A Trumpian Assault on Climate Change

A Trumpian Assault on Climate Change

Assessing the Impacts of “Executive Order on Energy Independence”

The tumultuous first months of Trump administration have brought a flurry of changes to US environmental policy. The latest episode came on March 28 when President Trump signed the “Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” which reconsiders many environmental regulations established during Obama’s time in office, unwinding his predecessor’s environmental policies with the stroke of a pen. By signing the order, Trump has reiterated his campaign promise to bring back energy industry jobs while bolstering arguments made by climate change opponents. Apparently, this is another Trumpian effort to buoy the struggling coal industry but, in effect, it’s a devastating blow to environmental advocates. This article is aimed at highlighting the various ramifications of the order.

US’ Role in Paris Agreement

Although the executive order did not contain any directions on withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by 174 countries and the European Union yet there are widespread speculations that Trump’s rollback on the Clean Power Plan is America’s first step toward reversing its commitment to the Agreement. Officially, the Trump administration has yet to decide whether it intends to withdraw from the international roadmap for addressing climate change. That said, Mr Trump’s order could make it more difficult, though not impossible, for the US to achieve its carbon reduction goals. Without the involvement of the US, which is the world’s second-biggest polluter behind China, the pact could fall apart.

Some of the “job-killing regulations” President Trump has cancelled include a three-year moratorium on new coal mines on federal land and rules limiting methane emissions from oil and gas plants. These are measures President Obama put in place to combat climate change and help America meet the commitments it made in Paris in December 2015. It is also important to note that unless there are major advances in technology, it will be difficult for the United States to meet its commitments under Paris without using rules similar to the current regulations.

US’ National Security

Recently, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted that climate change is real, and a threat to American interests abroad and the Pentagon’s assets everywhere. In unpublished written testimony provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee after his confirmation hearing in January, Mattis said that it was incumbent on the US military to consider how changes like open-water routes in the thawing Arctic and drought in global trouble spots can pose challenges for troops and defence planners. He also stressed that it was a real-time issue, not some distant what-if. He asserted, “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today … [it] can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

Refugee Crisis

Trump’s anti-environmental agenda will hasten and worsen the climate crisis, which will displace hundreds of millions of people from their homes in coming decades. This agenda will directly accelerate the onset of climate-related rising sea levels, drought and disasters that will make many regions uninhabitable in the near future. The ocean will swallow up whole island nations and coastal communities, from the atolls of the Pacific to the shorelines of Florida and Alaska. Meanwhile, desert areas like Dubai, Eastern Africa and the American Southwest will suffer historic droughts. Most experts agree that by 2050, we’ll see a staggering 200 million people displaced by the climate crisis. Some fear that as many as 1 billion will be forced to move. For perspective, in 2016, 65.3 million people were displaced by all causes from their homes.

Rise of the Coal

The order is intended to make coal competitive again in the US economy, by re-fossilizing the US power sector and demonstrably increasing carbon emissions. It will, among other things, rescind the moratorium on coal mining on US federal lands and initiate a review — or more rightly dismantling — of the Clean Power Plan initiative. The resumption of federal coal leasing won’t boost short-term coal production. It won’t slow, much less halt, the ongoing decline in coal mining jobs, or affect the price of electricity. It will do nothing for the coal miners to whom Trump has so vigorously pandered. Like much of Trump’s record so far, it is almost comically plutocratic policy smeared with a thick sheen of populist rhetoric.

Dismantling of Clean Power Plan

Dismantling the CPP would put the US on a higher pollution and less ambitious emissions track in the medium term. The CPP targeted a roughly 32 percent decrease in CO2 emissions from the power sector by 2030, primarily from accelerating the long-term shift away from coal-fired electricity generation. In addition to having impacts on the US economy and health, removing the CPP would imply a costly delay in implementing what in the long run will be necessary to effect reductions in our overall greenhouse gas emissions over time. In addition, the approach in the CPP was developed over many years of consultation with industry, health advocates, states, and other stakeholders. While it would impact coal it did provide a reasonable approach to reducing the most harmful emissions and steering the economy toward a sounder energy system for the future.

Dismantling the CPP would have an effect on the overall US climate strategy and will make it harder and more expensive to achieve the necessary levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the longer term.


Trumps’ Executive Order is tantamount to ceding American leadership in the international campaign to curb the dangerous heating of the planet. Other players, including big emitters like China, the European Union, and India, are aware of Trump’s stance on climate and will not be surprised by this action: most countries have committed to continuing to pursue their own climate goals, in part because they view doing so as good for their own domestic politics and economies. Nevertheless, such a retreat from responsibility by the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases represents an obstacle to the ambitious global goals for climate stabilization set out in recent years. While it is possible that some countries may in turn weaken their own ambition as a result, so far it appears that many have decided to continue to push forward. Nevertheless, the long-term success of the global approach to climate change, based on the Paris Agreement, depends on continued broad engagement to encourage a cycle of positive action. Trump’s approach threatens to break this cycle.

10 Obama Regulations Trump Scrapped

  1. A 2016 Obama memorandum identifying climate change as a national security issue, and directing the Pentagon and other agencies to “ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.”
  2. A 2015 Obama executive order requiring agencies to take steps to reduce their energy consumption fossil fuels, with a goal of a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases produced by the federal government.
  3. A 2013 Obama executive order directing federal agencies to prepare for and mitigate the effects of climate change, including “an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise.”
  4. he Clean Power Plan, an ambitious rule that attempted to set a national limit on carbon emissions from existing power plants. That rule has already been temporarily held up by the Supreme Court. If not already struck down by the courts, the Environmental Protection Agency would have to go through a new rule-making process to seek comments on any new rule dismantling the Obama policy.
  5. The new plant rule, another component of the Clean Power Plan that addresses new power plants. It, too, would be subject to a new rule-making process.
  6. The consideration of the social cost of greenhouse gases and climate change in conducting environmental impact assessments, expanding the scope of the National Environmental Policy Act. That policy change came in a guidance document from the White House Council on Environmental Quality last August, and can be immediately rescinded.
  7. The moratorium on coal mining on federal and tribal lands. This change doesn’t require a new regulation and can be implemented immediately.
  8. A 2016 regulation from the EPA limiting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Like all final regulations, the Trump administration would have to start the regulatory process from the beginning in order to rescind the rule.
  9. A similar rule from the Bureau of Land Management limiting “venting, flaring and leaking” on oil and gas wells on federal lands, which would also be reviewed for possible repeal.
  10. The BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule, which tightened standards on gas-well construction, governed the disposal of fracking waste and required disclosure on the fracking chemicals used. That rule has also been held up in court, but would require a new rule-making process to be formally taken off the books.

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