5 big things Trump is doing to reverse Obama’s climate policies
The Trump administration is gutting President Barack Obama’s climate legacy with a series of moves designed to favor the fossil fuel industry while punishing solar and wind energy producers — and Tuesday’s proposal to repeal an Environmental Protection Agency rule on power plants is just the most visible.
President Donald Trump’s agencies have also taken steps toward buttressing coal’s historically dominant role in the electricity markets, protecting it from rising competition from cleaner sources like natural gas and wind. The administration has opened the door to rolling back the stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks that are due to take effect in 2022. And Trump’s Interior Department is loosening Obama’s limits on fossil fuel production on federal lands, while potentially clamping down on leases for wind and solar projects.
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Also waiting in the wings is an upcoming trade decision that would allow Trump to sharply increase the cost of solar installations in the U.S. — eroding sun-powered electricity’s ability to compete just as it weans itself off federal subsidies.
Trump’s supporters say the steps are needed to protect jobs and American energy dominance. But clean-energy advocates say the actions imperil the planet’s future.
“In the midst of flood and fire, our federal government is resolutely deciding to cover its eyes,” said climate activist Bill McKibben, referring to the intense hurricanes and Western wildfires that have ravaged the U.S. “History will judge few things more harshly.”
Here are five of the biggest U.S. energy policy shifts taking place under Trump:
1) Killing the power plant rule
The Clean Power Plan that the EPA is moving to revoke was the crown jewel of Obama’s climate change legacy — representing the first time the U.S. had gone after the climate-warming pollution that’s belched out of coal-fired power plants’ smokestacks. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — a former Oklahoma attorney general who had sued to block the regulation — signed the paperwork Tuesday to begin the long process of withdrawing the rule, fulfilling a Trump campaign promise.
The power plant rule sought to capitalize on the U.S. electric industry’s shift away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables. The Obama EPA had estimated the rule would cut the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. (The U.S. is already more than halfway to that goal even without the rule.)
“This is a policy that the world wants and that makes sense because of market forces and a policy the world needs because, hello, we’re seeing climate change effects on people every day,” said Janet McCabe, Obama’s former EPA air chief.
EPA’s new repeal proposal echoes the coal industry’s arguments — and Pruitt’s previous legal filings — in contending that the Obama administration overstepped its authority.
Pruitt’s agency is considering a potential replacement rule, but one that would yield much smaller emissions cuts. If that effort succeeds, a future Democratic administration could find itself barred from imposing significant regulations on greenhouse gases from other major polluting industries.
2) Securing coal’s place in the markets
Energy Secretary Rick Perry issued a surprise directive last month aimed at altering the nation’s electricity markets by giving an economic advantage to power plants that keep large fuel supplies on site — a move clearly aimed at helping the coal industry ward off increasingly stiff competition. (It would also benefit nuclear power, another economically struggling sector.)
Coal is the nation’s most abundant power-plant fuel, but a combination of environmental regulations, huge surges in natural gas and wind-energy production and slumping demand for electricity have prompted power companies to shutter many coal-burning plants in the past decade. As recently as 2007, coal fueled more than half the electric power sector’s net electricity generation — but as of this summer, that had fallen to less than a third.
Green-energy supporters say simple economics are spelling coal’s demise — but Perry has argued that the trend puts the “resiliency” of the nation’s power grid at risk, endangering national and economic security. His plan, if enacted by the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would insulate coal and nuclear power plants from the low power prices that have put dozens of older plants into retirement.
DOE’s proposal, according to one Montana utility regulator, would be “the largest change to electricity regulation in decades.”
Critics say the rule could heap billions of dollars in additional energy costs on homes and businesses without a guarantee that they wouldn’t lose power when the next hurricane rips out their power lines or a polar vortex freezes the pile of coal at a power plant.