How Weakened US Fossil Fuel Regulations Threaten Environmental Justice in Colorado

From the start, President Donald Trump’s administration has made dismantling regulations, especially for the oil, gas and coal industries, a top priority.

And though his claims of rolling back more regulations than any other administration are exaggerated, Trump’s team has tried hard to erase many environmental and energy-related rules.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Trump have teamed up with the Republican-led Congress to get federal agencies on the case, by streamlining environmental permitting and attempting other sweeping changes.

As an environmental sociologist who has spent hundreds of hours researching communities directly affected by oil and gas production, I find that many people living in these places feel that fossil fuel industries already had the upper hand before Trump took office.

Even among people who support drilling, many believe these industries need to be more regulated. The residents I have interviewed report feeling uncertain and vulnerable. They tell researchers like me they consider themselves powerless to control their surroundings or to protect the environment, their health or their property. Reducing regulations even more will only intensify these problems.

The fracking boom

Thanks to an oil and natural gas boom that began a decade ago, US production of those fuels has hit new records. The nation now ranks as the world’s top natural gas producer. American oil output is beginning to rival Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Hydraulic fracturing and the directional drilling of shale rock formations, commonly called “fracking,” powered this surge. So did deregulation. Companies using these methods enjoyed significant exemptions from federal environmental regulations that date back to George W. Bush’s presidency and remained on the books throughout the Obama administration.

After the enactment of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, the law that codified many of these exemptions, states…

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