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Hot Topic: President Trump signs Executive Order against climate change promoting coal

Friday, March 31, 2017

The executive order seeks to dismantle the core policies of President Obama’s climate change strategy

President TrumpUS President, Donald Trump, signed an extensive Executive Order at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the main objectives of which are to revoke former US President Barack Obama’s climate change efforts and revive the coal industry. The Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth Order represents a clear difference in how both Presidents view the role the US plays in combating climate change.

The Order

The plan unveiled by President Trump will rescind at least six climate change measures approved by his predecessor, including a series of Orders that instructed the federal government to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Concretely, the new Order requires the EPA to review President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a strategy announced in 2015, which sets limits under which, by 2030, existing power plants in separate States must cut CO2 emissions by 32% compared to 2005. President Obama’s plan intended to stop the construction of new coal plants and replace them with RES generation, such as new wind and solar farms.

President Trump’s Order also withdraws the moratorium on coal mining on US federal lands and urges all federal agencies to identify rules that serve “as obstacles and impediments” to the development of the US coal industry. Additionally, the Order reverses rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas production and reduces the weight of climate change and carbon emissions in policy and infrastructure permitting decisions.

Paris Agreement

On the other hand, the Order does not mention the Paris Agreement. This Agreement, which entered into force at the end of 2016, establishes measures to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and limit the increase in average world temperatures to below 2°C above preindustrial times. Although the Order does not wipe out US commitments under the Paris Agreement, it also does not necessarily mean that the Agreement will not be revoked any time soon, especially  knowing that President Trump once referred to global warming as a “Chinese hoax”.

Policy and Industry Reactions

With his Order, the Trump Administration is making clear that it will follow a “new” path in terms of some energy policies and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Irrespective, the US market does not seem to be totally embracing the same policies and priorities as the new Administration: both industry and many States are pushing for a future led by clean energy.

In blatant defiance of President Trump’s new policy, the Governors of Oregon and California, joined by the Mayors of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles, have published a Statement declaring that the region “is ready to lead in tackling climate damage”.

The respective Governors of Washington State and New York, Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo, which represent the two largest States with the most ambitious goals for fighting global warming, insist that their States will push forward clean energy anyway: “With or without Washington [DC], we will work with our partners throughout the world to aggressively fight climate change and protect our future”, they stated.

A large portion of the energy industry is not happy with the change of course either, and reactions immediately followed. General Electric’s CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, said that he hopes “that the US continues to play a constructive role in furthering solutions to climate change, and at GE, we will continue to lead with our technology and actions”. Even ExxonMobil, the US fossil fuel giant, sent a letter requesting that the US stay on course with the Paris Agreement, calling it “an effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change”.

Technology companies including Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft, also expressed their support for former President Obama’s clean energy policies: “we believe that strong clean energy and climate policies, like the Clean Power Plan, can make RES more robust and address the serious threat of climate change while also supporting American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth,” the companies said in a Joint Statement.

Can a Global Agreement on Climate Change Succeed without the US?  

In spite of the general opposition to the Order, the signal President Trump is sending to the world is dismal. Even if he decides not to exit the Paris Agreement (which implies a three-year process), it will be difficult, to say the least, for the US with this new energy policy to comply with the Agreement’s requirements.

However, we must not underestimate the power and influence that States, cities and private sector have in the American energy market. The reactions within the US against the new American energy policy did not take long. Cities, Governors, and heads of the largest energy companies voiced their opinions against this new Order, what leaves a glow of hope for those who think that ending climate change is still possible.

If the world wants to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement, in the absence of US government support, the push for RES by business and community leaders must remain strong while China and Europe take over the role of the US as climate leaders in the international landscape. In fact, President Trump is probably giving China and Europe a unique opportunity to take over world leadership…


LA Times

The Guardian

NY Times