Trump's climate order is just an opening bid
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Amid much fanfare yesterday, President Trump announced an executive order intended to roll back Obama administration climate policies. The executive order (like many of Trump's actions to date) is largely ceremonial, however. Whether or not Trump has a lasting effect on climate policy will depend on actions taken in the years ahead, not on what happened yesterday.

The order largely instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to roll back a series of regulations issued over the past eight years. The most prominent of these is the Clean Power Plan, an enormously complex regulation governing power plant emissions that was the centerpiece of Obama administration attempts to comply with the Paris climate treaty.

The Trump order also tells EPA to begin work on reversing regulations on new coal plants, and on oil and gas operations. Along a similar vein, two weeks ago, Trump asked the EPA and the Department of Transportation to reconsider vehicle emission standards.

There are three reasons to be skeptical that any of these actions will ever be completed.

1. Reversing regulations is not easy.

Over the years, presidents and Congress have made it hard for agencies to issue regulations by requiring them to take many steps before doing so. All of those steps, including asking for and responding to public comments, doing a cost-benefit analysis, and having the regulation reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, will need to happen for regulatory reversals as well.

2. In order to take those steps, Trump will need to rely upon the civil servants that work at the EPA.

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This massive job described above cannot be done by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and a few of his good friends. The challenge here is that Trump has also proposed deep budget cuts to the EPA, which will make it harder for them to complete the work necessary to carry out Trump's actions.

 

There, of course, is also reason to believe that those staffers left behind after any budget cuts may be less than enthusiastic about repealing climate change regulations.

3. Finally, even if Pruitt's EPA manages to repeal these regulations, one large obstacle remains: the judiciary.

Trump has already had numerous actions reversed by the courts and these regulatory repeals will face the same danger. State attorneys general have already vowed to contest the Trump rollback in court. And Supreme Court precedent (issued when the Reagan administration tried to repeal Carter administration regulations requiring airbags in cars) has dictated that courts should be skeptical when a new administration attempts to reverse the acts of the previous ones.

None of this is to minimize the importance of Trump's actions yesterday. The president sets a national tone on an issue and other countries are doubtlessly paying attention to our attempts to retreat in fighting climate change. They will react accordingly.

And as with his proposed budget, which has little chance of getting enacted, Trump's attempts to roll back climate regulations may just be an extreme opening bid. Even if he only gets 10 percent of what he wants, the impact on the climate (but not on coal jobs) will be significant.

Stuart Shapiro is professor and director of the Public Policy Program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. Follow him on Twitter @shapiro_stuart.


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