WASHINGTON – Declaring “the start of a new era” in energy production, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that he said would revive the coal industry and create jobs.
The move makes good on his campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama’s plan to curb global warming. The order seeks to suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels.
Environmental activists, including former Vice President Al Gore, denounced the plan. But Trump said the effort would allow workers to “succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time.”
“That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again,” Trump said, during a ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, attended by a number of coal miners.
The order initiates a review of the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The regulation, which was the former president’s signature effort to curb carbon emissions, has been the subject of long-running legal challenges by Republican-led states and those who profit from burning oil, coal and gas.
But just as Obama’s climate efforts were often stymied by legal challenges, environmental groups are promising to fight Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda in court.
Trump has called global warming a “hoax” invented by the Chinese, and has repeatedly criticized the power-plant rule as an attack on American workers and the struggling US coal industry.
In addition to pulling back from the Clean Power Plan, the administration will also lift a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands.
The Obama administration had imposed a three-year moratorium on new federal coal leases in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year program must be modernized to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change.
The order will also chip away at other regulations, including scrapping language on the “social cost” of greenhouse gases. It will initiate a review of efforts to reduce the emission of methane in oil and natural gas production as well as a Bureau of Land Management hydraulic fracturing rule, to determine whether those reflect the president’s policy priorities.
It will also rescind Obama-era executive orders and memoranda, including one that addressed climate change and national security and one that sought to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change.
The administration is still in discussion about whether it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Trump’s order could make it more difficult, though not impossible, for the US to achieve its carbon reduction goals. The president’s promises to boost coal jobs run counter to market forces, such as US utilities converting coal-fired power plants to cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas.
Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, alarmed environmental groups and scientists earlier this month when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. The statement is at odds with mainstream scientific consensus and Pruitt’s own agency.
Opponents say Obama’s effort would have killed coal-mining jobs and driven up electricity costs. The Obama administration, some Democratic-led states and environmental groups counter that it would spur thousands of clean-energy jobs and help the US meet ambitious goals to reduce carbon pollution set by the international agreement signed in Paris.
According to an Energy Department analysis released in January, coal mining now accounts for fewer than 75,000 US jobs. By contrast, renewable energy – including wind, solar and biofuels – now accounts for more than 650,000 US jobs.
Former Vice President Al Gore blasted the order as “a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come.”
“It is essential, not only to our planet, but also to our economic future, that the United States continues to serve as a global leader in solving the climate crisis by transitioning to clean energy, a transition that will continue to gain speed due to the increasing competitiveness of solar and wind,” he said in a statement.