Trump takes a vicious first stab at Obama-era climate policies, from greenhouse gas emissions to coal leasing.
Gage Skidmore, flickr
Almost exactly a month before concerned Americans are scheduled to convene in Washington D.C. and demand that elected officials address climate change, President Trump served up a resounding notice that he will keep working to do the exact opposite.
President Trump signed executive orders on March 28 that get rid of multiple Obama-era policies to fight climate change, including rules on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, limits on methane pollution from oil and gas development, lifting a pause on coal leasing on public lands and guidance on how federal agencies measure climate impact from energy development.
Trump’s new set of executive orders is designed to roll back policies from the Obama administration that mitigated harmful emissions and laid the framework for a more sustainable energy future.
“The greatest threat to our lands and waters is a changing climate."
“The greatest threat to our lands and waters is a changing climate." said Wilderness Society President, Jamie Williams. "We should be ensuring that our public lands are part of the climate solution, but rolling back these policies will only make them part of the climate problem.”
This is hardly surprising—indeed, Trump has frequently pledged to champion fossil fuels over environmental protection. But this doesn’t fit with the president’s promises to act as the “voice” of ordinary Americans. After all, new polling shows that more people than ever are concerned about climate change in the U.S., with a majority opposing oil and gas drilling on public lands and prioritizing the protection of our water, air and wildlife over fossil fuels.
We’ve mentioned Trump’s fossil fuel agenda before, and now we see him eagerly checking off the list one by one. Here are what some of Trump’s executive orders means for our climate and public lands:
Obama Progress: A Clean Power Plan to cut emissions
The Trump Effect: Handcuffed efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution—maybe permanently.
With today’s executive order, Trump is suspending the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, one of President Obama's signature effort to address climate change. It empowered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act. That plan had been tied up in DC Circuit Court, but Trump’s action will force the court to suspend the case and look to rewrite the rule (or not).
Most Americans want to stop carbon pollution from coal-fired plants, but Trump refuses to acknowledge the people's opinion. Photo: Mason Cummings/TWS
What comes next is unclear, with Trump potentially taking a number of next steps, including ordering EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to replace the Clean Power Plan with a different (and presumably weaker) rule, which would be a complex, years-long process.
If Trump wanted to go a step further and strip the EPA's emission-regulating authority permanently, he would have to ask that Congress write legislation to that effect. Unfortunately, members of Congress have already tried to do this many times. That legislative option could even prevent future presidents from undoing Trump's damage.
Again, most alarming is a recent poll showing how 7 in 10 Americans want to restrict emissions from coal power plants. But Trump is choosing to plug his ears and charge along with an agenda focused on putting fossil fuels first.
Obama Progress: Cutting natural gas waste and methane pollution from oil and gas operations
The Trump Effect: Killing a crucial climate rule
Trump wants to force federal agencies to rewrite the rule regulating methane emissions on federal lands, despite the fact that it enjoys bipartisan and wide-spread public support.
The rule, released late in the Obama administration, aims to reduce natural gas waste and associated methane pollution from oil and gas operations on public lands. It’s considered a major "blind spot" in our accounting of the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change and, if implemented correctly, could reduce this waste by more than 40 percent.
Methane pollution on public lands could be curbed with a smart rule, but Trump wants to overthrow it. Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Like many of President Obama's climate and energy advances, this rule already came under attack repeatedly during the Trump administration—this is just the latest front. Using the little-mentioned Congressional Review Act, Trump-aligned politicians have already passed legislation through the House that would repeal Obama's rule. It still awaits action in the Senate, where public pressure to keep the rule has some lawmakers wavering.
In order to roll back the methane rule at the executive level, experts say the Trump administration could be required to pick apart the reasoning behind the rule itself, and we must be vigilant to the Trump administration’s next steps.
Officially repealing a rule we know will help our lands, climate and communities is unpopular to the public, but Trump and Congress are refusing to listen.
Obama Progress: Reforming a long-broken federal coal program
The Trump Effect: Business as usual for dirty energy that shortchanges taxpayers
Effective immediately, Trump is lifting the moratorium on coal leasing on public lands, unraveling progress of the first federal coal program review in more than three decades. This is just one of many favors that elevates the needs of special interests in service of a ludicrous promise to revive the outmoded coal industry.
In early 2016, the Obama administration announced a pause on all new coal leasing on public lands, to be followed by a review of the federal coal program that would assess its true costs. This was a long-overdue step; for decades, coal producers have paid far below-market rates for the coal they take from federal land, leaving taxpayers on the hook for cleanup costs and enabling more greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.
Lifting the coal moratorium won't bring coal back, due to market forces Trump refuses to acknowledge. Photo: Mason Cummings/TWS
Trump is snuffing out an attempt to finally fix a broken program—an overhaul that’s been desperately needed. Coal mining scars the landscape, damages the climate and offers little in terms of long-term stability for western communities in return. President Trump doesn't seem to care.
Obama Progress: Federal guidance to assess climate change impacts
The Trump Effect: Back to ignoring climate impacts in land management
With a simple signature, Trump tells federal agencies to turn a blind eye to their effect on climate.
Specifically, the President retracted guidance under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that helped federal agencies fully address greenhouse gas emissions from energy projects on public lands—meaning that projects like federal oil and gas development were subjected to the appropriate scientific scrutiny.
Drilling on public lands will no longer be subject to important analysis looking at its effects on climate. Photo: Jon Mullen
This guidance on climate change, released by the Obama administration in August of last year, made sure to account for the “blind spot” in our accounting of contributions to climate change from public lands. Courts continue to require the agencies to develop this kind of information so the public can weigh in on leasing decisions. Thus, the exact impact of Trump’s signature is unclear and will likely just sow confusion among agencies moving forward with federal energy projects.
But Trump’s overall message is loud and clear—he will look towards climate inaction whenever possible, endangering our air, water and landscapes in the process.
Now is the time to step up for climate
Now it is more important than ever that we stand up for our climate and continue to show Trump that American’s care about our wild places. Climate inaction will affect all of us and all of the wildlands we care so deeply about. This was just the beginning of the Trump administration’s attack on our climate—don’t sit back and let this happen.
Join us in the Climate March on April 29th and raise your voice to let our government know you won’t accept climate inaction!