NEW YORK – President Donald Trump signed a sweeping executive order on Tuesday aimed at dismantling former President Barack Obama’s climate legacy and removing a series of regulations viewed by coal and oil executives as a drag on business.
Trump called the executive order “the start of a new era in American energy” and pledged that his actions would succeed at “bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again.”
At the center of the executive order are instructions for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review and rewrite the Clean Power Plan, a 2014 rule change enacted by Obama that aimed to slash power-plant emissions by a third by 2030.
“Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry,” Trump said, referring to the rule as the “so-called Clean Power Plan.”
The EPA’s review of the Clean Power Plan is likely to involve the relaxing of emissions reduction targets, though further efforts undertaken by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to further weaken the agency’s regulatory authority are likely to be met with court challenge.
A second key feature of the order is the reversal of Obama’s 2016 moratorium on the leasing of federal lands to coal mining companies. By leasing that land at low rates, critics say the Trump administration will have another tool to subsidize the fossil fuel industry.
Unconcerned by the appearance of displaying favoritism to the industry, Trump singed out coal miners for praise before signing the executive order, telling a story from the 2016 campaign in which he asked West Virginian miners if they would accept retraining for another job.
“They said, ‘no, we don’t like that idea, we love to mine, that’s what we want to do,’ ” Trump recalled. “I said if that’s what you want to do, that’s what you’re going to do.”
“We will put our miners back to work,” Trump said to applause.
Analysts anticipate Tuesday’s executive orders may slow down a multi-year trend of mine closures, but few predict the industry to greatly expand its workforce given that coal companies have already embraced automation and no longer require the labor they once did.
“Automation has been eating into coal jobs over a long period of time—years before concerns about climate change led to the environmental regulations that President Trump solely blames for the industry’s decline,” Devashree Saha and Sifan Liu wrote in a Brookings Institute research note earlier this year. “In the end, coal workers’ faith in President Trump doesn’t matter much: coal jobs are not coming back.”
Bolstered by those and other findings, Senate Democrats are on a media blitz predicting failure for Trump’s labor market promises and noting that the climate will pay the consequences for his actions.
“This executive order will not bring back the coal industry. Donald Trump saying so otherwise is just not a true. It’s an insult to the men and women who voted for him,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) told reporters. “We should be looking to the future.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) echoed that sentiment, accusing Trump of endangering the country’s current energy independence by reverting back to reliance on fossil fuels.
“We know that renewable clean energy is an area where we can be competitive and have a stable source of energy for America’s future,” Cardin said. “That’s now in jeopardy by the Trump administration’s policies.”
Tuesday’s executive order also instructs the White House to review the “Social Cost of Carbon,” a complex aimed at factoring the global harm of emissions into cost benefit analyses across the government. A requirement that federal agencies pursue emissions reductions through their operations also will be nixed.
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) March 28, 2017
Despite having signed a 2009 letter calling on Obama to embrace renewable energy technology in an effort to avert climate change, Trump made no mention of such technologies on Tuesday. Instead, he repeatedly touted “clean coal” as a key part of the American energy mixture, invoking a phrase popularized by a multimillion dollar coal industry advertising campaign.
Tuesday’s executive order notably excluded mention of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the accord reached in 2015 that codified national emissions reductions targets with a goal of limiting global temperature increase.
Pressed by reporters if Trump still believed climate change to be a “Chinese hoax,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dodged the question and promised that Trump would use his signing statement to elaborate on “what he believes” about climate change.
But Trump made no mention of climate change in his remarks, and made only a brief reference to the work of EPA officials to protect natural resources.