Trump to Issue Far-Reaching Reversal of Obama Climate PushBy
Environmentalists, analysts question impacts of directive
Order also targets Clean Power Plan, methane rule, coal ban
President Donald Trump is set to sign a sweeping executive order on Tuesday aimed at promoting domestic oil, coal and natural gas by reversing much of his predecessor’s efforts to address climate change -- prompting warnings the action will undermine U.S. leadership on the issue.
The document lays out a broad blueprint for the Trump administration to dismantle the architecture that former President Barack Obama built to combat the phenomenon, according to details shared with Bloomberg News. Some of the changes would happen immediately, while others would take years to complete.
"He’s trying to undo more than a decade of progress in fighting climate change and protecting public health,” David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an email. “But nobody voted to abandon America’s leadership in climate action and the clean-energy revolution. This radical retreat will meet a great wall of opposition.”
The order will compel federal agencies to quickly identify any actions that could burden the production or use of domestic energy resources, including nuclear power, and then work to suspend, revise or rescind the policies unless they are legally mandated, are necessary for the public interest or promote development.
It also will toss out two Obama-era directives that gave consideration of climate change a prominent role in federal rule making. One advised government agencies to factor climate change into environmental reviews, such as those governing where oil drilling should take place. The other, called the “social cost of carbon,” is a metric reflecting the potential economic damage from climate change that was used by the Obama administration to justify a suite of regulations.
“This is about making sure that we have a pro-growth and pro-environment approach to how we do regulation in this country,” Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said on ABC’s "This Week” program on Sunday.
Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, has vowed to reorient the government so that U.S. oil and coal producers thrive and steel and auto manufacturers don’t face “job-killing restrictions.” The coming order underscores Trump’s commitment to make good on his campaign promises, which helped propel him to victory in industrial strongholds such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The details shared with Bloomberg News reflected the latest draft of the White House order and could change before the announcement, which Pruitt said would happen Tuesday.
Some analysts question whether reversing the rules can save coal miner jobs. Killing the Clean Power Plan is not enough to spark a coal revival and avert a wave of planned retirements of power plants using the fossil fuel, said Kevin Book, an analyst with Washington-based research firm ClearView Energy.
"Even without the Clean Power Plan, there are still 14 gigawatts of coal retirements related to" a mercury pollution rule "and market dynamics waiting in the wings," Book said.
While the White House order will make clear that the target of the planned regulatory rollback should be on policies curbing the production of oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy, it also will say the U.S. is well served when affordable, reliable and clean electricity is produced from an array of sources, including solar, wind and hydropower.
The order also is set to include a targeted assault on a handful of specific Obama-era regulations. It will require the Interior Department to lift a moratorium on the sale of new coal leases on federal land and compel the EPA to review, and, “if appropriate,” begin proceedings to suspend, revise or rescind regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Clean Power Plan
Obama’s Clean Power Plan was designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from electricity by 32 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The initiative has been in legal limbo since the Supreme Court stayed it while it was reviewed by a federal appeals court. The Trump administration now is expected ask that court to put the matter on hold to allow it time to revise or undo the measure -- an action environmentalists have vowed to challenge.
Other policies in the cross hairs: an EPA rule setting requirements for greenhouse gas emissions for construction of new power plants and an Interior Department regulation setting mandates on hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells on federal lands. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management said earlier this month it would begin the process to rescind the regulation, which requires companies to disclose the chemicals they pump underground and to seal off waste water in storage tanks.
Trump’s executive order also is set to revoke six specific directives from his predecessor, including Obama’s broad strategy for paring emissions of methane released from oil and gas operations. Other Obama directives targeted for repeal include one on climate change and national security, as well as a pair of directives from June 2013 that laid out his climate plans.
The Obama administration wove climate considerations into decisions across the federal bureaucracy, from efficiency standards for microwave ovens to the refurbishing of government buildings.
The changes may have little immediate impact on the market for coal, which is facing stiff competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy, analysts say.
Even before the Obama administration imposed the coal-leasing moratorium in January 2016, producers had little interest in adding new federal reserves to their portfolios amid slumping domestic demand. The U.S. government has sold just one coal leases since October 2012, though earlier this month it approved a transaction originally sought in 2005. Existing federal leases contain at least 20 years’ worth of coal, according to Interior Department estimates.
Even without the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in force because of the Supreme Court stay, using coal to generate electricity has been in decline as a result of previous pollution regulations and competition from low-cost natural gas, solar and wind.
The removal of the Clean Power Plan could halt coal’s decline as a source of electricity during the next two decades, according to projections from the Energy Information Administration. More coal use would mean less natural gas use, EIA said.
Trump’s action sets in motion at least a year of bureaucratic work at the EPA to formally dismantle the Clean Power Plan. And whatever happens will inevitably be challenged in court by those same environmental groups.
By contrast, the Interior Department can undo the coal leasing moratorium with the stroke of a pen, the same way it was imposed a year ago, under an administrative order issued by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Trump’s targets would also reduce the role of climate change in government decision-making. For instance, the social cost of carbon metric served as the linchpin for many Obama administration environmental rules. 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.
According to shared details of the executive order, the Trump administration will disband the working group that created the social cost of carbon and return to an earlier 2003 approach for calculating the costs and benefits of proposed regulations.
— With assistance by Jennifer Jacobs