Like the misguided Medieval King Canute, who believed he could hold back the incoming tide, Trump yesterday tried to reign back President Obama’s climate legacy and derail the “unstoppable” clean energy transition, by denying climate science and pledging his allegiance to fossil fuels, notably coal.
In a ceremony high on symbolism, surrounded by coal miners and sitting in the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump launched what has been called “an all-out assault on Barack Obama’s climate change legacy”.
The smiling miners standing behind Trump had come from Rosebud Mining, a company whose CEO had donated to Trump’s campaign.
It was dirty cronyism at its best.
Trump signed an Executive Order to review Obama’s flagship Clean Power Plan and ripped up a moratorium on the coal mining on federal lands. He said: “The action I’m taking today will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow our workers and companies to thrive and compete on a level playing field for the first time in a long time. I’m not just talking eight years.”
Trump promised the measures would be “bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again … we will put our miners back to work … Today I’m putting an end to the war on coal.”
It was widely condemned by environmentalists and the politicians alike. Janet Redman, U.S. Policy Director of Oil Change International said: “Trump’s Executive Order on energy is the cynical result of installing oil executives, fossil fuel industry shills and climate deniers in the White House. This is what America looks like when democracy is hijacked by Big Oil and King Coal.”
Al Gore, the former Vice-President, described it as “a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come”.
Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator, accused Trump of wanting “us to travel back to when smokestacks damaged our health and polluted our air, instead of taking every opportunity to support clean jobs of the future”. She added: “This is not just dangerous; it’s embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth, and US leadership.”
Sheldon Whitehouse, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean air and nuclear safety, added “The most voracious and malign special interest in American politics – the fossil fuel industry – has captured the Trump administration, installed its top henchmen at the EPA, and gone to work trying to unwind any environmental and public health safeguard that gets in the way of its profits.”
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, was also highly critical: “No matter what any elected official says, rescinding commonsense climate change regulations and popular public health protections will not revive the coal industry or put thousands of miners back to work.
The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, tweeted that “Gutting the Clean Power Plan is a colossal mistake and defies science itself. Erasing climate change may take place in Donald Trump’s mind, but nowhere else”.
Yesterday Brown and the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, announced they will push ahead with aggressive climate change policies despite President Trump’s flawed Executive Order. They called Trump’s announcement “profoundly misguided” which “shockingly ignores basic science”.
“With or without Washington, we will work with our partners throughout the world to aggressively fight climate change and protect our future,” they wrote.
Indeed, despite Trump, the two states have embarked on what has been described as “the nation’s most ambitious efforts” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, setting targets that are stricter than the Obama rules Mr Trump is reversing. They have pledged to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050, with half of each state’s electricity coming from renewables by 2030.
And Trump’s blinkered pro-fossil fuel agenda will not hold back the renewables revolution, with even the head of oil giant Shell saying the growth of renewables is “unstoppable”. As if to reiterate the point, according to a new Sierra Club analysis, clean energy jobs in the US now outnumber fossil fuel jobs by more than 2.5 to 1. And that trend will only accelerate.
And as usual with Trump, if you look at the detail of the Executive Order, his actions are often full of completely warped logic, no more so than with renewables.
As Richard Black from the UK based Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit notes “the Executive Order isn’t going to take the US back to an imagined golden era when horny-handed miners and roughnecks chiselled the bedrock of the economy.” Trump promises to boost American energy independence, but the “two things it will never have to import are wind and sun – yet if the Order harms any particular form of energy, it’ll likely be wind and solar power.”
Already the legal challenges are mounting up. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, seen as Trump’s bette noire, told the New York Times “he was preparing to challenge any effort to do away with regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. Such a move, he argued, violated the Clean Air Act, as well as established case law.”
He told the paper “If they want to go back into the rule-making process, we believe they are compelled under law to come up with something close to the Clean Power Plan. They probably don’t want to hear this again. but if they want to repeal, they have to replace.”
An analysis by the NYT also found Trump’s statements highly misleading.
For example, Trump said of the Clean Power Plan “Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry.”
“This is misleading” says the Times. “The rule was announced in August 2015, and halted by the Supreme Court the next February. During that time, there were about 9,300 fewer coal mining jobs.” Indeed, coal mining jobs have been in decline since the eighties as it cannot compete with cheaper gas and wind and solar.
Indeed, in an editorial the paper attacks Trump’s actions which put future generations “at risk”. “Are there ways to avert this madness?” asks the paper. “Yes. Mr. Trump’s orders will not take effect right away … There is time enough before Mr. Trump’s ignorance translates into actual policy for the public to make its opposition to this anti-science agenda felt again.”