New Executive Order Threatens US Progress on Climate Action

Guest Blog | March 28, 2017 | Climate Change, Coal, Energy Policy

Given his appointment of Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – a man with a long history of challenging health-based environmental regulations in court  – President Trump’s Energy Independence Executive Order, released today, is not unexpected.

Cloaked in a patriotic narrative, President Trump’s executive order does more to threaten our nation’s energy independence than support it. Renewable energy has a critical role to play in strengthening our country’s energy independence, yet this executive order is aimed at weakening our ability to incorporate more clean energy resources into our national energy portfolio.

It also doubles down on the false claim that the coal industry can be saved by dialing back public health regulations. In truth, coal is being beaten in the free market by cheaper natural gas and cheap renewable energy.

Today’s executive order – coupled with the President’s recently proposed large budget cuts to the EPA and Department of Energy (DOE) clean energy, smart grid and storage technology research programs – makes it clear that this Administration is not serious about protecting our health, our climate or our national security.

Currently, our national defense agencies are moving forward with developing more renewable energy resources, a trend not likely to change even in light of the President’s efforts to roll back this progress. The Southeast is home to a growing number of renewable energy projects on military bases – including at the Anniston Army Depot (10 MW – Alabama), Fort Benning (30 MW – Georgia), Fort Stewart (30 MW – Georgia) and the future 53 MW solar array at the Millington, TN Naval Base (which will be 10 times larger than TN’s current largest ground-mounted solar array).

A map created by the US Office of Energy Initiatives shows how our army bases are investing in renewable energy to become more energy independence.


To the relief of coal company barons and the chagrin of health advocates, the Energy Independence executive order, takes aim at the Clean Power Plan, our nation’s first regulations to reduce the amount of climate pollution from coal-fired power plants, among other safeguards of our climate and public health. After decades of delaying any meaningful national climate policy, America was poised to finally enact moderate limits on carbon dioxide emissions from our nation’s energy sector – but this executive order threatens to stop that progress in its tracks.

Specifically, the executive order directs the EPA to not only rewrite the Clean Power Plan, but to also rewrite the new source performance standards (NSPS) for coal-fired power plants that required state of the art air pollution control technologies on any newly constructed coal plants. It also calls for courts to stay, or remand, any current litigation activities that are related to the Clean Power Plan or the NSPS, in order to allow EPA to rewrite both rules.

But wait – there’s more! The executive order also directs EPA to reconsider the “social cost of carbon” – a metric established to quantify the monetary costs associated with emitting carbon pollution into the atmosphere. What’s the big deal about the social cost of carbon? It puts a price on climate pollution, accounting for the harm caused by climate pollution and climate change. Thanks to the social cost of carbon, there is now a cost for emitters of climate pollution, instead of just a cost to the public and to the public health.

Chart of costs of climate change
This chart illustrates costs we can anticipate from climate change. (Source: National Resources Defense Council)

Extreme weather, lost agriculture, sea level rise, loss of coastal lands, droughts – all of these come with price tags and costs exacted on American families. Removing or reducing the social cost of carbon is not about energy independence – it’s about independence from reality. The reality that coal-plants and fossil fuels are major contributors to climate change and should bear the costs of their pollution.

The EO also wants to put an end to the practice of considering climate change impacts when weighing the pros and cons of granting environmental permits, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It’s clear that this Administration has its head firmly in the sand when it comes to climate change and is directing the EPA to follow its lead with willful ignorance towards the very real threats of climate change.

We can at least take consolation, for now, that our defense agencies recognize climate change and are preparing for the worst.


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