, and create jobs by driving deployment of cost-effective, available technology and practices to reduce methane emissions. The standards included practical measures to reduce methane emissions and also held potential for job creation in the methane mitigation industry.

Methane leaks are an environmental disaster as the greenhouse gas is many times more potent that carbon dioxide in causing climate change whereas the mitigation of methane can be an economic opportunity. BlueGreen Alliance research has found that implementing the cost-effective technologies and practices that have already been developed to reduce methane in the oil and gas sector could create and sustain an estimated 50,000 jobs in the United States over the next decade in a variety of sectors—including manufacturing. [110]

Initially, the Trump administration attempted to suspend enforcement of the 2016 rule and overturn it with the Congressional Review Act. However, in July 2017 a federal appeals court ruled that the EPA did not have the power to suspend the rule. In August 2019, the EPA unveiled two parallel proposals: one to weaken requirements for finding and repairing methane leaks at oil and gas facilities, and one to completely eliminate direct regulation of methane in the oil and gas sector. These rules were finalized in August 2020, and have been panned by environmentalists and oil and gas companies alike. [111] Methane leaks are a no-win situation, they’re bad for the environment, for public health, and for business.

Not only does stepping away from regulation of methane risk losing out on significant job creation, methane leaks in the oil and gas industry present serious health risks to workers and local communities from exposure to dangerous chemicals. That’s because methane is harmful itself, but is also leaked alongside other toxic air pollutants, such as the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), benzene and formaldehyde. These chemicals cause health problems—including asthma and respiratory problems, neurological problems, and cancer—and contaminate the water and air.

Conclusion

Donald Trump made a lot of promises on the campaign trail in 2016, trying to sell voters on a vision of a better future for their families. Three and half years later we see clearly that those promises were hollow. At every step President Trump has put favored businesses and ideology ahead of the health and safety of Americans at work, at home, and even in the middle of a global pandemic.

The Trump administration has shamelessly rolled back policies protecting workers, communities, and the environment. Claiming that it would protect jobs, President Trump dismantled worker safety regulations, cut staff at OSHA, and stepped away from environmental policies that keep the nation’s air and water clean. Not only did these policies not protect jobs, in many cases they cost the nation the jobs of the future and endangered our existing workforce.

The information provided in this report will aid workers and others in understanding the current impact of these policies and the need to change them to protect workers and our communities.