WASHINGTON – Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks, state legislatures are following suit, taking aim at items as varied as solar incentives, chemical spill protections and even anti-pipeline protesters.
The legislation in states from Florida to Wisconsin comes as the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump argues that it can curtail federal regulations, leaving it up to states to decide how to protect against pollution. Shifting the burden to state capitals allows industry lobbyists to divide and conquer their foes, pitting one state’s deregulation against another’s.
“A lot of the business groups interested in this have realized they can be successful when they go state to state,” said John Farrell, a director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington nonprofit that advises local governments on community development. For health and environmental groups, “there is an element of Whac-A-Mole that goes on when it happens at the state level.”
Companies that are getting free of federal regulations can now target industry-friendly states — think Oklahoma or West Virginia — to get out from under their mandates, as well. By moving state to state, lobbyists can get more traction with lawmakers friendly to their cause.
Many efforts have been championed by groups with ties to billionaire industry executives David and Charles Koch, such as Americans for Prosperity or the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“Now is our time. And ALEC is ready,” Lisa B. Nelson, ALEC’s chief executive, said in an e-mail to its members after Trump’s election. “As our elected officials in Washington work to roll power back to the states, we will be there to catch the ball and run with it.”
The actions are as varied as the states represented:
In West Virginia, where a chemical leaked into the Elk River and left 300,000 people without drinking water in 2014, legislation signed into law last month weakens the regulations for chemical storage tanks put in place after the spill.
Oklahoma GOP Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law an end to a wind tax credit more than three years ahead of schedule amid a budget shortfall.
A measure in Florida would prohibit any new regulations on businesses unless they were approved by the General Assembly and would nullify all existing regulations that aren’t approved by lawmakers by July 2020.
Twenty states are moving forward with anti-protester bills, including one in Tennessee that would provide civil immunity for drivers who run over protesters who are blocking the road.
And states like Indiana are moving to curb the payment those with rooftop solar get for selling their excess power to the grid, a fight that played out in previous years in Arizona and Nevada. Among those supporting the effort is Duke Energy Corp.
Other rollbacks are more general in nature, said Jennifer Hensley, the Sierra Club’s director of state lobbying and advocacy. For instance seven states are seeking to create so-called “prosperity districts” where the environmental laws and other regulations perceived as inhibiting business would be limited, she said.