Environmentalists sue Trump over executive order

By Arianna Skibell | 02/08/2017 01:01 PM EST

The Natural Resources Defense Council sued President Trump today over his executive order that would require agencies to repeal two federal rules for every new one.

This story was updated.

The Natural Resources Defense Council sued President Trump today over his executive order that would require agencies to repeal two federal rules for every new one.

NRDC, along with Public Citizen and the Communications Workers of America, is seeking to block implementation of the order, which also establishes a regulatory budget that allows the president to set a cap on rule costs each year.


"President Trump’s order would deny Americans the basic protections they rightly expect," NRDC President Rhea Suh said in a statement.

"New efforts to stop pollution don’t automatically make old ones unnecessary," she said. "When you make policy by tweet, it yields irrational rules. This order imposes a false choice between clean air, clean water, safe food and other environmental safeguards."

The groups filed their complaint against the president and other administration leaders in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It claims that the executive order exceeds Trump’s authority under the Constitution.

The complaint states that agencies cannot comply with the order without breaking the laws under which they operate or violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

To follow the "one in, two out" mandate, agencies will be forced to repeal rules needed to protect health, safety and the environment, they argue. Vehicle safety, occupational health, air pollution and endangered species could all be affected.

"This executive order will mean more contaminated food, an accelerated rush to climate catastrophe, more dangerous cars and trucks, more workplace injuries and deaths, slashed consumer rights, more oil spills, more human misery," Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said in a statement. "All unnecessary. All preventable."

In a separate document explaining its action, NRDC states that Trump’s executive order is not only dangerous and illogical, but also unconstitutional.

"Presidents cannot change laws by fiat," the document states. "With this Executive Order, the President is attempting to single-handedly amend or overturn numerous statutes that are designed to protect the public, ensure an open rulemaking process and provide certainty and predictability to industry."

The executive order is one-sided, groups argue, as it only weighs the costs of regulations and not the benefits. "Yet benefits are the whole reason that regulations are issued to begin with," they wrote.

‘Impermissible and arbitrary’

The complaint lists instances that they argue demonstrate the negative effects of the executive order on the plaintiffs and their members, as well as how the order directs agencies to act unlawfully and why it is unconstitutional.

The complaint lists potential actions under the executive order that could harm members and run afoul of current law. For example, the order would require agencies to offset costs when implementing the Mine Safety and Health Act.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration as proposed a rule that would require underground coal mine operators to include detection systems in their equipment to reduce deaths.

The agency estimated the cost at between $16 million and $18 million a year but said the action would create as much or more in benefits.

The rule is "significant" and therefore falls under the executive order. The agency would be required to repeal at least two existing rules to offset the cost of the new one without taking into account the benefits to miner safety.

"The Executive Order requires the agency to make decisions based on an impermissible and arbitrary choice — whether to issue a new standard at the cost of the loss of benefits of two existing standards," the complaint states.

"To repeal two standards for the purpose of adopting one would be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to the MSH Act," it says.

The complaint explains how a number of regulations could be affected by the executive order, including the Toxic Substances Control Act, Energy Policy and Conservation Act, Endangered Species Act and Clean Air Act.

Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill campaigned against Obama administration regulations and on reducing red tape. The executive order is part of that agenda.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer slammed the lawsuit today. "It makes a ton of assumptions that call for speculation on what may or may not happen in the future," he said. "It’s just subjective at best and doesn’t have any basis in fact."