… or will climate change trump us all?
Outgoing President Obama probably did not say to his replacement, “Good luck erasing everything I’ve done!”, but he might have thought it. Four days before April Fool’s Day (not on the day, alas), Trump signed an Executive Order aimed at dismantling Obama-era climate policies.
Just what does this Executive Order entail? Importantly, Trump targeted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA was created in 1970 under President Nixon for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment. With a staff including engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists, the EPA had become the main US agency in charge of tackling climate change.
Already, only a few days after taking office, President Trump had ordered mentions of Obama era climate change policy deleted from the EPA and other agencies’ websites. To administer the agency he named Scott Pruitt, a climate change sceptic and avowed opponent of the EPA!
Trump’s directive of March 28, entitled Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, instructs agencies to
“review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources”
and to submit a report detailing recommendations to “alleviate or eliminate aspects of agency actions that burden domestic energy production”.
Out goes any obligation to protect health, the environment or the climate. Boosting USA energy production is the goal.
Trump’s executive order rescinds President Obama’s most important actions for climate and the environment, including setting Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards, Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development, Climate Action Plan and Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. Trump’s order lifts Obama’s moratorium on new coal leasing on Federal lands, and asks the Secretary of the Interior to review rules pertaining to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), management of oil and gas rights and waste prevention, with a view to rescinding them.
“With today’s executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced as he signed the order.
Obama’s Climate Action Plan focused on cutting coal pollution, curbing greenhouse gases including methane, preparing infrastructure for the impact of climate change and a commitment to protect forests.
Obama’s Clean Power Plan would have reduced CO2 emissions from existing power plants by 32% by 2030 – the equivalent of taking 166 million cars off the road for a year. The reduced emissions of toxic air pollutants would have prevented over 1,500 premature deaths annually. The rescission of this Plan threatens not only the US ability to comply with its emission reduction pledge under the Paris Agreement, but also to protect the physical and economic well-being of its citizens. (This rule was already temporarily suspended due to court action by industry groups and states).
The Clean Air Act is a United States federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level. It is one of the United States’ first and most influential modern environmental laws, and one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. The Clean Air Act could also regulate greenhouse gases thanks to a 2009 endangerment finding, in which the EPA showed that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a risk to human health.
Coal Leasing Moratorium
“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump announced as he signed the order ending Obama’s freeze on granting new coal leases on Federal lands. “We’re going to have clean coal — really clean coal.” But without carbon capture and storage (CCS), an unproven technology that may never be economical, there is no such thing as clean coal. And the jobs Trump has promised to the coal miners are unlikely to materialize. The demand for coal has been in sharp decline due to competition from cheap natural gas from fracking, and the growth of renewables. And electric shovels have replaced the pickaxe.
The tailpipe pollution regulations were among Mr. Obama’s major initiatives to reduce global warming. They would have forced automakers to build passenger cars that achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, compared with about 36 miles per gallon today. Eventually achieving those targets would have drastically reduced the nation’s vehicle tailpipe pollution, which accounts for about a third of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions
Pruitt’s EPA may even sue the state of California for having its own, stricter, tailpipe standards.
Trump’s proposed budget would slash EPA and other climate and environment monitoring agencies by 31%.
The degree to which Trump will have is way is not certain. Some decisions will certainly be contested in the courts. Some changes must be approved by Congress. Congress also has the final say about the budget, and although the Republicans have a majority in both houses, there could be some room for negotiation.
Nevertheless, this is not a time for optimism. To meet US climate goals, overall greenhouse gas emissions need to fall 80 percent or more by 2050. The US accounts for 15% of global emissions.
Even under President Obama, US climate policy was far too weak to meet our pledged goals and to hope to avoid 2°C global warming. The Trump administration’s trashing of Obama’s climate policies puts the world at serious risk.