Energy & Environment

Trump signs order to roll back Obama’s climate moves

President Trump on Tuesday signed a wide-ranging executive order to start the process of rolling back former President Obama’s aggressive climate change agenda, promising that the measure would create jobs in the fossil fuel industry.

Trump signed the order in a ceremony at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency responsible for many of the major policies being targeted.

He was flanked by coal miners — who EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt joked “might never have been to the EPA before” — as well as Cabinet officials and Vice President Pence, who celebrated the executive order as a repudiation of the Obama administration’s climate agenda.

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump said, using a term coined by the industry and its supporters to describe government regulations harmful to their industry.

“I am taking an historic step to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations.”

{mosads}Trump gave his speech on somewhat hostile territory. EPA employees have been unabashed in their criticisms of the Republican president and his opposition to much of their recent work, and their union undertook an unprecedented effort to lobby against Pruitt’s confirmation by the Senate.

But the room was filled with lawmakers and supporters of Trump’s agenda, who cheered often during his speech.

The administration is pitching the order primarily as a move to increase the nation’s energy independence, with the added effect of increasing jobs in affected sectors and related industries.

Trump said the order fulfills a promise made to coal miners during his presidential campaign. He recounted a trip to West Virginia when he met with miners who told him they wanted to continue working in the industry despite a downturn in employment.

“I said, if that’s what you want to do, that’s what you’re doing to do,” Trump said. 

“The miners told me about the attacks on their jobs and their livelihoods. … I made them this promise: We will put our miners back to work.”

Experts and environmental groups challenge the assertion that rolling back Obama’s policies would benefit energy independence or jobs.

Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and a former aide in Obama’s White House, accused Trump of giving coal miners “false hope.”

“We’ve seen coal production and coal employment in decline for many years now, driven by market forces. And those factors will still be there,” he said.

As for energy independence — which mainly relates to using domestic oil instead of oil imported from unfriendly countries — Bordoff said it isn’t much of a problem.

“U.S. oil production nearly doubled under President Obama,” he said. “These regulations may have had some marginal costs to them, but regulation did not stand in the way of a dramatic surge in U.S. oil production.”

“Right now, clean-energy jobs already overwhelm dirty fuels in nearly every state across America, and that growth is only going to continue as clean energy keeps getting more affordable and accessible by the day,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. 

“These facts make it clear that Donald Trump is attacking clean-energy jobs purely in order to boost the profits of fossil fuel billionaires.”

The most significant piece of the order instructs the EPA to formally consider repealing the Clean Power Plan. It was the central piece of Obama’s second-term climate agenda, calling for a 32 percent cut in the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

Federal regulators are also asked under the order to consider repealing the EPA’s carbon limits for newly built power plants and methane emissions standards for oil and natural gas drilling from the EPA and the Interior Department.

It also has some immediate effects. The order stops Interior’s moratorium on new coal-mining leases on federal land, something Obama instituted to study how to charge coal companies for the climate impacts of the fuel they mine on federal property.

It also stops policies asking federal agencies to consider climate change in environmental reviews, a government-wide accounting method for climate change regulations called the “social cost of carbon” and Obama executive orders on climate, such as one asking that infrastructure be built to withstand a future climate affected by global warming.

Environmental groups and Democrats slammed the actions and pledged to fight back.

“Thanks to this executive order, our future is looking darker, it’s looking dirty and it’s looking less prosperous,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“Today, Donald Trump is shirking our nation’s responsibilities, disregarding clear science and undoing the significant progress to make sure we leave a better, more sustainable planet for generations to come, with the stroke of his pen,” he continued.

“This is an all-out assault on the protections we need to avert climate catastrophe,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a senseless betrayal of our national interests. And it’s a short-sighted attempt to undermine American clean energy leadership.”

Fossil fuel industries stand to benefit from the order, and many voiced their support for the measure this week. 

“The president’s actions today help to restore commonsense priorities and the important balance between costs and benefits that have been missing from federal regulatory policies,” said Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association.

“Today’s action by President Trump is an important step toward increasing American competitiveness and recognizing that our industry is part of the solution to advancing U.S. economic and national security goals,” said American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard.

But Trump and his administration have had a special affinity for the coal industry. The sector is suffering through an economic downturn due in large part to declining demand for its product, which is increasingly being replaced by cheaper and more plentiful natural gas.

Trump framed his order Tuesday as a measure to help put coal miners back to work, a promise repeated this week by administration officials such as Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. 

“You know what this says?” Trump asked one of the miners before he signed the order on Tuesday. “You’re going back to work.”

This story was updated at 5:16 p.m.

Devin Henry contributed.

Tags Donald Trump Tom Carper
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