US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to cancel the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, and has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review and rewrite it. This was one of Trump’s promises during his Presidential campaign, and is part of a wider effort to cut environmental regulations.
Trump signed the order at EPA headquarters, watched by members of the EPA and a group of coal miners dressed in working clothes. Trump told the miners: “This says you’re going back to work.” However, the promise may be ephemeral. Natural gas and renewable generation have become cheaper than coal-fired power, and the most productive mines are increasingly automated.
The “Energy Independence” Executive Order also instructs the US Department of the Interior to overturn a rule regulating hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Environmentalists have criticised the move. Tom Steyer, head of the activist group NextGen Climate, said: “These actions are an assault on American values, and they endanger the health, safety, and prosperity of every American.”
The attempt to undo the CPP could take years. In February 2016, the Supreme Court stayed the rule pending a legal challenge by over two dozen states that claimed it overstepped EPA’s regulatory authority. Experts differ on whether the DC Circuit will dismiss the states’ challenge based on the Trump administration’s withdrawal of support for the CPP. Environmental groups have promised to fight the reversal of the plan.
Trump’s order will place the EPA in the position of having to contradict its own findings it cited on issuing the final rule in August 2016, which incorporated feedback from 4.3 million comments and months of meetings with state regulators, utilities, and officials. The EPA will also have to overturn its 2009 finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and must be controlled.
The executive order does not indicate whether the USA will withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. However, eliminating the CPP will make it extremely difficult for the country to meet its obligations to cut its carbon emissions to 26 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. The CPP requires a 32 per cent reduction in power plant CO2 levels from 2005 levels by 2030.
Over 21 GW of coal generation retired in 2015 and 2016, largely as a result of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
Trump and several members of his administration have long said that they don’t believe in climate change. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s appointment as the head of the EPA, has frequently denied that CO2 emissions are a cause of global warming.
Regardless of what happens with the CPP, utilities, major corporations, and many states are likely to continue their efforts at decarbonising the generation mix. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Jerry Brown issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to exceed the CPP’s targets. They said: “Climate change is real and will not be wished away by rhetoric or denial. Together, California and New York represent approximately 60 million people, nearly one in five Americans, and 20 per cent of the nation’s GDP. With or without Washington, we will work with our partners throughout the world to aggressively fight climate change and protect our future.”