Trump set to roll back carbon curbs in US

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to undo Obama-era climate change regulations that his administration says are hobbling oil drillers and coal miners.
A former coal- mine operation near Hazard, Kentucky. People in rural Kentucky hope President Trump will help bring coal jobs back to the area.
A former coal- mine operation near Hazard, Kentucky. People in rural Kentucky hope President Trump will help bring coal jobs back to the area.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Sweeping executive order may also lift moratorium on federal coal leasing

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump was set to take his most significant step yet in obliterating predecessor Barack Obama's environmental record yesterday, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing US carbon emissions.

The sweeping executive order - dubbed the "Energy Independence Executive Order" and due to be signed at 2pm local time (2am Singapore time today) during Mr Trump's maiden visit to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing.

The order sends an unmistakable signal that, just as president Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Mr Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots. The order comes after several moves by Mr Trump to roll back Obama-era restrictions on mining, drilling and coal- and gas-burning operations.

The White House is also expected to rescind Mr Obama's order to federal agencies to plan for climate change and another to have the military plan for the national security implications.

Separately, Mr Trump has instructed federal officials to abandon the practice of factoring in the impact of climate change - what is dubbed "the social cost of carbon" - in their policymaking decisions.

The order is silent on whether the US should withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, under which it pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 per cent and 28 per cent by 2025 compared with 2005 levels, because the administration remains divided on that question.

But experts say Mr Trump's order signals that the US will not meet its pledges to cut its emissions.

The centrepiece of the new presidential directive, telling the EPA to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants, will trigger a laborious rule-making process and a possible legal fight.

Legal experts say it could take years for the Trump administration to unwind the Clean Power Plan, which itself has not yet been carried out because it has been temporarily frozen by a Supreme Court order.

The agency must first get permission from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, where the rule is tied up in litigation, to revisit the matter.

Then, agency officials will have to justify reaching the opposite conclusion of the Obama EPA, which argued it was technically feasible and legally warranted to reduce carbon pollution by about one-third by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

Mr Trump has described the move as a way to increase the nation's "energy independence" and restore thousands of lost coal-mining jobs.

But energy economists say the expected order falls short of both of those goals - in part because the US already largely relies on domestic sources for the coal and natural gas that fires most of the nation's power plants. What is more, some of the measures could take years to implement and are unlikely to alter broader economic trends that are shifting the nation's electricity mix.

Environmentalists vowed to fight the executive order in court and to press ahead with their goals on the state level. "Tearing the rules down requires going through the same process it took to build them up," said Mr David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defence Council's climate and clean air programme. "We will make them face the music at every step."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline 'Trump set to roll back carbon curbs in US'. Print Edition | Subscribe