Signalling the start of what will likely be a long battle between the administration and environmental groups, on 28 March president Trump signed the Energy Independence Executive Order at the EPA offices in Washington, D.C.
“We … start of a new era in American energy production and job creation,” he said during the press conference. “The action I'm taking today will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow our companies and our workers to thrive, compete and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time.”
Trump’s executive order lifts the ban on leasing federal land for coal production, removes restrictions on the production of oil, natural gas, clean coal, and shale energy, and, most significantly, calls for the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
The CPP, the lynchpin of Barack Obama’s domestic policy on climate change, was crucial to achieving the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Obama planned to use the Clean Power Plan to meet his pledge to cut US emissions by 26 to 28% by 2025 as part of the agreement. Trump, on the other hand, has promised to pull out of the climate accord.
The Clean Power Plan regulates carbon dioxide emissions from electricity plants powered by fossil fuels. Although the rule applies to the industry generally, it had a particularly harsh impact on coal. Trump hopes that repealing the plan will spur job growth in mining, petroleum production, and the energy sector.
Obama signed the CPP into law in 2015, but industry opponents have kept it in litigation. It has yet to take effect, and this executive order is calling to revise and rewrite Obama’s landmark climate plan. “Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry,” the president said during his announcement.
In due course the CPP will have to undergo the same laborious process it initially went through under Obama: public comment periods, time in the courts and (likely) more pushback – but this time from environmental groups. This process could take a year or more as it goes down the same legal path as the original plan.
Trump’s promise to “put our miners back to work” as he said during the press conference may be easier to make than to deliver. While carbon regulations on the industry make it virtually impossible to open a new coal power plant without carbon-capture technology, many plants already in existence have closed, in large part, due to competitive natural gas and renewable energy prices, rather than from the effects of carbon standards. Examples in point would be the Kentucky-based Elmer Smith plant that announced it will shut down by 2023, and the Navajo Generating Station scheduled to close by the end of 2019. Both cite natural gas among their reasons. Nevertheless Trump wants to eliminate carbon standards.
“The problem with coal jobs has not been CO2 regulations, so this will probably not bring back coal jobs,” commented Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming, in an interview with the New York Times. “The problem has been that there has not been market demand for coal.”
Even within the Trump team there is a counter view about climate change. Secretary of Defence James Mattis has asserted that climate change is real and a threat to American interests abroad and the Pentagon's assets everywhere, a position that appears at odds with the views of the president who appointed him and many in the administration in which he serves.
In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in January Mattis said it was incumbent on the US military to consider how changes like open-water routes in the thawing Arctic and drought in global trouble spots can pose challenges for troops and defence planners. This, he said, is a real-time issue, not some distant ‘what-if’.
International law firm Baker Botts commented that implementation of the Clean Power Plan was stayed by the Supreme Court in February 2016, pending resolution of legal challenges currently before the DC Circuit, that Challenges to the Plan have been briefed and argued, and the parties are awaiting the decision of the DC Circuit.
Environmental groups have also criticised the executive order. Dr Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute, said: “The Trump administration is failing a test of leadership to protect Americans’ health, the environment and the economy. In taking a sledgehammer to US climate action, the administration will push the country backward, making it harder and more expensive to reduce emissions. “The Clean Power Plan is a flexible and commonsense approach to reduce emissions from the power sector. It’s already helping to shift markets toward clean energy, which is good for the economy and American competitiveness.”
With this Executive Order, the Trump Administration directs relevant agencies to begin the process of reviewing the prior Administration’s climate measures. Specifically, the Order directs EPA to begin an administrative review of both the Clean Power Plan and the Section 111(b) Rule, which sets greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants; establishes a broad policy directive to reduce US dependence on foreign energy; provides that the US Department of Justice may, as appropriate, seek stay of or other relief in any litigation challenging the Clean Power Plan or the Section 111(b) Rule while the administrative review is underway; and directs the White House Council on Environmental Quality to rescind its National Environmental Policy Act guidance on greenhouse gases that requires all agencies to consider climate change impacts in their environmental permitting process.
“The Executive Order is the first step on what likely will be a long and uncertain road to shifting the federal government's role in climate regulation,” said Baker Botts Environmental Partner, Megan Berge.
• Trump’s first budget was sent to Congress on 16 March, but is likely to be heavily re-written by opponents and ‘Hill Republicans’ alike. It sharply reorders the USA’s priorities by setting aside billions of dollars to defend the southern border, while severely cutting funds for foreign aid, poverty programmes and the environment. The plan, named ‘America First: A budget blueprint to make America great again’ would increase defence spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies.
The budget would fulfil Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to severely cut the government work force, but it is virtually certain to be discarded by those Republicans that see many of Trump’s cuts as too rushed, indiscriminate and reckless.
It would cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 31%, the State Department by 28% and Health and Human Services by 17.9%. Funding for several smaller government agencies that have long been targets of conservatives — like the Legal Services Corporation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts — would be withdrawn entirely.