The Environment

Trump Signs Executive Order Dismantling Obama Climate Change Legacy

The President has begun his abandonment of American obligations to the Paris Agreement

In Barack Obama the United States had a President who often referred to climate change as the greatest long-term threat facing the world, and made the country a world leader on the subject.

In Donald Trump, the country now has a President who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax, and who is actively working to undo Obama’s promising work on the subject.

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that will roll back the legacy of Obama and make his sceptic view of climate change the national policy of the country.

The order calls for the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, to begin to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, a plan put in place to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-powered electricity plants.

The plan had been put into place by the Obama administration to show that the US was taking impactful action on climate change during the Paris climate talks in 2015. The New York Times describe it as “the most significant part of the strategy to cut emissions by the amount specified in the Paris agreement”.

Obama often called climate change the greatest long-term threat facing the world, and believed his efforts to stop the warming of the planet would be the most consequential legacy he left in place. The Clean Power Plan aimed to get States to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30% by 2030.

Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Naitons Environment Program, said: “This is not the time for any country to change course on the very serious and very real threat of climate change. The science tells us that we need bolder, more ambitious commitments.”

In 2012, the latest year for which complete country data is available, the USA was the second-largest contributor of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions after only China. Without the Clean Power Plan, the first ever carbon pollution standard for power plants, experts say it will be impossible for the United States to meet its climate change targets set out in the Paris agreement. The removal of the plan signals a clear intent from the US not to comply with the agreement.

And if the US back away from their commitments to the Paris Agreement, there’s a strong chance that other polluting powers – including China, India and Brazil – will take their commitments less seriously also, and the Paris Agreement could even begin to unstitch; a disaster for the planet.

Trump had criticised the bill heavily during his campaign, openly condemning the EPA and promising to bring back coal-mining jobs and indeed to develop new jobs within the fossil fuel industry.

The arguments against the Clean Power Plan have come from the coal industry in particular, with coal-fired power plants being the main target of the act. It would have closed hundred of coal-fired power plants, stalled the construction of new plants and replaced them with wind and solar farms.

However, with the proliferation of cheap natural gas and a rise in renewable energy sources making coal less financially sustainable, there’s an argument that removing the regulations imposed on the coal industry won’t actually bring back a lot of coal jobs. With more federal land set to be opened for fossil fuel extraction as well, a potential flood of coal onto the market would only lower the value of the industry further.

Mr. Pruitt meanwhile has sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general over environmental regulations, including the Clean Power Plan, while Vice-President Mike Pence has also challenged the Clean Power Plan.

The plan has been tied up in courts for some time after industry representatives and over 28 states filed a lawsuit against the EPA. It has not actually taken effect yet, with the Supreme Court ruling that it could not be carried through while in debate in a lower federal court.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh said at the time of the lawsuit: “The policy is laudable. The earth is warming. Humans are contributing. I understand the international impact and the problem of the commons. The pope’s involved. And I understand the frustration with Congress.

“If Congress does this, they can account for the people who lose their jobs. If we do this, we can’t.”

Should Pruitt and Trump get rid of the Clean Power Plan, they are legally obliged to come up with something to replace it. A full 18 state attorney generals and many environmental groups had defended the plan however, and may challenge Pruitt’s alternative option.

Repealing the plan won’t be a quick process either – with the periods of public notice and comment needed, it could take about a year.

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