Trump signs order to unravel Obama clean-air regulations

Move favors oil, coal industries.

President Trump bookended his administration's review of vehicle fuel-economy standards, announced two weeks ago in Michigan, by signing an executive order Tuesday that will begin to undo President Obama's climate-change regulations of coal-fired power plants. Just as he said the regulations on tailpipe emissions were hurting automakers, Trump said Obama's regulations on power plants harm the oil and coal industries.

"My administration is putting an end to the war on coal," Trump said before signing the decree. "With today's executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations."

Trump's "Energy Independence" order calls for the EPA to review and presumably begin to unravel Obama's Clean Power Plan, which was intended to help the US comply with the 2015 Paris climate-change accord signed by nearly 200 countries. Trump promised during the presidential campaign to pull the US out of the Paris accord.

Two weeks ago he similarly overturned an Obama regulation protecting streams from the polluting effects of mountaintop mining.

Obama's Clean Power Plan would require states to collectively cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Despite Trump's contentions it has hurt the fossil-fuel industry, however, the plan has never, in fact, taken effect. Obama's Clean Power Plan has faced court challenges since 2014 from 26 Republican-controlled states, including one brought by Oklahoma's attorney general at the time, Scott Pruitt, who now runs the Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump actions Tuesday also:

  • Reverse a ban on coal leasing on federal lands.
  • Undo curbs on methane emissions from oil and gas production.
  • Minimize how climate change and carbon emissions are factored into policy decisions.

"We're going to go in a different direction," a senior White House official told reporters. "The previous administration devalued workers with their policies. We can protect the environment while providing people with work."

The actions are part of a larger agenda to cut environmental regulation in hopes of reviving the drilling and mining industries.

"I cannot tell you how many jobs the executive order is going to create, but I can tell you that it provides confidence in this administration's commitment to the coal industry," Kentucky Coal Association president Tyler White told Reuters.

Environmental groups heaped scorn on Trump's plans as dangerous and backward, pointing out it flies in the face of a global trend in which even the Chinese are moving toward clean energy. Christiana Figueres, former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change who helped broker the Paris accord, said, "Trying to make fossil fuels remain competitive in the face of a booming clean renewable power sector, with the clean air and plentiful jobs it continues to generate, is going against the flow of economics."

"These actions are an assault on American values and they endanger the health, safety and prosperity of every American," said billionaire Tom Steyer, head of activist group NextGen Climate.

Several environmental organizations vowed to fight the order in court. "This order ignores the law and scientific reality," said Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen.

An overwhelming majority of scientists believe that human use of oil and coal is a main driver of climate change, causing a damaging rise in sea levels, droughts, and more frequent violent storms. Trump and his administration, however, have doubts about climate change, with Pruitt recently contradicting his own agency's scientists by saying he didn't believe carbon emissions had much to do with it.

Trump's recently announced budget blueprint would cut the EPA by 31 percent, the biggest percentage of any government agency.

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