On Tuesday, President Donald Trump made good on his campaign promise to roll back clean energy regulations with an executive order that aims to boost energy independence and the economy.
It was also, in part, an effort to revive the coal industry, he said.
“Over the past two years, I’ve spent time with the miners all over America. They told me about the efforts to shut down their mines, their communities and their very way of life,” Trump said at a signing ceremony, hosted at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. “I made this promise. We will put our miners back to work.”
Many provisions in the order target fossil fuel regulations created during the last administration, most notably those in the Clean Power Plan, but some aim to rescind pre-Obama measures as well. Trump said the order will bolster fossil fuel production, namely oil, natural gas, clean coal and shale energy.
Yet at the same time, Trump and other members of his administration promised a future with clean air and clean water under the new order.
Can Trump’s executive order deliver on coal jobs and a clean environment?
Let’s look at some numbers:
Starting in late 2013, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency moved to curb carbon emissions from existing and future power plants with a set of new standards under section 111 of the Clean Air Act. This section, instituted in 1970, had called for controlling air pollution from stationary sources. Obama’s tweaks, otherwise known as the Clean Power Plan, aimed to expand these pollution regulations to include carbon emissions. The endgame: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants so they’re 32 percent lower in 2030 than they were in 2005.
- Trump’s order calls for a review of the final rules issued by Obama on October 23, 2015. The review will be conducted by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who “as soon as practicable” will “suspend, revise, or rescind” elements of the rules that do not fit with the overall goal of boosting energy independence.
Why it matters
- The Clean Power Plan set individual emissions goals for 47 states.
- The plan is viewed by most experts as a necessary move for America to meet its greenhouse gas reduction commitments for the Paris Climate Agreement, which Obama ratified in September.
Why it’s included
- Coal-fired power takes a major hit under the Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated a 26 percent — or 230 million ton — reduction in U.S. coal output from 2015 to 2040 with the implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
- The Trump administration argues electricity prices will rise double digits without coal production, though this assessment relies on a report paid for by a coal lobby.
- Note: Even without the Clean Power Plan, the EIA projected coal production to remain at 2015 levels over the same time period.
What happens next
- Pruitt hops onto the long, laborious road that is environmental rulemaking. Any new rule will require a period of public comment and judicial review. In the first go around, the Clean Power Plan received more than four million comments. The Supreme Court ultimately blocked its enforcement. No timeframe is set for Pruitt’s review.
- The New Plant Rule, which essentially requires new power plants to possess carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS), will also be reviewed. CCS is an expensive and emerging innovation. Only one power plant in the U.S. has employed CCS on a large-scale.
- By pitting fossil fuel development against carbon pollution, the EPA will most certainly face lawsuits from environmentalists.
- To avoid petitions, Pruitt may opt for fewer strict restrictions for coal plants, rather than a total repeal of regulations.
The Clean Power Plan isn’t the sole policy under review. The executive order calls on all agencies to pinpoint any policies that “burden the safe, efficient development of domestic energy resources.” The order calls for a review of regulations related to oil and gas production as well as methane pollution.
- Burden in this case “means to unnecessarily obstruct, delay, curtail, or otherwise impose significant costs on the siting, permitting, production, utilization, transmission, or delivery of energy resources.”
Why it matters
- The rumor is Obama stashed billions of dollars for climate initiatives across dozens of agencies to prevent the wholesale reversal of his climate legacy.
- The executive order immediately rescinds older policies, including an executive direction to specifically consider climate change and greenhouse gas emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act, which Richard Nixon signed into law in 1970. The bill calls on all federal agencies to monitor and limit their ecological footprint by filing regular environmental assessments and impacts statements.
What happens next
- Agencies have 45 days to tell the director of the Office of Management and Budget about how they plan to execute the review of their policies, 120 days to submit a final draft of potential cuts and 180 days to finalize the cuts, unless the OMB director agrees to an extension.
The executive order removes a 2016 moratorium on leasing federal lands for coal production, which Obama established “as part of a broad environmental and economic review to ensure royalties from lease deals provide fair returns to taxpayers,” according to Reuters. The Bureau of Land Management, a subagency of the Department of Interior, is responsible for issuing leases for fossil fuel development.
“Our nation can’t run on pixie dust and hope, and the last eight years showed that,” Interior secretary Ryan Zinke said Tuesday as Trump signed the executive order. “It’s better to produce energy here under reasonable regulation than watch it get produced overseas with none.”
Zinke said Native American communities in his home state of Montana rely on coal jobs and America’s strength depends on energy independence.
- The Interior secretary will begin reversing “any and all moratoria on Federal land coal leasing activities” as far as “applicable laws and regulations” will allow.
- The move opens up an estimated 570 million acres for coal mining.
Why it matters
- In 2012, coal production on federal lands generated about $16.9 billion in revenue, $10.3 billion in value added to the economy and supported approximately 80,000 jobs (0.06 percent of all U.S. employment), according to the EIA.
What happens next
- It’s unclear if the federal coal leasing program can recuperate coal mining jobs. Due to falling prices, coal producers had lost interest in federal lands prior to Obama’s moratorium, according Bloomberg. Market forces largely outside of the control of the administration — such as automation plus competition from energy sources like natural gas and renewables — are also dampening the future prospects of the coal industry.
In 2015, a dozen federal agencies accepted the economic cost of producing one tonne of carbon to be $36. This social cost of carbon has been used to set nearly 80 regulations on energy and transportation.
- Trump’s executive order calls for a review of the social costs of carbon plus other air pollutants like nitrous oxide and methane.
- When asked if he thought these changes might have a negative impact on the economy, a senior White House Official said Monday “he’d like to see the research.” Trump believes in man-made climate change, the official said. It’s the “extent” and “over what period of time” that the administration questions.
- “The president, by his signature today, is rejecting the narrative that this country cannot be pro-energy and pro-environment,” EPA director Pruitt said.
Why it matters
- The social cost helps officials account for the long-term health and property damage caused by carbon, nitrous oxide and methane pollution.
- For instance, even if humans meet the Paris agreement target and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, sea levels may still rise up to 20 feet and completely reshape the U.S. coast.
- Sea level rise could cost the U.S. up to $500 billion through 2100, excluding damage caused by storm surges, according to a report in Science. Individual people in high-risk areas for rising seas may shell out $1 million to deal with sea level rise.
- Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a statement that implementing the Clean Power Plan alone would prevent 90,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths every year once fully in place.
Editor’s note: We updated this story to clarify that the energy independence executive order calls for the rescission of an executive direction under the National Environmental Policy Act, and not the whole bill.