The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 6

From Trump's first step to undo the Clean Power Plan to issuing a free pass to pollute wildife refuges, it was a horrible week for the environment.
A coal-processing facility in the Appalachian Mountains
Credit: Christina Richards/iStock

With the stroke of a pen, President Trump on Tuesday signed a so-called energy independence executive order that, if fully implemented, would do lasting damage to our environment and public lands, endanger our health and communities, and slow progress toward a clean energy economy that has been generating climate-safe, good-paying jobs like never before.

The executive order is an effort to stop virtually all federal climate action, whether to limit climate change, respond to it, or understand it. The administration didn’t talk about it that way, though―perhaps because they know that wouldn’t be politically popular.

Worse, the president promoted elements of his order with falsehoods and promises of benefits that are unlikely to materialize.

Take, for example, the way he used a band of coal miners as a backdrop in the signing ceremony at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Come on, fellas,” he said to them. “Basically, you know what this is? You know what it says, right? You’re going back to work.”

But a rebirth of coal-mining jobs isn’t in the cards. Coal-mining jobs have plunged from about 170,000 in 1985 to 50,000 today. Coal has been declining for years as natural gas has steadily replaced coal-fired power, renewable energy has boomed, and machines have displaced miners. Those miners need help making the transition away from coal, not empty promises.

In the following, we cut through more of Trump’s spin to deliver the truth about the energy order.

Trying to cancel the Clean Power Plan

At the EPA on the March 28, Trump claimed that he was setting in motion a process to undo the Clean Power Plan because it was a “crushing attack on American industry.”

Whatever Americans voted for last November, NRDC President Rhea Suh says, “it wasn’t to sound the retreat in the fight against rising seas, widening deserts, raging heat, drought, and fires.”

Presidents don’t get to reverse rules by fiat; they have to go through a public process and demonstrate that their actions are consistent with law and science. Trump has a long, hard road ahead of him in his effort to reverse the Clean Power Plan, and NRDC and its allies will fight that effort every step of the way.

Petitioning the court to hold the Clean Power Plan in abeyance

Hours later, Trump asked a federal court to stop working on pending litigation surrounding the Clean Power Plan. But 10 members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit have invested six months in examining the case. They should be allowed to finish their work and deliver a ruling on the landmark initiative to rein in our largest source of climate-changing pollution.

Scrapping coal reforms and ending a moratorium on new coal mining on public lands

The president’s executive order did away with the current review of the federal coal program and lifted a moratorium imposed by President Obama on new leases for coal mining on public lands. This derails the effort to overhaul a broken federal leasing program that’s shortchanged taxpayers to the tune of more than $30 billion, according to NRDC senior advocate Theo Spencer.

Further, the administration is reconstituting an industry-driven commission that will assume greater authority over federal coal resources, even though this is an industry that is, as Reuters pointed out, awash in reserves.

Bottom line: Coal isn’t coming back.

Dismissing the social cost of carbon and the federal team that calculated the costs

The president got rid of a multiagency group that, under President Obama, estimated the costs of carbon pollution and the benefits of reducing it, known as the social cost of carbon. And he eliminated the social cost of carbon estimate altogether. Why? Cost-benefit analyses of proposed rules have consistently shown that air pollution causes death, illness, and economic damage that far exceed the costs of cleaning it up, according to NRDC senior attorney Ben Longstreth.

Eliminating fracking safety standards

The president’s order also begins the process to repeal standards for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands and methane limits for new oil and gas fracking anywhere. That endangers our public lands and neighboring communities. It would also worsen climate change because methane is heat-trapping gas even more potent than CO2. “This is just one more example of where President Trump’s loyalties lie—with polluters, not the people,” says Suh.

Issuing a free pass to pollute America’s wildlife refuges

The order also basically grants drillers impunity if they pollute and spill oil and gas in wildlife refuges. “The administration is re-creating a rigged system that favors the fossil fuel industry above all other concerns, allowing toxic pollution that threatens human and wildlife health to continue,” notes NRDC’s Bobby McEnaney, senior deputy director of the Western Renewable Energy Project.

Pruitt’s misleading claims about China and India on climate

Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, also jumped into the truth-free fray. In a March 26 appearance on ABC, Pruitt called the Paris climate agreement “a bad deal” because China and India, big CO2 emitters, “got away scot-free.”

The fact is, China has just established its first mandatory national limit on coal consumption for 2017 and is racing to add renewable power, says Han Chen, an international climate advocate in NRDC’s International and Climate programs. India, as well, has stepped up its massive construction of solar and wind power sites.

In this era where our health and environment are under assault by Trump and congressional Republicans, NRDC has prepared a list of other far-ranging threats. And we will be vigilantly monitoring and reporting on the administration’s attack on the environment through Trump Watch.

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