Trump Aides Prepare List of Early Energy Changes, Sources Say

  • Advisers create list of policy changes primed for quick action
  • White House website now has ‘America First Energy Plan’

What to Expect From Trump on Climate Change

Donald Trump’s advisers have prepared a short list of energy and environmental policy changes he can take now that he has been sworn in as president, including steps to limit the role that climate change plays in government decisions and speed the review of cross-border pipelines.

The list of actions Trump can take imminently includes nullifying former President Barack Obama’s guidelines that federal agencies weigh climate change when approving pipelines, deciding what areas to open for drilling or taking other major actions, two people familiar with Trump’s transition planning say.

Soon after Trump took the oath of office, an "America First Energy Plan" posted on the White House website that enshrined many of his campaign pledges as formal policy goals, including a commitment to eliminate "harmful and unnecessary" regulations that throttle domestic development. Explicit targets for repeal include Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which limits carbon emissions from power plants, and a water pollution rule.

"For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry," Trump’s plan says, describing domestic energy production as critical to "achieving independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to our interests."

Trump also is being counseled, according to the people familiar with the planning, to suspend the government’s use of a metric known as the social cost of carbon until it can be reviewed and recalculated, and to rescind a 49-year-old executive order that put the State Department in charge of permitting border-crossing oil pipelines.

Quick Action

Conservatives have been urging Trump to act quickly. 

"President Obama used a pen and phone to load up the Federal Register with harmful regulations, but Donald Trump has an eraser – and he should use it," said Andy Koenig, vice president of policy at Freedom Partners, the donor organization tied to billionaires Charles and David Koch. "While all of this won’t be resolved overnight, quick action is a positive first step for the new administration to demonstrate its commitment to addressing barriers to economic growth and opportunity for all Americans."

Latest Plan

Trump’s latest energy plan -- a revised version of a blueprint published after his election and another touted on the campaign trail -- describes revenues from oil and gas production as a way to pay for building new roads and bridges.

In the document, Trump highlights a commitment to clean-coal technology, which promises to cut pollution tied to burning the fossil fuel, and "to reviving America;’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long." That reprises Trump’s campaign promise to bring back coal mining jobs, in decline as environmental policies and competition from cheaper, cleaner natural gas have lessened electric utilities’ demand for the fossil fuel.

Environmental protections will not be abandoned in the push for greater U.S. energy development, Trump says. "Our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment," the plan says. "Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority."

On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to use his first day in office to roll back a suite of Obama administration actions on climate. The timeline for some of those reversals might slip, although Trump can put the changes in motion right away by directing agencies to take action.

Coal Mining

For instance, Trump is set to direct the Interior Department to lift an Obama-era moratorium on selling federal coal-mining rights. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell imposed the halt on new lease sales to allow time for a broad environmental review. That analysis is still underway and could continue even after the moratorium is lifted. But any new coal sales could be challenged in court.

Two of Trump’s targets have especially symbolic significance, because the Obama administration used them to elevate the role of climate change in government actions. The social cost of carbon, a calculation reflecting the potential economic damage from climate change, serves as the linchpin for many of the Obama administration’s environmental rules, from appliance efficiency requirements to limits on how much methane can leak from oil wells. Critics say the number -- now nearly $40 for every metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere -- gives artificial precision to uncertain conditions nearly 300 years in the future. 

Trump could use an executive order or guidance from his Office of Management and Budget to suspend the social cost of carbon, allowing time for the metric to be freshly analyzed and recalculated. Conservatives at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Energy Alliance and Heritage Foundation have offered blueprints for change that could serve to lower the number, including making it reflect projected climate costs solely in the U.S., rather than globally.

NEPA Analysis

Trump also can effectively nullify guidance from Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality that climate change should be factored into government agencies’ formal environmental reviews. The guidelines were meant to influence analysis of proposed agency actions under the National Environmental Policy Act. A new approach can be developed later.

The president will have wide latitude to rescind executive orders from Obama and past predecessors in the White House. One target: a 49-year-old directive from former President Lyndon B. Johnson that assigned the State Department responsibility for determining whether proposed cross-border energy projects serve the "national interest." That 1968 order paved the way for the State Department’s scrutiny of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, ultimately rejected by Obama.

TransCanada has not said it would reapply for permission to build the pipeline, but the day after Trump’s election, the Calgary-based company said it was looking for ways to convince the incoming administration of the project’s benefits to the U.S. economy. Spokesman Mark Cooper said by phone he was not prepared to discuss its next steps, but emphasized that the company remains "committed to Keystone XL."  

While campaigning for president, Trump said he would approve the project but would insist on a "better deal" for Americans.

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