What’s the rundown on Trump’s climate change executive order? What’s it say, subsection by subsection? Where can you go read it for yourself? All the important questions. Here are the spark notes. (Short story: Trump has gutted environmental protections in a horrific way.)
The executive order is titled, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” which sounds really nice, but the order doesn’t actually promote either of those things. In fact, the US economy will probably take a hit thanks to our backsliding on climate issues. Read it here.
Section 1 – Policy
(a) The devil is in the details here. Initially, it sounds pretty hunky dory: there’s some talk of promoting clean and safe development, of encouraging economic growth, but what this policy section is actually saying is significantly less than hunky dory. Basically: yeah, we want to cleanly and safely develop our country’s energy resources buuuut we can’t have regulation getting in the way. Fun fact: regulation is what keeps things clean and safe. Without regulation, industry can act carte blanche. In other words, “clean and safe” are great buzz words, but have no bearing on what this order is actually doing. There’s also a line in this subsection about how the development of the natural resources is essential to ensuring geopolitical security. This is kind of a joke, though, because coal, for example, is not going to ensure any kind of geopolitical security in this day and age.
(b) This subsection actually alludes to renewable resources, but in sort of a throwaway way. It essentially states that it is in our national interest to make sure electricity is affordable, reliable, safe, secure, and clean. YAY! But wait…the order is also saying it’s in our national interest that it can be “produced from coal, natural gas, nuclear material, flowing water, and other domestic sources, including renewable sources.” The problem here is that there are some real issues with including coal, natural gas, and nuclear material in a list describing energy sources that are supposedly “safe, secure, and clean.” This is double-talk. Orwell would be proud.
(c) Here, Trump directs the executive departments and agencies to “immediately review” existing regulations that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resource.” After this, those departments/agencies are to “appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law.” Scary stuff. Almost every single regulation in place that encourages the development of clean energy is putting a damper on “dirty” energy industries. For example, emission controls on coal power plants? That’s a burden. And keep in mind that the EPA is now headed by a man who has been embroiled in lawsuits against EPA and is currently trying to undo our clean air regulations. (So how closely do you think EPA is going to be looking at our health and safety?) It also bears noting that this subsection does not talk about our health and safety. Instead, it refers to “public interest.” “Public interest” is a notoriously vague phrase that can be imbued with almost anyone’s particular view and agenda. Its presence here is not reassuring.
(d) Subsection (d) is another piece of policy fluff and includes the following statement, “[A]ll agencies should take appropriate actions to promote clean air and clean water for the American people, while also respecting the proper roles of the Congress and the States concerning these matters in our constitutional republic.” The sentence starts out sounding like encouragement for environmental protection and ends with a dog collar.
(e) This sets up a cost-benefit analysis that is probably rarely going to come out in favor of the environment or our health, given the subject nature of “benefit.” Verbatim (the bad grammar is the order, not me): “It is also the policy of the United States that necessary and appropriate environmental regulations comply with the law, are of greater benefit than cost, when permissible, achieve environmental improvements for the American people, and are developed through transparent processes that employ the best available peer-reviewed science and economics.” Presumably, environmental improvements will only happen “when permissible” (awkward comma placement; shoulda been a semicolon), which is pretty deplorable because that means that environmental improvements are a bonus, not a goal. Also, don’t forget that if Congress passes the HONEST Act (Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act – boy, if that’s not a loaded and creepy title, I don’t know what is), the EPA would be banned from using scientific studies and methods that are not yet publicly available in order to write and put in place new environmental regulations. The quick and dirty? If passed, the Act will handcuff EPA and sever it from much of the scientific evidence on which it relies. To the untrained ear, requiring only the use of information that is “publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results” SOUNDS great. But here’s the catch, some valuable and important research cannot be made public by law. Research premised on medical records, for example. Then there’s another catch – the Act has an astronomical price tag but a tiny budget: it would cost around $250 million/year, but only has $1 million allotted to it. The upshot of all of this? EPA won’t be able to research improvements to our environment, even if it wanted to.
Section 2 – Immediate Review of All Agency Actions that Potentially Burden the Safe, Efficient Development of Domestic Energy Resources
(a) This subsection directs all heads of agencies to review existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, etc. that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.” Yes, that is correct. The agencies are to pay special attention to our dirtiest resources and our non-renewable resources and be sure that they are protected from being burdened.
(b) We finally get a definition of “burden.” It means “to unnecessarily obstruct, delay, curtail, or otherwise impose significant costs on the siting, permitting, production, utilization, transmission, or delivery of energy resources.” All I have to say is that environmental lawyers everywhere had better be jumping on that “unnecessarily” because that word is going to be where all of the argument unfolds. Without that word, just about nothing can be done that has any sort of unwelcome or negative impact on the coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear energies.
(c) 45-day deadline for turning in plans to carry out the aforementioned review.
