The Trump administration will scrap executive actions to curb U.S. carbon pollution from power plants and other climate measures outlined in the Obama administration’s landmark Climate Action Plan, according to an “energy plan” published by President Donald Trump’s White House minutes after he was inaugurated January 20.

Under the White House’s plan, the Trump administration will also throw out the Waters of the U.S. rule, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) contentious rule asserting federal authority over small bodies of water. It will also embrace shale oil and gas, saying the nation should “take advantage” of untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially on federal lands.

But it also outlines a commitment to clean coal technology, and a revival of America’s coal industry, which has suffered economically in the face of surging shale gas supplies and cheaper natural gas fuel.

Finally, the plan urges a “responsible stewardship of the environment.”

“President Trump,” it says, will “refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.”

A Blow for Obama’s Climate Legacy?

Issued in June 2013, President’s Obama’s Climate Action Plan is essentially a blueprint of how his administration intended to “slow the effects of climate change.” It called for quick completion of the carbon standards for existing and new power plants, (which were finalized under the Clean Power Plan in August 2015); increased funding for clean energy; loan guarantees for advanced coal projects; preparations for climate change; and international collaboration to tamp down global carbon emissions, which was partly satisfied by the Paris Agreement that came into force last November.

However, Trump may find that repealing the Clean Power Plan, which is currently under review in the courts, is not so easy. And even if the Clean Power Plan is scrapped or weakened, the EPA may be forced to regulate greenhouse gases emitted by existing power plants with wider repercussions under its National Ambient Air Quality Standards program, experts have warned.

The Trump administration’s cancellation of the Paris agreement—an accord signed by nearly 200 nations that have pledged to reduce carbon emissions to limit a rise in global temperatures—may also be fraught with resistance. On January 17, news outlets widely reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Trump to stay with the Paris accord at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. More than 600 American companies have also called on the president to stick with the plan.

“Early decisions to put a climate sceptic [sic] in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency and to scrap NASA research into climatic changes may have people talking, but as the momentum of action from businesses, states and cities continues to accelerate, it’s clear that most people are more committed than ever before to tackle this global challenge,” wrote Emily Farnworth, head of climate change at the World Economic Forum on November 29, 2016.

Calls for Action on Other Measures

While the Clean Power Plan’s impact on the U.S. power sector is still a relevant issue, stakeholders have urged the Trump administration to pay attention to other more pressing issues.

On January 19, Robert Powelson, who is president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), sent a letter to Trump’s presidential transition headquarters urging the new administration to “override the agreement” between former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Obama administration “that has kept the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository licensing proceeding in limbo.”

NARUC also asked for help to fix federal decisions that it says have “encroached” on state authority. These include: generation resource allocation choices, initiatives to integrate net metering policies, and electric siting authority. It also urged the administration to develop a new national energy strategy that includes an overhaul of the 1978 Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, have railed against Trump’s “energy plan.”

“What Trump has released is hardly a plan—it’s a polluter wish-list that will make our air and water dirtier, our climate and international relations more unstable, and our kids sicker,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.


Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)