Today, President Donald Trump signed his long-awaited environmental executive order aimed at destroying most Obama-era environmental safeguards. The order, deceptively titled “Energy Independence,” signals a move in the direction of global fossil fuel extraction at the expense of domestic renewable energy production.
President Trump’s order wipes out nearly every climate rule issued under President Obama. Most notably, the order calls for a complete rewrite of the Clean Power Plan, ends the moratorium on federal coal leasing, and lifts the rule that federal officials consider agency impacts on climate change in the rule-making process.
Though the order will have a broad impact across the federal government, little of it is immediately enforceable. The Clean Power Plan is, for the moment, tied up in the courts. When it is sent back to EPA Administrator Pruitt’s office, his under-staffed team will face a multi-year process of public comments and revision. And that timeline doesn’t consider inevitable legal challenges from environmental groups and states, who will challenge the legality of rescinding the Clean Power Plan.
The lift on the coal-leasing moratorium lift has more imminent consequences, as federal lands will immediately open to coal leasing.
But as badly as President Trump wants to revive coal, the industry’s coffin has sealed shut in the last few years by a market shift toward natural gas and renewable energy. Trump’s move is perhaps a sleight of hand to convince onlookers he is fulfilling his campaign promise to save coal. The real impact will not be felt by unemployed coal miners, whose jobs may only be replaced by renewable energy, but by the decimation of public lands around the nation.
Trump’s order eliminates the federal rule dubbed “the social cost of carbon,” which required federal agencies to value climate impacts in their rule-making process. Intended to protect communities most affected by climate change, the rule protects against “changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and changes in energy system costs.”
The order makes no mention of the Paris Agreement, an international climate agreement criticized by Trump during his campaign. Under the agreement, the United States has pledged to slash its carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2025. If the U.S. stays in the agreement, it is unclear how the Trump administration intends to meet these goals while increasing fossil fuel production.
While the executive may have little immediate policy implications, the power of the order is not found in its immediate consequences, but in its trajectory-setting results. While the world is slowly backing away from a crumbling cliff, this executive order represents a shift into drive to send the global climate hurtling toward the ledge. The loss of the Clean Power Plan will result in no federal oversight for states to reduce their emissions, coal leasing may further decimate our nation’s public lands, and the loss of the social cost of carbon rule will have a disproportionate impact on the world’s most vulnerable communities. Trump’s move today will have a long-felt impact on human and non-human life around the world.
But there is hope. Many states have already begun implementation of their Clean Power Plans. As of mid-day on March 26, 56.7 percent of California’s power came from renewables. The market is shifting rapidly toward renewable energy, with twice as much investment happening in renewables as in fossil fuels.
Perhaps most importantly, the People’s Climate Movement is one mere month away. The April 29 gathering is expected to bring people in the thousands to Washington, D.C. to organize on climate initiatives and call for policy that reflects a commitment to the environment.
Trump’s order might have devastating consequences on the environment and vulnerable communities. As we have already seen across the country, people are rising in the name of hope to prevent that from happening.