President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday afternoon, following through on his campaign promise to roll back Obama-era environmental protections intended to combat climate change.
The Trump administration’s “Energy Independence” order essentially begins the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which limits greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants. It was former President Barack Obama’s signature legislation for restricting the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
In courting miners on the campaign trail, Trump condemned his predecessor’s environmental policies as an assault on American workers in the coal industry. His rhetoric made no allowances for jobs that might be created in renewable energy. In 2015, Fortune Magazine calculated there were twice as many Americans working in the solar-power industry as coal miners.
While introducing Trump at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters, Vice President Mike Pence said, “The war on coal is over. Everyone here knows the truth that affordable, abundant and reliable energy powers the American economy.”
Trump celebrated the signing of the executive order as the start of “a new era” in U.S. energy production and job creation.
“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, fellas. It’s been a long time. I’m not just talking about eight years. I’m talking about a lot longer than eight years,” Trump said.
Earlier Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the executive order directs all agencies to review all regulations, rules, policies and guidance documents that hinder domestic energy production and identify those that are not mandated by law or contributing to the public welfare.
“For too long, the federal government has acted as a barrier to energy independence and innovation. By reducing unnecessary regulatory obstacles, we’ll free up American energy companies to responsibly use our vast energy resources,” Spicer said.
In anticipation of the executive order, Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said Tuesday morning that she will not surrender “our children’s future” to profits for the coal and natural gas industry without a fight.
“This is an all-out assault on the protections we need to avert climate catastrophe. It’s a senseless betrayal of our national interests. And it’s a shortsighted attempt to undermine American clean energy leadership,” Suh said in a statement.
“Trump is sacrificing our future for fossil fuel profits — and leaving our kids to pay the price. This would do lasting damage to our environment and public lands, threaten our homes and health, hurt our pocketbooks and slow the clean energy progress that has already generated millions of good-paying jobs.”
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) president Gene Karpinski also weighed in:
“Rolling back these public health protections shows Trump cares more about big polluters than the well-being of our communities. There is no excuse for unsafe drinking water, dirty air, more asthma attacks in kids, and increased extreme weather events that destroy homes and livelihoods,” he said. “Donald Trump may care more about corporate interests, but the people of this country care about a safe, clean and healthy environment, and they will not let him get away with destroying it.”
Former Vice President and climate champion Al Gore released a statement saying the “discouraging” executive order is a misguided step away from a sustainable carbon-free future.
“It is essential, not only to our planet, but also to our economic future, that the United States continues to serve as a global leader in solving the climate crisis by transitioning to clean energy, a transition that will continue to gain speed due to the increasing competitiveness of solar and wind,” Gore said.
Annie Leonard, Greenpeace’s USA executive director, said the executive order provides further evidence that Trump is not a leader but “a fossil fuel industry stooge with a presidential pen.”
She went on to say, “Thankfully, for all his bluster, the best Trump can do is delay America’s inevitable transition to clean energy, but he can’t stop it. The problem, of course, is how much devastation his administration will inflict on the climate, vulnerable communities and the environment in the meantime.”
The CPP is the centerpiece of Obama’s efforts to fight climate change. It’s also the key to U.S. compliance with the landmark Paris Agreement, in which 194 countries pledged to reduce carbon emissions to limit the increase in average global temperature to below 2°C. That the dismantling of the CPP disrupts the Paris Agreement is not likely to be a big concern for Trump, since he has vowed to pull the United States from the accord anyway.
A senior administration official told reporters Tuesday, “The previous administration devalued workers by the policies. We’re saying we can do both. We can protect the environment and provide people with work and keep the economy growing. And that’s the policy agenda we’re going to try to focus on.”
But scientists say that climate change will have serious economic consequences, in the form of rising sea levels and more disastrous hurricanes. The White House official could not respond when asked what the administration makes of those economic arguments.
“Again, you’ll have to talk to those scientists. Maybe I can talk to you afterward. I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about,” the official said.
Trump once characterized himself as being an environmentalist “to a large extent” but his actions and rhetoric paint a drastically different picture. In fact, that same day he signed executive orders advancing the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
In December, more than 2,300 scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize winners, signed an open letter beseeching Trump to respect scientific research and rely upon it when shaping policy.
The former real estate magnate went on to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry and sued the EPA more than a dozen times, to lead that very agency. Pruitt recently said he does not think carbon dioxide is the primary driver of climate change. Trump’s secretary of state is former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, whose company has been accused of leading a campaign to deny climate change as far back as the 1970s — although ironically, its public stance now (acknowledging that “the risk of climate change is real and the risk warrants action”) would seem to put it to the left of the administration on this issue.
Trump has variously called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China to make the U.S. uncompetitive in manufacturing and claimed “nobody really knows” if it’s real. Neither claim is accurate. The overwhelming majority of scientific organizations say the scientific evidence of the climate system’s warming is incontrovertible.
For instance, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the U.K. Royal Society, the Science Council of Japan and other international science organizations signed a joint statement affirming the reality of climate change back in 2005.
“Climate change is real. There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring,” the statement reads. “The evidence comes from direct measurements of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes to many physical and biological systems. It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities.”
Independent analyses from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the Earth’s average surface temperatures in 2016 were the warmest since record-keeping began in 1880. It was the third consecutive year that the global temperatures set a new record for warmth.
Amid such dire data, 21 young Americans, who range in age from 9 to 20, have taken it upon themselves to force the federal government to protect the environment. The group filed a lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015. They argue that the U.S. government’s actions contributing to climate change violate the younger generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and amount to a failure to protect public trust resources. The case is expected to go to trial sometime this year.
Joanne Spalding, the chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club, said the lawsuit is especially important given the Trump administration’s apparent denial of climate science.
“The Juliana case essentially says no matter what the statutes require of the EPA or other agencies, there is this fundamental right to a life-sustaining climate and that the federal government has a duty to protect that,” Spalding told Yahoo News. “It’s really groundbreaking.”
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