(d) 120-day deadline to submit draft final reports detailing agency action with respect to review. The reports all must include “specific recommendations that, to the extent permitted by law, could alleviate or eliminate aspects of agency actions that burden domestic energy production.” Honestly, I hope some smartass agency submits a report that says dirty energy is a burden to the production of clean energy. “We find that the long shadows of coal plants are directly impeding the development and installation of solar farms across the US. They are burdening not just energy production but jobs that would be created from this clean energy resource. We therefore recommend a complete shutdown of all such plants and have included a detailed plan of how this is to be achieved.”
(e) Reports to be finalized within 180 days.
(f) The Office of Management and Budget and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy will work together to coordinate the recommended actions that the agencies included in their final reports.
(g) Agencies should work fast to suspend, revise, rescind, etc. any actions identified that are burdensome to domestic energy production.
Section 3 – Rescission of Certain Energy and Climate-Related Presidential and Regulatory Actions. THIS is the whammy. Bet you were reading through those earlier sections thinking “ok, this isn’t great, but maybe there are workarounds… It doesn’t seem as bad as the media made it out to be.” That’s because the media was specifically talking about Section 3. Section 3 is awful. Section 3 is a big “up yours” to the earth.
(a) Revokes the following Presidential actions: “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change” (Executive Order 13653. November 1, 2013); “Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards” (Presidential Memorandum, June 25, 2013); “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment” (Presidential Memorandum, November 3, 2015); and “Climate Change and National Security” (Presidential Memorandum, September 21, 2016). If you have the time and interest and don’t mind spiking your blood pressure/diving headlong into rage and despair, I definitely recommend checking out the texts of those documents on the Federal Register website.
(b) Revokes the following reports: “The President’s Climate Action Plan” (Report of the Executive Office of the President of June 2013) and “Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions” (The Report of the Executive Office of the President of March 20140).
(c) And the hits just keep coming. This subsection orders the Council on Environmental Quality to rescind its final guidance entitled, “Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews.” This one hits really close to home because during a summer internship, I wrote a memo on why the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should consider greenhouse gas emissions in their Environmental Impact Statements on pipeline projects. It referred to documents and memos by the CEQ. This rescission is really bad. Really, really bad.
(d) Direct more agency review of any actions implicated by subsections a, b, or c (above) and to suspend, revise, or rescind them.
Section 4 – Review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” and Related Rules and Agency Actions. This section seems to be here just to really make sure that no pesky environmentally friendly regs sneak through.
(a) Pruitt is supposed to eliminate (ok, “suspend, revise, or rescind”) the final rules and guidances issued pursuant to them addressed below in subsection (b).
(b) The rules to which we should all wave goodbye: “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units;” “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units;” and “Federal Plan Requirements for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Electric Utility Generating Units Constructed on or Before January 8, 2014; Model Trading Rules, Amendments to Framework Regulations; Proposed Rule.”
(c) Pruitt is to review and suspend, revise, or rescind the “Legal Memorandum Accompanying Clean Power Plan for Certain Issues” which was published in conjunction with the Clean Power Plan.
(d) Pruitt has to let Jeff Sessions know what actions he’s taking so that Sessions can go ahead and gear up for legal battles.
Section 5 – Review of Estimates of the Social Cost of Carbon, Nitrous Oxide, and Methane for Regulatory Impact Analysis. Oh boy you guys, this section is bad, too.
(a) The lip-service here is to ensuring sound regulatory decision making and making sure that analyses of costs and benefits are based on the best available science and economics. (Almost sounds like a joke at this point.)
(b) This subsection disbands the Interagency Working Group of Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases and have the following documents withdrawn as no longer representative of governmental policy: “Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis (May 2013);” “Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis (November 2013);” “Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis (July 2015);” “Addendum to the Technical Support Document for Social Cost of Carbon: Application of the Methodology to Estimate the Social Cost of Methane and the Social Cost of Nitrous Oxide (August 2016);” and “Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis (August 2016).” The EPA still has its page up on the IGW: https://www.epa.gov/climatechange/evaluating-climate-policy-options-costs-and-benefits. It did good things. You can also access the August 2016 report here: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-12/documents/sc_co2_tsd_august_2016.pdf. I can’t imagine that either will be long for this world.
(c) Requires agencies to follow a 2003 guidance when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations. They should also consider domestic versus international impacts and appropriate discount rates.
Section 6 – Federal Land Coal Leasing Moratorium: Trump’s lifted the moratoria on Federal land coal leasing activities. YAY! Bring back smog and smoke and a dying industry.
Section 7 – Review of Regulations Related to United States Oil and Gas Development
(a) Pruitt is to review “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources,” which is a final EPA rule, and any rules or guidances issued pursuant to it. He is then to take actions directed by Section 1 (above) and suspend, revise, or rescind as necessary.
(b) The Secretary of the Interior also must review a list of final rules in accordance with Section 1 (above) and suspend, revise, or rescind asap. Here are the rules: “Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands;” “General Provisions and Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights;” “Management of Non Federal Oil and Gas Rights;” and “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation.”
(c) Pruitt or the Secretary of the Interior must alert Jeff Sessions to any actions taken so that, once again, Sessions can prepare to do legal battle.
Section 8 – General Provisions. This is the normal disclaimer that is in every Executive Order. I’m not going to summarize it, but you can go read it if you’re interested.