Trump faces bruising battle over coal order

A coal-fired plant in Utah.
A coal-fired plant in Utah.Except for a handful of states like West Virginia and Kentucky, most of them have committed to renewable energy targets, some at 50 per cent or more. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Some US states, cities to oppose rollback of carbon curbs in court

WASHINGTON • By signing an executive order to undo Obama-era regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions, President Donald Trump has set himself up for a bruising fight with US states and green groups who view the decision as a setback to global efforts to fight climate change.

Keeping a longstanding election promise, Mr Trump pledged on Tuesday to revive America's coal industry by rolling back regulation he says stymies jobs, particularly predecessor Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan that aimed to curb emissions from dirty power stations.

But energy experts expressed doubt his moves would significantly boost prospects for the controversial energy source.

Environmentalists fear the steps may be a prelude to a United States withdrawal from the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord and said the measures will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the US to meet its commitments under that agreement.

A coalition of mostly Democrat-led states and local governments issued a statement saying they would oppose the order in court. The group, led by New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman, said in a statement: "We won't hesitate to protect those we serve - including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump's actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change."

The coalition includes states such as California, Massachusetts and Virginia, as well as cities including Chicago, Philadelphia and Boulder, Colorado.

Mr Trump also eased restrictions on leasing federal land for coal production and spiked an inter-agency group dedicated to assessing the social cost of greenhouse gases.

Mr Trump's move to end what he called the "war on coal" comes at a time when utility companies decisively favour fuel sources other than coal for new power plants, especially cheap and abundant natural gas and renewable energy, favoured by policies to promote wind and solar at the international, federal and state levels.

"It's really symbolic," said Dr Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

"This executive order is not going to save coal because coal loses to cheap natural gas."

With the exception of a handful of states like West Virginia and Kentucky in coal country, the vast majority of US states have committed to renewable targets, some at 50 per cent or more. The push for renewable energy also has been boosted by federal tax credits promoting solar and wind, which have led to growing industries in states like Nevada and Iowa, home to senior lawmakers in Congress who are expected to resist a rollback.

Investment research company Morningstar estimated that coal could constitute as little as 20 per cent of US electric generation capacity by 2024, down from 50 per cent in 2005 and 30 per cent now.

Morningstar analyst Andrew Bischof said Mr Trump's move could give an incremental boost to coal in the short run, but it will not be enough to counteract the roughly 40 per cent greater efficiency of natural gas plants compared with coal.

Energy firms welcomed the Trump measure.

"These actions are vital to the American coal industry, to our survival, and to getting some of our coal families back to work," said Mr Robert Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy, one of the nation's largest coal mining companies.

Mr Murray, a donor to Mr Trump's presidential campaign, stood behind the President as he signed the order.

But even Mr Murray conceded that he did not expect Mr Trump's order to return coal mining numbers to their former strength.

"I really don't know how far the coal industry can be brought back," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES

SEE OPINION

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2017, with the headline 'Trump faces bruising battle over coal order'. Print Edition | Subscribe