Trump begins tearing up Obama’s years of progress on tackling climate change
Donald Trump will launch a major assault on Barack Obama’s climate change legacy with a series of orders that undermine America’s commitment to the Paris agreement.
Asked by the Guardian if Trump accepted the science of manmade climate change, a senior White House official replied: “Sure, yes, I guess, I think the president understands the disagreement over the policy response and you’ll see that in the order tomorrow. We’re taking a different path.”
Trump will sign executive orders and presidential memoranda on Tuesday that suspend, rescind or review several measures that were central to Obama’s effort to combat global warming. It includes a review of the clean power plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.
Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax”, has criticised the power-plant rule and others as placing an unnecessary burden on American workers and the struggling US coal industry.
The official acknowledged the orders’ effects would not be immediate, especially in view of legal challenges. “I would bet a good deal I’m sure there’ll be litigation … Whether that’s three years, two years or one year, I don’t know. It’s going to take some time.”
Trump will also aim to wipe out Obama’s climate action plan, the 2013 directive outlining the government’s response to climate change. His orders will lift a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, while a major hydraulic fracturing regulation will be reviewed.
Guidelines published by the White House Council on Environmental Quality last August will be rescinded. Estimates of the social costs of carbon and other greenhouses gases will be overturned because they were not put out in “a transparent fashion”, the official said.
Aides insisted the official speak without being named, despite Trump’s past criticism of the use of unnamed sources. The official said the measures were aimed at achieving the goal of energy independence. “We want to take our own course and do it in our own fashion.”
Climate change is “an issue that deserves attention but again I think the president’s been very clear he’s not going to pursue a climate or environmental policies that put the US economy at risk”, he said. “It’s very simple.”
Trump and his allies, including Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency, have previously criticised the 2016 Paris climate accord involving nearly 200 countries. The official said on Monday: “In terms of the Paris agreement, whether we stay in or not is still under discussion.”
Asked what message he wanted to send to major carbon producers such as China and India, the official said: “I think the United States is going to pursue its interests as it sees fit. I think the president’s been very clear about having an America-first energy policy. We have a lot of energy in this country and the president wants to continue to remove any obstacles so we can produce.”
The official was pressed by reporters on how climate change should be tackled. He said: “One, you’ve got to make sure you have a strong economy. You’ve got to make sure you have people who are actually working. To the extent that the economy is strong and growing and in prosperity, that’s the best way to protect the environment.”
He said natural gas, clean coal, nuclear and renewables were part of the mix but added: “Look globally. The more prosperous the economies … if you compare the United States to other economies, we have a cleaner, healthier environment than other countries that don’t. I mean, look at China.”
The official insisted: “The previous administration devalued workers by their policies. We’re saying we can do both: we can protect the environment and provide people with work and keep the economy going and that’s the policy agenda we’re going to focus on.”
The 2015 clean power plan has been on hold since 2016 while a federal appeals court considers a challenge by coal-friendly states and more than 100 companies. The attempt to roll it back completely will meet with fierce opposition.
Tomás Carbonell, director of regulatory policy and senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the White House must adhere to the same process of public notice and comment that was followed in adopting the plan, which took almost two years.
“Large majorities of Americans in red and blue states alike support strong action to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants, and the clean power plan is supported by a broad and diverse coalition of states, municipalities, power companies, leading businesses, consumer advocates, faith organizations and many others,” he said.
“These supporters will turn out in force to oppose the administration’s outrageous attack on the United States’ only nationwide limits on carbon pollution from power plants – safeguards that are essential to protecting our public health, securing a clean energy economy and yielding a safer climate for our children.”
Travis Nichols, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said: “This proposed executive order gives us further proof that Trump isn’t a leader, he’s just a fossil fuel industry stooge with a presidential pen. Thankfully, for all his bluster, the best Trump can do is delay America’s inevitable transition to clean energy, but he can’t stop it.
“The problem, of course, is how much devastation his administration will inflict on the climate, vulnerable communities and the environment in the meantime. With this proposed executive order the Trump administration is simply putting America further behind in the global race towards a renewable future.”
The American Sustainable Business Council said: “Businesses want action that addresses climate change. They know that rolling back the clean power plan without a meaningful alternative in its place, like a carbon fee, will make climate change worse. That will further hurt economic growth.
“The business community is looking for real leadership on climate change, and so far all we’ve seen are decisions from the polluters’ playbook.”