Trump team forfeits global leadership role on climate change
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With a stroke of his pen, President Trump just made good on his promise to reverse Obama administration rules and policies he considers economically harmful, especially for coal. He actually did far more, essentially dismantling nearly all the rules, guidance and directives which comprised Obama’s climate change action plan.

Trump’s order, and the agency actions it sets in motion, will impact agency resources, the power sector and energy development, states, and ultimately U.S. climate leadership. These impacts may vary considerably over the short- and long-term, raising the question whether they are all necessary.

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The Order requires all agencies to review their regulations, orders, guidance and policies to identify those which burden development and use of domestic energy sources. Agencies have 120 days to draft final plans to lessen the burdens and then must take action. 

 

These obligations will further strain agencies already required by prior orders to reduce regulatory burdens and offset costs of new regulations, with significantly diminished budgets.

The EPA and Interior are further tasked with reviewing and, presumably, withdrawing the most controversial rules, including the Clean Power Plan and BLM hydraulic fracturing rule. Rescinding and potentially re-issuing such rules will take several years, engendering significant litigation. 

Impacts on the power sector and the coal industry may be mixed. Reversal of the Interior coal lease moratorium and rescission of the Clean Power Plan will certainly benefit the coal industry as well as older coal-fired plants which faced more immediate retirements. 

Utilities will not have short-term deadlines to reduce carbon emissions. However, none of the actions called for by the Order are likely to change the power sector’s overall trend toward natural gas and renewables, as long as those sources remain cheap and competitive with coal.

Nor will the coal industry likely regain jobs lost over the years due to economic pressures, and there may be fewer incentives to develop clean coal technology. Energy resource development, actually quite robust during the Obama years, will likely face an even friendlier regulatory environment, but also increased litigation by project opponents.

States will also face a mixed bag. They will have more authority to regulate energy development and generation, freed from federal standards and timelines. But some will move faster ahead on clean energy and carbon reductions, occupying the leadership role vacated by the federal government. Varied state actions will create a patchwork of regulatory programs for multi-state companies to navigate.    

Probably the most significant impact, however, is to U.S. domestic and international leadership. The Order goes far beyond reversing a few controversial rules by rooting out a host of Obama policies and directives on climate. Some of these sought to coordinate and ensure adaptation to climate impacts and threats to national security.  

Others gave guidance to agencies on how to consider climate impacts from federal actions or quantify climate-related costs. By abdicating federal leadership, agencies, states and industry are left to develop their own plans and policies on an issue which demands coordinated and collective action. Climate impacts will remain relevant for courts assessing agency actions.

Similarly, the U.S. will inevitably cede its international leadership on addressing climate. Stripped of major regulatory initiatives and funding, the U.S. can no longer wield the influence that brought international consensus in Paris, even if the U.S. remains a party to the accords.

The Order will not be the last word on any of these issues. Agencies must still take action consistent with the Order; emboldened climate opponents will likely target programs as yet unaffected by the Order. 

But given the risks to future health and prosperity from a changing climate, it is worth questioning whether short-term political objectives truly justify long-range risks. 

 

Jim Rubin is a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, a firm that serves the corporate law and litigation needs of business clients from offices in Minneapolis, throughout the United States, and internationally. Rubin's practice focuses on air pollution; climate change law and policy.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.