President Trump signs executive order rescinding Obama’s clean energy plans

The White House cited the negative effect on jobs as its justification.

ByABC News
March 28, 2017, 3:29 PM

— -- President Trump made a trip to the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday to sign an executive order that initiates a review of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and unravels a handful of other energy orders and memorandums instituted by his predecessor.

Flanked by coal miners, Vice President Mike Pence and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, Trump signed the "Energy Independence Executive Order," declaring the effort is "all about bringing back our jobs."

The Clean Power Plan caps the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted from power plants. The White House argues that the regulation, and others sanctioned by former President Barack Obama, are burdensome to the American economy.

"The president’s been very clear, he’s not going to pursue climate or environmental policies that put the American economy at risk," said a senior Trump administration official Monday evening. Asked whether climate change poses its own long-term threat to the economy, the official said he was not familiar with research drawing such a conclusion.

A widely-cited 2006 study on the economics of climate change by Nicholas Brown, the former Chief Economist at the World Bank, surmises that inaction on the issue and its effect on "access to water, food production, health, and the environment" could result in the "equivalent to losing at least 5 percent of global GDP each year, now and forever." Brown notes that "estimates of damage could rise to 20 percent of GDP or more."

The White House official made the case that the previous administration "devalued American workers" with its energy policies and that the Trump administration seeks to put the interests of American worker front and center.

"[The president] believes that we can serve the twin goals of protecting the environment -- providing clean air, clean water, getting EPA back to its core mission, while at the same time ... [protecting] energy production in the U.S.," the official said.

Upon the Clean Power Plan's signing in 2015, President Obama called it "the biggest, most important step we have ever taken to combat climate change," but the law isn't currently enforced. In February 2016, the Supreme Court stayed implementation of the law pending judicial review.

Attorneys general from 28 states -- led by EPA Administrator Pruitt, then Oklahoma's attorney general -- claimed in a joint complaint that the plan presents too broad an interpretation of the 1963 Clean Air Act, originally designed to restrain air pollution across the country.

One group in particular that stands to benefit from the relaxing of power plant emissions limits: coal miners.

"We love our coal miners, great people," the president said at the signing of the executive order today. "I made them this promise: we will put our miners back to work."

"Today, I’m taking bold action to follow through on that promise. My administration is putting an end to the war on coal," Trump said.

Trump added, "We’re going to have clean coal, really clean coal."

The new order specifically rescinds an Obama-era coal moratorium and orders a review of regulations affecting methane.

But some in the coal industry are uncertain that scrapping the Clean Power Plan will have any positive effect on coal industry jobs, which have steadily declined over the last three decades -- cut in half from more than 186,000 to more than 98,000 between 1985 and 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

"I think to err on the side of caution is always very worthy and for [President Trump] not to over promise," Bill Raney, president of West Virginia Friends of Coal told ABC News. Raney was encouraged by Trump's embrace of the coal industry but cautioned, "No one has a feel for what the numbers are going to be."

Tuesday's executive order does not address the Paris Agreement, a 2015 United Nations plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions set to go into effect in 2020, which the U.S. signed.

The official who commented upon the order said the administration's stance on the Paris Agreement is still under discussion.

Exactly how the Clean Power Plan will affect the Paris Climate Agreement is "unknowable," Richard Lazarus, an environmental law professor at Harvard University told ABC News.

"As a formal matter, we cannot really withdraw from Paris for about two years," said Lazarus.

He said that rolling back the Clean Power Plan "affects our standing in the world as a leader in climate change issues and we’ll have to see what the other countries do," adding that China might welcome the United States’ withdrawal since it would provide them an opportunity to lead the global issue and take the charge on clean technology innovations.

Related Topics