President Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress are working to undo President Obama’s actions on climate change, underlining what could be a major shift on a policy that affects the world.
While it’s been just three weeks since Trump’s inauguration, the president has already issued memos to approve the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which were both blocked by Obama partly due to concerns about how they would contribute to climate change.
Trump has also sought to limit regulations with another executive order, while the House has passed four measures under the Congressional Review Act to unwind Obama-era rules on energy. Two of those measures have also passed the Senate.
Energy has emerged as an area in which Trump and congressional Republicans are unified, and their actions have signaled to energy companies and climate change activists alike that Trump and congressional Republicans are serious about implementing a wholesale change in how the United States deals with big policy questions related to global warming.
“I think we’re off to a great start,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who consistently complained that Obama tried to stymie development of coal, oil and natural gas due to climate change concerns.
“The shift is moving toward a commonsense energy policy,” Daines said. “President Obama’s energy policies did not make sense. President Trump is putting forward a commonsense, all-of-the-above plan which will encourage more made-in-America energy.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), an outspoken climate activist, said Trump and his allies have been “every bit as bad as people had feared.”
“You can’t make this stuff up. It sounds like it’s out of a bad movie about politics,” he said.
He noted that two of the measures passed by Congress eliminate requirements that energy companies disclose the payments they make to foreign governments for energy production and repeal a rule meant to protect streams from coal mining waste.
Obama made fighting climate change a second-term priority. He relied largely on unilateral executive actions, such as his Clean Power Plan rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Obama also signed orders imposing limits on methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling. He helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, and blocked federal permits that the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines needed.
During his campaign, Trump, who has said that climate change is a hoax, promised to reverse many of these policies.
He has tapped pro-fossil fuel officials to lead key agencies, including former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for Environmental Protection Agency administrator, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) for Energy secretary and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) for Interior secretary.
On Capitol Hill, House Republicans are working to overhaul how the EPA uses science as part of an effort to roll back what they see as unjustifiable regulations.
Tom Pyle, president of the right-leaning Institute for Energy Research, said Trump is likely to implement even more campaign promises soon.
“The key will be getting an energy and environment team in place, and that includes the White House. And once the Senate Democrats get through their process of getting over the fact that they lost and letting these guys get in place and begin to implement the president’s agenda, there’s going to be much more activity,” said Pyle, who served on Trump’s transition team at the Energy Department.
The Sierra Club, a conservation group, is also girding for more action from Trump.
“Trump and the GOP Congress have made it crystal clear that clean air, clean water and public health are public enemy No. 1 in America so long as they control our federal government,” said John Coequyt, global climate program director at the Sierra Club.
“Trump and the GOP have many more terrible plans in store for our environment and public health safeguards, but the good news is that states, cities, and companies across the country are moving ahead toward an economy powered by clean energy regardless,” he continued, citing data showing recent growth in renewable energy.