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Trump grapples with campaign promises on environment

April 22, 2017 at 3:42 PM EDT
At the March for Science in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, speakers and attendees expressed concern over President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and other science programs. Coral Davenport, reporter at The New York Times, joins Hari Sreenivasan for a closer look at the Trump administration’s environmental policies.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For a closer look at the environmental policies of the Trump administration — what it’s done and what it plans to do — I’m joined from Washington by “New York Times” reporter Coral Davenport.

Coral, there’s been a strong perception that the Trump administration wants to undo the Obama legacy, starting with the clean power plant.

CORAL DAVENPORT, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, President Obama, sort of the centerpiece of his environmental agenda was the clean power plant, a set of Environmental Protection Agency regulations that were designed, essentially, to shut down coal-fired power plants, the number one contributor to greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., and slowly shut them down and replace them.

And so, just last month, we saw President Trump put out an executive order directing his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the legal process of essentially totally rolling that back.

SREENIVASAN: You know, one of the things that people point out is there’s — it’s great to have an intention and a proclamation, but there is a totally different reality on the ground when it comes to market forces, that this doesn’t automatically bring coal jobs back or turn these plants back on, or in any way crease the roll out of solar and wind that’s happening around the country right now.

DAVENPORT: That’s true. Before these regulation were put out, they still haven’t actually ever been implemented, we had already seen a shift in the marketplace as electric utilities were choosing, due to market forces not to invest in new coal, to start shutting down old coal plants and to turn towards natural gas, which is both cleaner than coal, about half the carbon pollution, but more importantly for electric utilities, it’s also a lot cheaper. And in the long run, a lot of electric utility CEO say, first of all, we’re making these changes because of the market. What happens with regulations in Washington is not really going to change that. This doesn’t mean that we’re going to go start building new coal plants, far from it.

Eventually, they assume that there will be some kind of tax or regulation or government restrictions on carbon pollution because that’s the number one cause of climate change and that problem is not going away.

SREENIVASAN: And speaking of climate change, Scott Pruitt claims that he is not interested in participating in the Paris Accords, but he’s not exactly the person that can make that decision. It’s not a unilateral one. That takes quite a bit of time.

DAVENPORT: Yes, it’s really interesting the debate that is happening within the White House over what to do on the Paris Accords — first, because for President Trump, that was a signature campaign promise. He said — his exact words were that he would cancel the Paris Climate Change Accord. That’s technically not possible to do. You can’t rip up a multilateral accord that’s been legally ratified and signed by over 190 countries.

But the U.S. could withdraw, could legally withdraw, and that would be a huge blow to the accord. What’s happening right now, though, a lot of President Trump’s sort of core base supporters and advisers have urged him to go ahead and act on that, to announce he’s going to withdraw.

He’s got another set of advisers who are saying, “Look, the diplomatic fallout globally from withdrawing the United States, the world’s largest economy, the world’s historic largest climate emitter, had been a central broker of the Paris Accord, it would send a message to the rest of the world that the U.S. doesn’t keep its word, and that could come up again and again and again.”

And so, there is a push from leading advisers like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, leading foreign policy adviser, and we’re also hearing that this could be coming from the president’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared, who are very influential within the White House, to saying, “Look, maybe we can negotiate a middle ground where we stay in the accord but — the accord but just don’t do everything Obama said we were going to do.”

SREENIVASAN: All right. Coral Davenport of the “New York Times” — joining us from Washington — thanks so much.

DAVENPORT: Great to be with you.

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