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The Great Greenhouse Rollback Begins

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump signed his Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. The E.O. directs agencies to suspend, revise, or rescind numerous Obama administration energy and climate initiatives. Below is a quick tour of the E.O. (with some hyperlinks to primary documents and commentary for readers who want to explore some of the issues covered).

Section 1 of the E.O. lays out a policy vision very different from Obama’s. Government overreach must stop because energy development and affordable electricity are in the national interest. The first three paragraphs are suitable for framing:

Section 1. Policy. (a)  It is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our Nation’s vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.  Moreover, the prudent development of these natural resources is essential to ensuring the Nation’s geopolitical security.

(b)  It is further in the national interest to ensure that the Nation’s electricity is affordable, reliable, safe, secure, and clean, and that it can be produced from coal, natural gas, nuclear material, flowing water, and other domestic sources, including renewable sources. 

(c)  Accordingly, it is the policy of the United States that executive departments and agencies (agencies) immediately review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources and appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law. 

Section 2 directs agency heads to “review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions ... that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.” It clarifies that such reviews “shall not include” agency actions that are mandated by law or necessary for the public interest. 

Agency heads have 45 days to develop and submit plans for carrying out the required reviews, 120 days to submit draft reports detailing burdensome agency actions, and 180 days to finalize the reports, which “shall include specific recommendations that, to the extent permitted by law, could alleviate or eliminate aspects of agency actions that burden domestic energy production.”  

Agency heads must then, “as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind, or publish for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding, those actions, as appropriate and consistent with law.”

Section 3 of the E.O. rescinds the following energy and climate-related presidential and regulatory actions:

(i) Executive Order 13653 of November 1, 2013 (Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change); 

(ii) The Presidential Memorandum of June 25, 2013 (Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards);

(iii) The Presidential Memorandum of November 3, 2015 (Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment); and

(iv) The Presidential Memorandum of September 21, 2016 (Climate Change and National Security).

Section 3 also revokes President Obama’s June 2013 Climate Action Plan and March 2014 Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. It further directs the Council on Environmental Quality to rescind its final guidance requiring agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions and “climate change effects” in project reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Section 4 directs the EPA administrator to review and, if appropriate, suspend, revise, or rescind the Clean Power Plan and related rulemakings, and the agency’s greenhouse gas emission standards for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants. Similarly, the administrator is to review and, if appropriate, suspend, revise, or rescind the EPA’s “Legal Memorandum Accompanying Clean Power Plan for Certain Issues.”

Section 5 disbands the Obama administration’s Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases (IWG), and withdraws all IWG documents as “no longer representative of government policy.”

Further, when agencies estimate the monetary benefits of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations, they are to comply with OMB Circular A-4 of September 17, 2003 (Regulatory Analysis). Specifically, agency estimates are to include the consideration of domestic versus international impacts and the consideration of appropriate discount rates.

Section 6 directs the Secretary of the Interior to amend or withdraw his predecessor’s directive to “modernize” the federal coal mine leasing program and “lift any and all moratoria on Federal land coal leasing activities related to that directive.” 

Section 7 directs the EPA administrator to review the Obama administration’s June 2016 greenhouse gas and volatile organic compound emission standards for new, reconstructed, and modified oil and gas operations, and, if appropriate, as soon as practicable, publish for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding the standards. 

Similarly, the Secretary of the Interior is to review and, if appropriate, as soon as practicable, publish for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding: 

(i) The final rule entitled “Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands,” 80 Fed. Reg. 16128 (March 26, 2015);

(ii) The final rule entitled “General Provisions and Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights,” 81 Fed. Reg. 77972 (November 4, 2016);

(iii) The final rule entitled “Management of Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights,” 81 Fed. Reg. 79948 (November 14, 2016); and

(iv) The final rule entitled “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation,” 81 Fed. Reg. 83008 (November 18, 2016).

Many commentators have noted, and some conservatives are disappointed, that Trump’s E.O. does not commit the administration to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement or reopen the EPA’s 2009 Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding, as candidate Trump promised to do during his presidential campaign.

Given the weighty issues involved, each of those actions arguably deserves its own separate E.O. Nonetheless, the administration’s indecision is deeply worrying.

The Endangerment Finding and Paris Agreement are the Alpha and Omega of President Obama’s climate agenda. The one is the foundation for all federal agency regulation of greenhouse gases, the other the global multi-decadal political pressure campaign to drive fossil-fuel energy to economic extinction.

The future for U.S. energy development, affordable electricity, and limited government all remain in doubt if Trump treats those two foundational Obama climate policy initiatives as sacrosanct.