Energy & Environment

What to watch for in Trump’s climate change order

President Trump will sign an executive order on climate change Wednesday, opening a new front in his battle against former President Obama’s environmental legacy.

The action will address Trump’s campaign promises and is expected to knock out the Obama administration’s landmark climate rule, among other things.

Here are five things to watch when Trump releases the long-awaited executive order on Tuesday. 

How far does he go?

The order is expected to be a broad assault on key aspects of Obama’s climate change policies.

Trump is expected to order the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to formally consider repealing its Clean Power Plan, a rule created to cut power sector emissions. He is also likely to lift a moratorium on new coal mining leases on public land.

Sources told The Hill last week that the order would also target oil and gas drilling rules and the climate change metrics that Obama built into government environmental assessments and regulations, among other things.

Trump will also direct agencies to begin considering actions they can take to encourage energy production, according to Bloomberg.

Some parts of the order will take effect immediately, while others will take time. Trump can’t immediately scrap the Clean Power Plan, for instance, as the EPA will have to conduct a formal rulemaking process that could take up to a year.  

What will the battle lines be? 

Don’t expect environmentalists to immediately challenge Trump’s action in court.

Lawsuits against the order are certain, but environmental advocates can’t file them until the EPA proceeds through the regulatory process.

Much of the coming legal battle is likely to center on the Clean Power Plan. The rule is already at the center of a major lawsuit, with fossil fuel companies, industry groups and coal-friendly Republican states suing to undo the regulation. 

That litigation will likely freeze after Trump signs the executive order but will restart again as the process moves forward.

Environmentalists are also likely to fight the cancellation of the coal moratorium, a policy Obama’s Interior Department implemented in part to address complaints that the government was not doing enough to account for the climate impact of the fuel’s use.

Will the Paris climate pact be mentioned? 

The president’s order is expected to tread lightly on one major piece of Obama’s climate agenda: the Paris agreement.

The non-binding pact was negotiated in 2015 by nearly 200 countries, through the United Nations, with significant leadership from Obama. Each country pledged its own greenhouse gas emissions limits; Obama promised a 26 percent to 28 percent cut in the United States’ emissions by 2025. 

While Trump promised to “cancel” the accord during last year’s campaign, he’s been under pressure from some in his administration. In particular, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner — one of Trump’s closest advisers — support the accord and convinced Trump to strike language from the order that would have been critical of it, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

But while the United States might stay in the pact, Trump’s executive order striking climate policies could make it difficult to meet the 2025 goal.

Trump may instead seek to reduce the United States’ commitments under the agreement, something that has the support of Trump allies in Congress like Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). 

Will the order help jobs? 

Trump and the White House have touted the order as being designed to help produce jobs in the energy industry.

“We can be both pro-jobs and pro-environment,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said Sunday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“The executive order will address the past administration’s efforts to kill jobs across this country through the Clean Power Plan.” 

But there are indications the order won’t pack quite the punch the White House is promising.

Undoing the power plant rules, for instance, is designed to help coal workers. But the industry’s decline is much more closely tied to market forces like cheap, prevalent natural gas than federal regulations, something that even the coal industry acknowledges.

“I suggested that he temper his expectations,” coal executive Bob Murray told The Guardian on Monday. “Those are my exact words. He can’t bring them back.”

The White House insists its new action will have an impact.

Asked if the order will bring back coal jobs, Pruitt said Sunday, “I think absolutely it will. It will bring back manufacturing jobs across the country, coal jobs across the country.”     

How will the White House unveil the order?

Trump is aiming to unveil the order with his traditional showman’s touch. 

The White House says Trump will go to EPA headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., to sign the directive.

In addition to Pruitt, the administration may bring in coal miners to celebrate the signing, as Trump did when he signed legislation to undo the Interior Department’s rule to protect streams from mining pollution.

Members of Congress, who have long looked to halt Obama’s climate actions, are likely to look on as well.

The order could represent a major turning point in American energy policy, fulfilling several of the president’s campaign promises. 


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