Issued on March 28, 2017
President Trump’s March 28 Executive Order, entitled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” takes extensive action to eliminate federal climate policies and regulations, explicitly targeting at least 23 executive actions, federal rules, memoranda, and reports. Most notably, the directive moves to rescind the Clean Power Plan while undercutting key elements of climate policy analysis. Additionally, the EO orders agency heads to review and eliminate all regulations and policies that “burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.” While some aspects of the directive will take effect immediately, others are likely to be held up by rulemaking procedures and legal battles.
In an effort to “grow American jobs” Trump is taking broad steps to reverse the climate legacy of the Obama administration by deregulating “impediments to American energy independence.” His executive order starts by revoking four Obama-era executive actions which individually strengthen the resilience of American communities from the severe impacts of climate change, mitigate negative impacts to natural resources, establish a framework for considering climate-related impacts in the development of national security doctrine, and direct the EPA to set carbon pollution standards and regulations and rescinded two reports detailing Obama’s Clean Action Plan strategies for cutting carbon pollution, preparing for the impacts of climate change, and reducing methane emissions. Those who oppose the directive have emphasized the devastating implications for the environment and public health and have fought against the job contention, arguing that coal jobs are declining because of weakened demand, mechanization, and competition from oil and natural gas; that wind, solar, and energy efficiency jobs outnumber coal jobs 16 to 1; that the order would create investment uncertainty; and that accelerating efficiency would be better for energy independence.
Clean Power Plan
The executive order begins the arduous process of rescinding Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan, which aims to significantly cut emissions of greenhouse gasses and harmful pollutants from power plants while advancing the development and deployment of clean energy. The Rhodium Group estimates that Obama’s policies would help reduce US emissions 21% below 2005 levels by 2025, but Trump’s executive order will reverse the trend and stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. This shift will make it extremely difficult for the country to meet international climate commitments and will be interpreted globally as the US tacitly pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement (the agreement, reached between 195 countries in 2016, aims “to stave off the most devastating effects of climate change by limiting the increase in global temperatures”). In order to reverse Obama’s plan, the EPA will have to justify the scientific and economic basis for their new, weaker plan and will likely face years of litigation and legal battles attempting to implement it.
Climate Policy Analysis
The executive order also radically changes how agencies will evaluate policy action by rescinding guidance which “provides agencies with a framework for agency consideration of the effects of [greenhouse gases] and climate change to ensure efficient and transparent agency decision-making” and getting rid of the social cost of carbon which allows agencies to incorporate the social benefits of greenhouse gas reductions by monetizing damages. The order directs agencies to revert to a 2003 Office of Management and Budget guidance which will likely reduce the estimated cost of climate damages by 90% or more. The social cost of carbon is the “most important climate measurement,” underlying nearly every environmental analysis and climate-related policy. By revoking these measures Trump removes the requirement to consider the climate impacts of potential policies and incapacitates federal agencies from effectively evaluating public health and climate change consequences.
Coal, Oil, Natural Gas
The executive order lifts a freeze on federal coal leasing which halts coal mine expansions on public land. The moratorium was meant to stay in place until the government could review the climate impacts and royalty fairness of the coal-leasing program. Trump touted the rescission as bringing jobs to coal miners, but it only affects “mines in Wyoming and Montana, where coal companies had for years shed jobs because of increased automation and declining coal demand.” The order also rescinds stricter design standards and regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands and oil/gas operations within national parks and refuges; this rollback will hamper the government’s ability to safeguard against negative impacts such as man-made earthquakes and threats to groundwater. The president’s directive also targets restrictions on dangerous mountaintop removal mining and a rule reducing methane waste and flaring. Mountaintop removal is notorious for its appalling effects on the environment and on human health, including links to cancer and birth defects for nearby populations. The methane waste prevention rule (thoroughly analyzed here) is estimated to increase economic revenue, to make deep cuts to methane emissions, and to reduce a multiplicity of health-related risks.
- Natural Resources Defense Council – an international environmental advocacy group committed to fighting Trump’s “environmental assault” and providing individuals with avenues for action.
- Greenpeace USA – an environmental NGO that uses direct action, lobbying, research, and ecotage to raise public awareness and to influence the public and private sectors.
- Sierra Club – the nation’s largest environmental preservation organization; focuses include mitigating global warming and opposing coal; suing the Trump administration over this EO.
- World Resources Institute – a global NGO committed to protecting the Earth, improving people’s lives, and creating prosperity through sustainable natural resource management.
This Brief was compiled by Conor Downey. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this Brief, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.