By Shannon Gough

President Trump made deregulation one of his major campaign promises before being elected in 2017.[1] While commentators suggest that relatively little overall deregulation has occurred since President Trump took office, this is not so for environmental deregulation.[2] In December 2019, a New York Times report found that more than ninety environmental rules and regulations had been rolled back since the beginning of this administration.[3] Although environmental deregulation is typically assumed to benefit industry, in recent years companies have increasingly strengthened their environmental and social commitments and reformed their business practices in attempts to reduce their impact on the environment. This is in large part because of the growing response to climate change by consumers, governments, and other industry leaders across the globe.[4]  These changes have not occurred overnight, but rather have been the result of a long culmination of changes in the way the public views corporate responsibility for impacts to the environment.[5]

In line with these changing views on the environment, several industries have recently opposed environmental rollbacks. [6] This month, the Trump administration is expected to no longer require higher fuel efficiency standards introduced under the Obama administration.[7] However, several major auto companies have resisted this environmental regulation reversal and instead plan to increase vehicle fuel economy by 3.7% per year until 2025, in line with California’s proposal (which is admittedly a little less than Obama’s 5% per year standard). This is in part due to the reality that the global market is also moving toward cleaner-running cars.[8] Moreover, late last year after the EPA announced that it would eliminate requirements to cut methane leaks from oil wells, several members of the oil and gas industry indicated that they did not support this deregulatory measure.[9] Not only did large companies come out against EPA’s proposal to eliminate methane regulation, but smaller and newer oil and natural gas producers also submitted comments against these rollbacks – particularly in response to pressure from ESG conscious investors.[10]

Additionally, major electric and gas utility companies submitted comments against the EPA’s proposal, citing the need to protect the environment and public health as well as have a predictable regulatory framework.[11] Most recently, the EPA announced  its plan to change a rule cutting mercury pollution and declare that it is not ‘appropriate and necessary’ for the government to limit harmful pollutants from power plants.[12] The power generation sector is said to universally oppose mercury pollution deregulation. In addition to the fact that the sector made investments long ago to comply with limits on mercury pollution, there is serious concern amongst utility executives that this deregulation could result in an increase in mercury and other toxic substances in the air threatening human health.[13]

It is not a surprise that industries oppose these rollbacks. Many companies have evolved in response to environmental changes and have implemented environmental policies and practices that have substantially reduced their businesses’ impact on the environment. These companies have an incentive to advance the investments they have already made.[14] Additionally, companies have made commitments to consumers and investors to meet certain environmental standards. Increasingly companies are expected to be leaders on environmental regulation.[15] Lastly, the elimination of some of these regulations poses significant health and safety risks for people across the country.[16] Companies simply do not want to be liable for negatively affecting the health and safety of the public.

As scientists continue to report on the dire state of the environment, it is imperative that society responds proactively. Companies should continue to oppose rollbacks that force them to revert to measures they have long since improved upon as well as take positions on the environment that are in line with the majority of Americans who view protection of the environment as a top priority.[17] Ultimately, the companies that have evolved with the changing environment will do better to ignore these deregulatory efforts rather than be associated with the reversal of environmental protections.  

[1] See Manuela Tobias and Allison Colburn, Trump Quick to Pursue Deregulation in First Year: But is the Energy Industry – or Environment – Seeing Results, Politifact (Jan. 16, 2018), (quoting President Trump as saying “We’re going to cancel every needless job-killing regulation and put a moratorium on new regulations until our economy gets back on its feet.”).

[2] See Maegan Vazquez, Trumps Dismantling of Environmental Regulations Unwinds 50 Years of Protections, CNN (Jan. 25, 2020),

[3] See Nadja Popovich, et al., 95 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump, N.Y. Times (Dec. 21, 2019),

[4] See Libby Maccarthy, New Report Reveals 86% of US Consumers Expect Companies to Act on Social, Environmental Issues, Sustainable Brands (May 18, 2017),

[5] See Klaus Weber, Climate Change is Transforming the Economy. How Will Your Company Adopt?, Kellogg Insight (March 21, 2019),

[6] See Juliet Eilperin & Brady Dennis, The EPA is About to Change a Rule Cutting Mercury Pollution. The Industry Doesn’t Want It., Washington Post (Feb. 17, 2020),; see Ben Ratner, New Companies Oppose Methane Rollbacks but Industry Divide Remains, Environmental Defense Fund (Dec. 6, 2019),; see Coral Davenport, Trump’s Path to Weaker Fuel Efficiency Rules May Lead to a Dead End, NY Times (Feb. 13, 2020),

[7] See Davenport, supra note 6

[8] See Niina H. Farah, Some Industries See Trump’s Rule Killing Going Too Far, E&E News (Sept. 9, 2019),

[9] See Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Trump Gives Businesses Deregulation Whether They Want It or Not, Bloomberg (Aug. 30, 2019),

[10] See Ratner, supra note 6.

[11] See id.

[12] See Eilperin & Dennis, supra note 6.

[13] See id.

[14] See Farah, supra note 8.

[15] See id.

[16] See Dlouhy, supra note 9.

[17] See Frank Newport, Americans Want Government to Do More on Environment, Gallup News (March 29, 2018),

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