By David J. Hayes
April 1, 2020
David J. Hayes is executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the NYU School of Law. He was deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the Interior Department during the Obama and Clinton administrations.
The coronavirus pandemic has virtually shut down the U.S. economy. The lights remain on, however, at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, where the Trump administration is working to push through its radical reordering of our nation’s environmental and conservation priorities — pandemic or no.
For Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the novel coronavirus outbreak has emerged at an opportune time. After many false starts and embarrassing court defeats, the administration has moved on from its efforts to put off regulatory deadlines or not enforce existing rules. Now, agencies are racing to roll back environmental standards and privatize public lands before the election-year clock runs out. Their strategy is to plow forward regardless of the public health threat, working at a breakneck pace, undistracted by careful scientific deliberation or feedback from the public, which has been largely sidelined by the virus.