U.S. Climate Actions Can’t Be Stopped With the Stroke of a Pen

President Trump’s executive orders on climate change can’t stop U.S. action on climate change or progress on the Paris Agreement. Final rules can’t be undone with the stroke of a pen and market dynamics will continue to shift the U.S. to a clean energy economy despite President Trump’s efforts.

Countries show that they will continue to move forward on climate at the international talks in Nov. Photo by John Englart.

President Trump has issued a sweeping set of directives that attempt to undercut the U.S. Climate Action Plan. These orders include directives that aim to weaken the Clean Power Plan which sets carbon limits on the power sector, review the existing carbon pollution standards for passenger vehicles, change how climate change is factored into new standards, and other measures.  

As my colleague put it, “As destructive as it aspires to be, however, Trump’s executive order cannot erase Clean Air Act standards and other climate protection rules by itself…They can tear down these regulations only using the same legal process it took to build them. Their final decisions must pass muster in the courts.”

Regulations aren’t replaced or repealed by the stroke of a president’s pen

For the Clean Power Plan and other rules, Trump’s executive order is just the beginning. An executive order cannot by itself change a final regulation. Here are the steps they are required to undertake to rescind or weaken a regulation:

  • Each regulation is developed through a proposal, public hearings, analysis of public comments, and final issuance with a compelling legal and factual rationale. Revoking or modifying a regulation requires that agencies follow the same procedure, which will take months or even years. The public must be given the opportunity to participate. Millions of Americans wrote the EPA in support of the Clean Power Plan and millions rallied across the country to keep and strengthen these climate protections on inauguration weekend.
  • Any final change is then subject to judicial review, allowing NRDC and others to challenge Trump administration decisions that violate underlying laws like the Clean Air Act and our energy efficiency and fuel economy laws.

We will use all the tools at our disposal to protect the current climate safeguards at every step of this process. We will marshal the strongest possible legal and scientific arguments on why new proposed rules do not meet the responsibilities under the Clean Air Act, we will help Americans flood the EPA with public comments calling for action, and we will take them to court if they issue final decisions revoking or weakening these vital climate protection rules.

Clean energy economy is coming, despite Trump’s pen

President Trump’s pen (and photo-op) may appear to stymie efforts to shift the U.S. economy towards clean energy, but the facts and trends tell a different story. The U.S. electric power sector is in the midst of a significant transition. Solar and wind represented 65 percent of all capacity added in 2016 as both sources of renewable energy continued to surge. And thanks to a multiyear tax credit extension for wind and solar technologies passed by Congress in December 2015, industry experts expect an unprecedented growth in wind and solar energy in the next five years. Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that wind and solar capacity will grow 59 percent and 233 percent from 2016-2021, respectively. This continued growth is expected to be driven by growing demand for renewable energy to satisfy state requirements, the tax credit extensions, and plunging technology costs.

NRDC tracks the Trump administration’s assaults on the environment.

Similar dynamics are at play in the vehicle sector. California has authority to take the lead on motor vehicle pollution under the federal Clean Air Act and 12 other states, covering 35 percent of the passenger vehicle market, have adopted the California standard as allowed under the law. Car companies don’t really want to produce two types of cars so the California standard sets the national standard. California’s Clean Cars Program cannot be undone by the stroke of a pen and the state has signaled that it will continue with its existing standard. And the car market is moving towards more efficient cars. New cars are achieving record high fuel economy and cutting carbon pollution to unprecedented levels. State and federal clean car standards are working and automakers are even beating the standards. Every year, manufacturers have produced fleets with lower emissions than what the standard requires.

Smart companies get that they have to invest for more than just a four year election cycle. As the CEO of American Electric Power (AEP)―historically one of the largest operators of coal-plants in the U.S.―put it: “Clean Power Plan or not, there will be something in the future on carbon control. So there’s no question that the industry is moving forward with cleaner energy…We’re not stopping what we’re doing based on the new administration. We need to make long-term capital decisions.” Similarly, most major countries have adopted car standards so undoing U.S. standards would face a global market moving in the exact opposite direction.

Trump’s pen won’t stop these shifts towards a clean energy economy in the U.S.

Trump can’t stop global progress on climate change

Around the world clean energy continued to overtake fossil fuels as the main source of new energy investments. Preliminary estimates put the total wind and solar installations at new records, with $287 billion in new clean energy investments in 2016.

And more climate action and clean energy is coming around the world. To date, 141 countries have formally joined the Paris Agreement and detailed specific national climate action plans that they will implement in the coming years. Implementing these targets will unleash an even greater shift to clean energy around the world. These countries are acting because it is in their own interest to continue to move forward with climate action. China, India, and Latin American countries are prime examples of this dynamic. China will continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as part of its strategic plan to reduce air pollution and coal consumption, with coal consumption declining for a third year in a row. India will continue to move forward with its massive renewable energy deployment to address energy poverty, and because renewable energy is the most cost-effective option. Meanwhile in Latin America, home to some of the world’s most competitive renewable energy markets, governments are implementing enabling clean energy policies because they recognize that renewable energy spurs job creation and economic growth, expands energy access and strengthens energy security.

Trump’s pen can’t stop this progress! 

About the Authors

Jake Schmidt

Director, International program

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