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Justice Department Tosses Trump-Era Environmental Directives

Feb. 4, 2021, 11:24 PM

The Justice Department has withdrawn a series of Trump-era policies that constrain the agency’s environmental enforcement tools.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams, a career official who is currently leading DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, issued a memo Thursday eliminating a series of directives from Trump appointees, including an unpopular ban on settlement devices called a supplemental environmental projects, or SEPs.

The move is part of a major shift expected in how the Justice Department enforces the nation’s environmental statutes.

Williams cited President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order directing agencies to “immediately review” regulations and other agency actions that conflict with the new administration’s commitment to addressing climate change and environmental injustice.

Last-Minute Memos

The Trump-era policies affected include the SEPs ban and a series of last-minute memos then-Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark issued before resigning Jan. 14. The memos addressed the division’s enforcement priorities and limited the use of certain mitigation measures in environmental settlements.

Williams also withdrew Clark’s policy on Clean Water Act enforcement that overlaps with states and earlier memos from former Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood.

“Because these memoranda are inconsistent with longstanding Division policy and practice and because they may impede the full exercise of enforcement discretion in the Division’s cases, I have determined that withdrawal is appropriate pursuant to Executive Order 13,990,” Williams wrote. “After further assessment, the Division may issue new guidance regarding matters addressed in the now-withdrawn documents.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Yukhananov at; Chuck McCutcheon at