Trump Executive Order puts Clean Power Plan on chopping block

By Anna Simet | March 29, 2017

A new Executive Order signed by the president on March 28 requires a review of the Obama-enacted Clean Power Plan, and eliminates numerous other climate and environmental regulations, including a moratorium on mining coal on federal lands.

The EO requires a review of all agency actions—regulations, orders, guidance documents and policies that "potentially burden the safe, efficient development of domestic energy resources," or that potentially burden "the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources."

The EO defines a burden as to “unnecessarily obstruct, delay, curtail, or otherwise impose significant costs on the siting, permitting, production, utilization, transmission, or delivery of energy resources.”

On the Clean Power Plan, which is currently on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court, the EO calls for a review of the plan and its related rules and agency actions, “and, if appropriate…as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind the guidance,” or publish for notice and comment proposed rules to do so, and determine whether to revise or withdraw the proposed rule.

The EO directs agency heads to submit review action plans to the director of the Office of Management and Budget within 45 days.

In a March 28 media briefing, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke discussed the EO and initial steps being taken to comply, commending the president on the swift overhaul of the swathe climate and environmental regulations made law under Obama. During the call, Zinke stressed the importance and benefits of U.S.-derived energy products, mentioning coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and alternative sources of energy,

“As a secretary from a western state, I’m proudly enthusiastic of the actions the president took, the decisive actions on energy independence,” Zinke said, describing the order as “a bold stroke on looking at our energy policies that favor both jobs, and growth…”

Zinke stressed the positive impact that scaling back these policies will have on the economy, pointing to jobs generated in small communities that only have coal as a resource. “There’s no doubt that having reliable, affordable, and abundant energy is key to manufacturing jobs…in these smaller communities in coal-producing states, there is a social cost, not supporting coal.”  

Zinke went on to deem the EO as “good for the environment,” comparing U.S. energy extraction tactics with those of other countries in which they are loosely regulated. “It is better to produce energy domestically and export it with reasonable regulation, rather than have it produced overseas under little or no regulations,” he said. “If you want to see environmental policies gone bad, take a look at energy production in the Middle East or Africa, and there hundreds of test cases that support that.”

Improved national security will be an additional benefit, Zinke said. “I can tell you it’s better to be a strong country, because when America is strong, the world is safer, it’s better for America to not be held hostage by foreign entities…”  

Zinke said he has taken immediate action to carry out the department’s part in supporting the president’s plan, which has included issuing a Secretarial Order to immediately lift the moratorium on federal coal leases. “As a reminder, about 40 percent of our nation’s coal comes from federal land,” he said.  He described the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement regulatory process as “costly and unnecessary,” and that the NEPA process—the National Environmental Policy Act enacted in 1969— which reviews environmental impact statements of coal project—are “sometimes decades long, and a moratorium is unnecessary.”

Zinke said he’s also issued an order that requires reexamination of the mitigation and climate change policies and guidance across the Department of the Interior in an effort to ensure the public continues to receive the full value of natural resources produced on federal lands. As part of that, a royalty policy committee has been established, a group that will provide advice to the secretary on the fair market value of and collection of revenues from federal and Indian mineral and energy leases, include renewable energy sources.

In response to the president’s EO, the Biomass Thermal Energy Council said it opposes the Trump Administration rescinding various climate change rules, including the Clean Power Plan, because it sends the wrong signals to the energy marketplace regarding social, environmental and economic cost of energy resources. “These actions will disadvantage renewable energy resources such as wood, which are the fuels that will heat and power our nation's future,” said Jeff Serfass, executive director of BTEC. "While many may be unaware, modern wood heating is now being utilized across the nation for advanced heat and combined-heat-and-power applications in schools, hospitals, public safety buildings, commercial buildings and thousands of residences.”

BTEC stressed that, economically, wood is a better choice for rural job generation than coal, not only because it is found in abundance in all of the areas where coal is mined, but because it is a renewable resource that regenerates itself, creating permanent jobs. "Both skilled and unskilled labor can be employed in rural areas to utilize wood energy,” Serfass added. “This includes loggers, foresters, truck drivers, engineers, electricians and plumbers.”

Democratic members of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.),  issued statements decrying the EO, calling it an abandonment of key U.S. climate initiatives that calls into question of the impacts of climate change and the social costs of greenhouse gases, while doubling down on dirty fossil fuels. “This order clearly proves that this administration is not serious about protecting jobs and our environment,” said Sen. Carper. “As a West Virginia native, I understand the plight of coal miners in today’s day and age. But the Clean Power Plan isn’t the coal industry’s problem—market forces are. Let’s be perfectly clear: this executive order will not bring back the coal industry.”

Many states have indicated they will still move forward with carbon reduction initiatives despite the EO. Following its issue, a group of officials from three West Coast states, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, and mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland and Seattle, released joint statements condemning initiatives. “Climate change remains one of the most urgent issues facing leaders at all levels of government in all corners of the world,” said Inslee. “Washington State remains wholly committed to doing our part. Action is needed now to grow our economy, protect our health and secure our quality of life. President Trump’s decision to ax the Clean Power Plan cedes U.S. global leadership and increases the risk that climate change will continue to damage our state. We can’t afford to slow our efforts, and we won’t.”