Energy & Environment

Washington braces for Trump climate order

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Washington is bracing for President Trump’s executive order on climate change, which could be released any day.

The order is expected to disassemble former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and end the moratorium on federal-land coal mining, steps that would make it all but impossible for the United States to reach its commitments to reduce carbon emissions under the 2015 international climate agreement reached in Paris.

The orders are expected to represent a wholesale overhaul of how the federal government deals with climate change and a major repudiation of Obama’s aggressive second-term global warming agenda.

{mosads}Trump is said to be considering a broader order than originally thought. Sources said it could include other provisions aimed at climate regulations in general, oil and gas drilling rules and reducing the United States’ commitment in the Paris climate accord.

“What we’ve heard has been extremely troubling,” said Tomás Carbonell, the director of regulatory policy and lead attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund.

The energy sector and Republicans in Congress, however, think just the opposite.

They’re pressing Trump to go big, but to make sure his actions can withstand legal challenges.

“We’re very hopeful the president can deliver on his campaign promise to lift the regulatory weight his predecessor placed on our industry,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

The order’s rollout has been repeatedly delayed, in part because the White House has been trying to decide what to include in it.

“There’s some discussion about how much to throw into it, how comprehensive it’ll be,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a Trump ally who served as an adviser on energy during the presidential campaign.

While energy was not a primary focus of Trump’s populist campaign for president, he made bold promises to roll back Obama’s climate agenda and reduce regulations, with the goal of increasing jobs.

Trump has already taken significant actions to undo Obama’s policies.

Trump’s budget proposed cutting funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, and he signed executive orders taking on the Clean Water Rule and car emissions standards.

He’s taken steps to move forward with the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, both of which are targets for climate activists.

Congress has been helping too. The House and Senate have passed legislation to repeal an Obama regulation protecting streams from coal mining, and the Senate could vote soon to repeal a rule meant to prevent the release of natural gas on federal land.

The work, and the promise of Trump’s order, have encouraged the energy sector.

“Fundamentally, we are talking about unwinding eight years of multi-agency policies and regulations in two months,” said Stephen Brown, vice president for federal government affairs at fuel refiner Tesoro Corp.

Environmentalists are gearing up to fight Trump in the rulemaking process.

Trump’s actions won’t immediately invalidate Obama’s climate rules, but they will direct federal agencies to rewrite them.

That gives his opponents the chance to influence the process, or at least lay the foundation for legal challenges.

“You have to go through rulemaking. You take the same steps to tear it down as you take it build it up,” said David Doniger, the head of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program.

Lawsuits against Trump’s move are unlikely on day one. But Doniger said groups like his are working to put together what they’ll need for litigation after the Clean Power Plan is formally nixed.  

Greens contend that aggressive climate regulations like Obama’s are required by the law and that Trump will be overplaying his hand if he tries to wipe it out completely.

“Certainly the administration and [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt seem to be moving to roll back these protections,” Carbonell said. “We’ll certainly be looking closely to make sure that there’s not a thumb put on the scale in [the rulemaking] process.”

Environmentalists and Democrats hope to rally the public to their cause.

Climate change is rarely considered a top issue for American voters. But climate action advocates have often framed arguments about its importance in messages Americans can better digest, such as its impact on public health.

With Washington buried by a debate over healthcare reform, the economy and the confirmation process for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, environmentalists say the climate order will give them a bigger platform from which to make their case.

“These kinds of issues are not profile issues when you compare it to health care, immigration and others,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

He said the climate order will give his party a bigger platform from which to make its case.

“Democrats have to raise the profile of this issue and fight as hard as we’re fighting back on a lot of other issues,” he said.

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