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So said Donald Trump to the coal miners who crowded around him as he signed an executive order that aimed to undo many of Barack Obama’s energy regulations. But as we’ve seen from the president’s travel ban, executive orders don’t always mean that much. So what does this latest one mean, and how will it affect the UK?
An executive order allows the president to give orders to federal agencies and officers without going through congress. Barack Obama used them to get around a Republican senate majority that sought to block many of his policies. Executive orders are legally binding, but they must be constitutional and within the law themselves – something that tripped up President Trump’s so-called ‘travel ban’. Whilst they can be used to push out certain legislature, they’re not used for major policy initiatives.
Since taking office in January, Donald Trump has signed 31 executive orders.
President Trump has long positioned himself as a white knight for America’s forgotten coal miners. Jobs in fossil fuel industries have fallen dramatically over the the past twenty years: there are now less than 75,000 mining jobs left in the US, compared to 650,000 in the renewable energy sector. Areas that were once coal mining strongholds have fallen into disrepair, with high unemployment levels and rising poverty.
This latest order aims to slash regulations that could frustrate growth in the oil and coal industries. It also removes the requirement to factor in the cost of climate change in policy making and disaster planning. Additionally, the order gets rid of the onus on the government to reduce their own carbon footprint. Donald Trump has also asked the EPA to consider scrapping Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which compels the US to cut emissions in the power sector by 32% by 2030.
Trump has promised a future of ‘clean coal’, presumably talking about carbon capture – a currently expensive technology which captures emissions from power plants before they can get into the atmosphere. Whilst this technology has been endorsed by some high profile people – including both Bill Clinton and George Bush’s former assistant energy secretaries, it won’t come cheap.
It won’t remove the US from the Paris accord, and it won’t stop the EPA from being legally accountable for the control of carbon emissions.
The EPA is responsible for controlling emissions as long as a 2009 ‘endangerment finding’ stands. This finding states that carbon emissions are a ‘direct threat to human health and welfare’. For the Trump administration to overturn this they would have to battle through the courts – something they may well be loathe to do given their experiences with the travel ban, and the widespread scientific consensus about climate change.
A coalition of 23 states have already said that they will resist the order, most notably New York and California, who have typically led the way in environmental regulations. Likewise, environmental groups are lawyering up, readying themselves for a fight. Even if the order prevails, it will likely be stuck in the courts for some time, possibly years, before it can take effect.
But does the order have teeth? Whilst the US is still part of the Paris Accord, and the endangerment finding still stands, America will still have to control some of its emissions. To get out of these responsibilities would take more than an executive order – and would be fiercely contested by Democrats and environmentalists.
A greater question is perhaps whether the order would achieve its goals if it did pass. Would it really provide jobs for miners? Some are sceptical, with former Obama aide Jason Bordoff accusing Trump of giving miners ‘false hope’. Whilst it is certainly true that coal mining jobs have decreased, it has been argued that this is more because of automation and the growing cost efficiency of natural gas and renewables, rather than onerous regulations.
The truth is, this latest move by the US is not likely to change how other countries are handling climate change. In recent years the EU has rivalled the US as a world leader for climate change, and countries such as India and China have stated that they will stick to their existing emissions targets. There are even worries within the US that reviving coal would be a backwards move, leaving the US at an economic disadvantage against countries that instead spend their resources investing in clean energy. Paul Bodnar, who was an energy adviser on the National Security Council said ‘”The tragedy would be if we stick our head in the sand for a few years, while the likes of China and the EU and India and Japan mobilise their industrial bases to try and dominate the global green energy market,”
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