Trump moves U.S. closer to a fossil fuel renaissance

U.S. president Donald Trump is taking steps to repeal his predecessor’s climate policy measures as part of his efforts to promote the use of oil, gas and “beautiful, clean coal”. His energy ministry plans to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants in the future. John Dyer reports from Boston.

Trump wants to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan with its focus on renewable energy and instead subsidize coal and nuclear power. (Image credit: Tammy Anthony Baker via Flickr)

U.S. President Donald Trump wants to unwind the advances and technological renewal made by former President Barack Obama in the field of energy policy.

As detailed in a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, document leaked to the press, the White House believes that Obama’s plan to reduce harmful emissions from power plants is illegal.

“The agency is issuing a proposal to repeal the rule,” said the document.

Like Obama’s plan it would replace, the EPA’s new plan is “similarly intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel electric utility generating units and to solicit information for the agency to consider in developing such a rule.”

The EPA didn’t release a statement on the leak. But the White House is expected to release details of a new climate plan in the next week or two.

Scrapping Obama’s plan

Trump campaigned on scrapping Obama’s “Clean Power Plan”, which aims to cut American carbon emissions by 32 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. It puts pressure on coal-fired plants to close and seeks to boost solar and wind power and conservation.

The current EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is an ally of the oil and natural gas industry who has doubted the existence of climate change and filed lawsuits to block the plan when he was the attorney general of Oklahoma.

In February 2016, the federal courts stayed the plan due to Pruitt and other Republican state officials’ lawsuits. The EPA must tell the federal courts about its progress on the plan by this weekend.

Trump has already pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate change pact, saying it would hurt American manufacturing. He has said he would happily rejoin the deal if he could renegotiate it to benefit American workers.

Federal courts have the last say

It’s not clear if federal courts will permit Trump to simply scrap Obama’s plan, however.

The Supreme Court has held that the U.S. government can regulate air quality under the 1970s-era Clean Air Act. EPA regulators have also determined that they must regulate carbon emissions in order to ensure public health.

Since the courts have already granted the White House’s requested for a stay, the judges might force the president to explain to the courts why he now thinks the administration no longer must uphold that duty.

The courts are already forcing Trump’s hand on other issues.

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Trump to enforce Obama-era restrictions on methane gas released at oil and natural gas rigs in public land. California took the White House to court, claiming Trump was flouting the law. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the main culprit in climate change.

Energy industry wants clear rules

The energy industry is also nervous about rules changing. Without robust EPA guidance to shield them, they fear lawsuits from environmental activists who might be able to cite court cases saying the U.S. government should be reducing carbon.

“We didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the last administration on how to deal with climate in the regulatory space,” said National Association of Manufacturers Ross Eisenberg, whose group also filed a lawsuit against Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

“But we’re comfortable with having a policy, even a regulation, that addresses climate change. It’s about getting the regulation right.”

Unlikely coalition

This is not the only time Trump has caused waves in the energy sector.

An unlikely coalition of solar, wind as well as oil and natural gas companies have united against U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s recent call to revise how coal and nuclear power plants receive compensation for supplying power to the grid. Perry billed the move as ensuring reliable power.

But green energy and fossil-fuel companies alike disagree. They view the move as hurting them.

“This proposed rule has something for everyone to dislike,” said Graham Richard, chief executive officer of Advanced Energy Economy, a national business group that supports new approaches to fossil fuels and sustainable energy.

“If you are driven by innovation and technology, this rule purposefully puts a thumb on the scale for existing, century-old technology at the expense of modern advanced energy that is currently winning based on price and performance.”

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