Trump's order improved the fortunes of coal and American economy
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With multiple strokes of a pen, President Trump took a big step toward ending the Obama administration’s war on coal. 

At Trump’s signing ceremony for his “Energy Independence Executive Order” on Tuesday, surrounded by coal miners, the president said, “I keep my promises. We will put our miners back to work. We are putting an end to the war on coal.”

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In veiled reference to the climate regulations enacted by former President Obama, Trump said the orders he signed will “eliminate federal overreach … start[ing] a new era of production and job creation.”

 

Before becoming president, Obama promised to bankrupt coal companies, and after eight years of occupying the White House, his anti-coal pledge turned out to be one of the few promises he kept. Regulations limiting coal mining near streams and on mountain tops, allowing cities to block the expansion of coal-export terminals and rail lines, and enacting first-time limits on carbon-dioxide emissions have led to massive job losses in coal country, the premature shuttering of vital coal-fired power plants, and to once-profitable companies filing for bankruptcy. These policies were not justified by any reasonable calculation of human health benefits; they were driven largely by the politics of climate change and Obama’s far-left ideology.

Just a couple of days after being sworn in as president, Trump signed an executive order rescinding an Obama administration rule overregulating mining near streams. The rule was an example of duplicative federal overreach, violating the legitimate authority of states to manage mining within their borders. This is especially true since research shows states and miners are generally doing a good job under existing laws and regulations of protecting streams from mining waste and restoring mined areas.

The series of executive orders Trump issued on Tuesday are another powerful step in his commitment to put America’s energy needs first—in part, by ending the war on coal.

Coal, the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution, has been in decline in recent years, as tens of thousands of miners and power-plant employees have lost their jobs due to market competition and gross overregulation.

While some coal-fired power plants have been closed or are closing because they are unable to compete with low-cost gas-fired power plants, dozens of coal-fired power plants have been and are being shuttered prematurely due to the Obama administration’s efforts to fight purported man-caused climate change using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

Power plants closed because they compete with gas-fired electric generation will not be reopened unless gas prices rise significantly for an extended period. Because power plant operators must make planning and investment decisions for decades in the future, dozens of coal-fired power plants already closed due to stricter mercury and air-toxics emissions are also unlikely to reopen—even though the U.S. Supreme Court determined the rules to be unlawful and unnecessary. The Court’s action, came five years after the rules were enacted, which was too late to save the facilities.

Thus, it is unlikely Trump’s executive orders will make coal king again, but they can staunch the bleeding in the industry, saving existing miners’ jobs and preventing the unnecessary closure of additional competitive coal-fired power plants.

For coal’s fortunes—among the most important of the six “Energy Independence” executive orders Trump signed—is one ending a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land. A second order says federal agencies should no longer consider climate change when implementing federal contracts, issuing permits, when formulating planned uses of federal lands, or use speculative climate impacts of a proposed action to halt it.

Most importantly, Trump has directed EPA to conduct an expedited review of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), with the expectation it will rescind or significantly reshape CPP’s limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from existing and new power plants.

These and other of Trump’s actions will improve the coal industries’ fortunes, but they will offer fleeting respite unless he goes further and in a legally defensible way withdraws EPA’s finding human carbon-dioxide emissions are a danger to human health. Congress must help Trump here.

Congress should enact a simple two-sentence law doing what it should have done at the outset of this climate madness more than two decades ago: “Carbon dioxide, a naturally occurring, beneficial trace gas, not being toxic to humans or harmful to the environment at any foreseeable levels, is a not pollutant. Accordingly, no agency or department of the U.S. government is authorized to regulate, place limits on, or tax carbon-dioxide emissions, directly or indirectly, unless and until the Congress of the United States expressly directs specific agencies or departments to impose such regulations or taxes.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a research fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.


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