Environmentalists and their allies are pledging to go to war against President Trump’s efforts to roll back his predecessor’s climate change agenda.
While litigation is likely to be the chief tool that greens and Democrats use to keep former President Obama’s policies alive, they’re also planning to fight against Trump in the court of public opinion.
The Tuesday order itself has little effect. But it kicks off the process of undoing Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. It also starts to undo the emissions limits for new power plants, methane release regulations for oil and natural gas drilling, the moratorium on new coal-mining leasing on federal land and more.
“The heart of the battle is going to be litigation,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOn The Money — It all comes down to Bernie and Joe Manchin, Tester voice opposition to carbon tax Democrats scramble for climate alternatives MORE (D-R.I.) told reporters Tuesday, arguing that the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision on greenhouse gases and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) finding that the gases are harmful give the government a responsibility to act to fight climate change.
“That puts a legal duty on Administrator [Scott] Pruitt to proceed with regulation of carbon dioxide,” he said.
“President Trump and EPA Administrator Pruitt will find that they cannot simply eliminate these initiatives with the stroke of a pen,” Ann Weeks, legal director at the Clean Air Task Force, said in a statement. “When they try, we will see them in court.”
Health groups joined the call to arms.
“Today’s executive order directly contradicts EPA’s core mission of protecting public health and the environment, and undercuts the Agency’s ability to achieve the promise of the Clean Air Act — ensuring that all Americans are able to breathe clean, healthy air,” said Harold Wimmer, president of the American Lung Association.
Wimmer said his group “will actively oppose these regulatory actions at every step of the process, and call on members of the public to do the same.”
Leading forces in the fights are likely to be Democratic state attorneys general. They frequently went to court to defend Obama’s actions and pledged to fight Trump.
“Addressing our country’s largest source of carbon pollution — existing fossil fuel-burning power plants — is both required under the Clean Air Act and essential to mitigating climate change’s growing harm to our public health, environments, and economies,” said a coalition of 17 attorneys general in blue states, along with the chief legal officers of five cities and one county.
"We won’t hesitate to protect those we serve — including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change.”
But whatever the opponents do, they’re likely to face significant pushback from Trump and his allies in conservative states, the fossil fuel industry and other business sectors.
“What the Obama administration tried to do was egregious and unlawful,” said Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s Republican attorney general and the lead litigant who fought the Clean Power Plan in court. “And if my colleagues on the other side of the aisle think that they’re going to file lawsuits in order to continue that unlawful behavior, I don’t think that’s going to be a successful model.”
Other environmentalists, meanwhile, are focusing on fighting Trump through protest.
“The best way to fight against these executive orders is to take to the streets,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org. “From the upcoming congressional recess through the Peoples Climate March and beyond, we’ll be putting pressure on lawmakers to defend the climate and building power to stop the fossil fuel industry for good.”