President Trump Seeks to Undo Critical Climate Efforts

Big Bend coal powered power plant, Florida / Wikipedia

Today, President Trump signed an executive order that aims to roll back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was expected to reduce emissions from the energy production sector by some 32 percent by 2030, as measured at 2005 levels, largely by encouraging states to take older, dirtier coal-powered plants offline. The order also seeks to undo the moratorium on coal production on federal lands, reverse Obama administration policies that require federal departments to consider the impact of climate change in their programs, and initiate a new review of figures on the “social cost” of carbon, a critical underpinning used to justify regulation of carbon dioxide pollution. And a few weeks ago, Trump signaled a new effort to relax the Obama administration’s stringent vehicle emission standards.

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions standards were the two key elements of the commitment the U.S. made to other nations at the UN climate change summit in Paris to lower overall emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025.

As such, some environmental groups fear the Trump administration’s new policies may undermine the global agreement to reduce emissions to safe levels before irrevocable and dangerous warming effects occur. Importantly, the U.S. and China pledged to join the agreement together, in a political show of unity to fight climate change.

But others, like former Vice President Al Gore are confident that no move by the Trump administration can undo the global consensus to act. ” No matter how discouraging this executive order may be, we must, we can, and we will solve the climate crisis. No one man or group can stop the encouraging and escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet.”

And, so far, the Chinese have indicated they are moving forward with their own ambitious efforts to reduce climate emissions and air pollution from coal, which has likely killed millions of Chinese.

While the Clean Power Plan had been blocked in court due to lawsuits from 27 state governments, utilities, labor unions, and coal miners, it was based on Supreme Court and then EPA findings that the agency has an obligation to regulate carbon dioxide emissions because they endanger public health and the environment. This still holds true.

So while the Trump administration now indicates it will undo the Obama administration’s approach — which called on state governments to come up with their own plans to reduce dirty coal power plant emissions in their borders, rather than putting the onus on the actual power plants, the sources of pollution — it will need to devise a new approach that limits emissions from coal-generated power plants.

According to NPR, it may take years for the Trump administration to unwind Obama’s plan and create a new approach. While some 27 state governments want to see Obama’s plan gone, 18 states and major environmental and public health groups support it.

In a discussion, Richard Revesz, a professor at New York University School of Law, said: “the executive order has virtually no legal effect. The hurdles that agencies will face in the courts as they attempt to carry out its requirements will be formidable.”

A number of economists and energy experts believe rolling back the Clean Power Plan and undoing the federal moratorium on coal production on federal lands will not make coal production increase again.

The Washington Post reports: “About 30 states already have established standards that require utilities and power companies to sharply increase their reliance on renewable energy over the next decade or more. Falling prices for wind and solar and low prices for natural gas have further undercut coal’s share of the electricity market. According to the Sierra Club, 175 coal plants in the United States have shut down since 2010, and 73 others are scheduled for retirement by 2030.”

Furthermore, coal companies are having a hard time raising money in the financial markets, and many are dealing with bankruptcy, so they may have a hard time taking advantage of new federal coal mining leases.

Mary Anne Hitt, the head of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, told The Washington Post: “We’re not building any new coal plants in this country, and the existing ones are having a harder and harder time competing with ever-cheaper renewables. There’s a structural disadvantage for coal in the marketplace. That’s not something Donald Trump can wave away with the stroke of a pen.”

Furthermore, states and environmental groups focused on reducing the maximum amount of carbon emissions can be expected to file lawsuits against any relaxed regulatory approach that seeks to resuscitate the declining coal industry.

However, The New York Times also quotes one expert who believes some of those older coal plants expected to shut down could be running for a decade or more under more supportive regulations.

A few weeks ago, President Trump signed another executive order calling for relaxing Obama administration vehicle emission standards, which were reached in a 2012 agreement with automakers that “required that cars run 54.4 miles per gallon of fuel by 2025,” writes The Guardian. “This standard, up from 27.5 miles per gallon, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion tons over the lifetime of new vehicles and save 2 million gallons of oil per day by 2025.”

President Trump told automotive executives: “I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist. I believe in it. But, it’s out of control,” referring to environmental regulations. Also, Trump explained his view on fuel efficiency standards in Detroit — “he did not want an ‘extra thimbleful of fuel’ to get in the way of growth.” Furthermore, new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who has recently expressed his doubt about the primary role of carbon dioxide in climate change, in opposition to the EPA’s own findings, said: “these [fuel efficiency] standards are costly for automakers and the American people.”

But California, which has an exemption from following federal vehicle standards, has said it will stick with the Obama administration’s more stringent standards, which some 12 other states follow, setting up a legal battle. Also, the Golden state has clear targets on the number of sales that need to be powered by battery, fuel cell or plug-in hybrid power trains — they are set for 15 percent by 2025, up from about 3 percent of sales today, writes Bloomberg News. 9 other states have indicated they will join in an effort to reach those targets in their own states.

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