Trump Orders Review of Emissions Rules, Paris Agreement Fate Uncertain

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that reins in a broad array of the Obama administration’s regulations on fossil fuels and calls for a review of the greenhouse gas-cutting Clean Power Plan.

The executive order was promoted as a major step toward energy independence, undoing key parts of former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. But the order does not include a decision on whether the United States would stay in the Paris climate agreement, which could be the next battleground between supporters and opponents of action on climate change.

The order directs officials to review the Environmental Protection Agency regulations on new and existing power plants, withdraw the Obama administration’s “social cost of carbon,” which puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions, end a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land, review regulations on methane emissions from natural gas systems, end a guidance for agencies to consider climate change, and end Bureau of Land Management restrictions on hydraulic fracturing.

The Trump administration has not yet released the text of the order, but a senior White House official shared details with reporters in a call on Monday.

The weakening of the Clean Power Plan, a controversial rule that attracted a lawsuit from 26 states and was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, is the most high-profile part of the order. It ends Obama’s attempt to limit emissions from power plants that are already in operation, most likely by shutting down coal plants and shifting toward natural gas and renewables.

But supporters of action on climate change were heartened the Trump administration hasn’t ruled out staying in the Paris climate agreement, which will still require some sort of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Ted Halstead, founder of the Climate Leadership Council, an organization promoting a carbon tax and dividend system as the most palatable climate change approach for conservatives, said the impending end of the Clean Power Plan opens the door for Republicans to consider other measures.

“While I don’t think it’s good news to eliminate regulations without a replacement, this hastens the conversation about what will replace the Clean Power Plan and the Obama-era regulations, and that’s a conversation I certainly welcome,” Halstead said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Halstead said that even if the administration scales down its estimated social cost of carbon, which would justify looser regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, it cannot ignore its commitments under the Paris agreement if it wants to remain in the pact.

The White House has not indicated whether the U.S. will stay in the agreement, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in his January confirmation hearing he would like the U.S. to keep its “seat at the table.”

While the order calls for a review of the social cost of carbon, it does not address the EPA’s endangerment finding, which asserts that greenhouse gases can harm human health by contributing to climate change.

But some conservatives think the order doesn’t go far enough. Thomas Pyle, president of the conservative American Energy Alliance, which supports the use of fossil fuels, said it was “crucial” that the administration pull out of the Paris agreement and review the endangerment finding, according to a statement.

The coal industry welcomed Tuesday’s order, though it has struggled just as much from natural gas competition as from regulations.

The industry hopes to see fewer retirements in the country’s aging fleet of coal-fired power plants, said Paul Bailey, CEO of American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which advocates for coal-fired electricity generation. And the “prospects are looking better” for construction of new power plants thanks to the measure reviewing the EPA’s regulations on new sources of emissions, Bailey said in a phone interview.

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