After Donald Trump won the presidential election last fall, he stacked his transition team with oil industry insiders and climate change skeptics who had a clear goal in mind — roll back environmental protections.
The first step was getting Scott Pruitt appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is a fierce opponent of sustainability who sued the EPA 14 times as attorney general of Oklahoma and began his tenure as director by surrounding himself with fellow skeptics and rearranging the agency’s priorities.
The next major phase of that plan began today as Trump signed an executive order that obliterates former President Obama’s efforts to deal with climate change.
The chief target of the order is the Clean Power Plan, an EPA rule that seeks to reduce carbon emissions from US power plants in 2030 by 32% compared to 2005 levels.
It was the core of the climate plan that Obama presented to the Paris Climate Agreement, and unraveling it could undermine the global arrangement.
“This plan is our best available tool,” David Doniger, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in a statement. “If we don’t limit carbon pollution, and quickly, we will bequeath to our children and all future generations a world of climate catastrophe.”
The Clean Power Plan has yet to be implemented because it’s awaiting Supreme Court approval, but killing it removes the possibility of stronger emissions standards on power plants. This is a huge win for the coal industry because it means plans for the construction of new coal plants can start without fear that they will be halted.
But for the plan to be killed, the Trump administration has to come up with a replacement plan, which will take a considerable amount of time and effort.
Trump’s executive order goes after many other rules and provisions.
For instance, it reopens federal lands to leases for coal mining, which were suspended in 2016 pending environmental and social reviews of the practice. This moratorium was widely seen as part of a broader strategy to end coal in the US.
Environmental advocates believe that even if restrictions are lifted, coal is still doomed because better energy sources such as natural gas and solar and wind are becoming more viable.
“Many states and cities in the West will continue to lead on clean energy because it makes economic sense and those states that tie their fate to Scott Pruitt’s doomed strategy of delay and deny face an increasingly risky future,” Bill Corcoran, western campaign director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement.
The order also calls on the EPA and the Interior Department to reconsider rules that govern fracking and methane emissions. Since these agencies are now controlled by people allied with the fossil fuel industry, the rules will likely be relaxed.
Fracking is one of the most contentious energy issues in the US, but its regulation takes place on the state level, so Trump’s order won’t make much of a difference on this front.
It will, however, have an impact on methane emissions, which the Obama administration had tried to limit following a major surge in the greenhouse gas in recent years.
Fracking, it turns out, is a major source of methane. A fracking leak in California released 111,000 pounds of methane per hour for several months through 2015 and 2016.
Trump’s executive order also goes after many efforts that tried to get government agencies used to thinking about the costs of climate change.
Under Obama, agencies were instructed to determine the “social cost” of carbon and to conduct environmental reviews when new infrastructure projects were being considered. These measures will be scrapped.
The order also gets rid of the Obama’s 2013 vision for adapting to climate change, signalling that the ambitious objectives of the decree will be abandoned.
“While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to act on behalf of future generations,” the action plan read. “Climate change represents one of the major challenges of the 21st century, but as a nation of innovators, we can and will meet this challenge in a way that advances our economy, our environment, and public health all at the same time.”