President Trump’s latest Executive Order threatens recent strides to combat climate change.
We’ve seen no shortage of Congressional and administrative attacks lately on our wildlife, lands, water and air. While they’ve all been bad, we may now have the WORST: this week’s Executive Order (E.O.) dismantling the nation’s efforts to combat climate change.
Climate change is the single largest threat facing our country and the planet, with vast implications for our health and communities, and wildlife and their habitat. Though the threat has been well understood for decades, the Obama administration was the first to make real progress to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions and developing strategies to prepare for and reduce the impacts of climate change already underway.
Now, with this latest E.O., President Trump could turn back the clock on almost all of that, all but guaranteeing that we will face more climate disasters, and be less able to cope with them.
Order Up: What Concoction is the President Serving Up?
This order cripples President Obama’s overarching strategy for climate change response, the Climate Action Plan, and takes direct aim at some of the Plan’s key elements, most notably efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. It directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rescind or rewrite the Clean Power Plan (CPP) for existing power plants, and requests a federal court to stay litigation related to the CPP. The E.O. also calls for a rewrite of an earlier regulation that curbs emissions of harmful air pollutants from new, reconstructed and modified oil and gas operations.
This call for “review” of the Climate Action Plan is a terrible blow to our prospects of maintaining a livable climate, and ironically comes just as emissions reduction strategies are beginning to succeed. Last week, the International Energy Agency reported that worldwide greenhouse gas emissions from energy production have now remained steady for three years in a row, which is unprecedented for a time of continued economic growth. Leading the way was the United States, which had a 3 percent drop in emissions over the past year. Astonishingly, “U.S. emissions are at their lowest level since 1992, while the economy has grown 80 percent since that time.” This is tremendous progress. Unfortunately, with Trump’s latest E.O., we are poised to erase these gains and head in the opposite direction.
Trump’s order also cancels last year’s guidance on consideration of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act, our country’s premier planning law. The policy sought to better inform federal decision-makers on climate and potential impacts of climate change on federal projects, ensuring that federal investments in infrastructure would be both resilient to the impacts of climate change and minimize further impacts on the climate.
The E.O. even undermines how we evaluate the potential impacts of emissions by asking agencies to “reconsider” the social cost of carbon (SC-CO2), the system used to determine a dollar value on the potential benefits of cutting carbon emissions, as well as the long-term costs associated with damage done by a ton of carbon dioxide emissions in a given year. “Reconsider” in this case most likely means shifting to a system that underestimates these impacts.
Encouraging Bad Behavior
Beyond stripping away regulations mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to adapt to climate change impacts, this week’s E.O. will likely spur increased emissions by directing agencies to “identify rules and policies that serve as obstacles or impediments to domestic energy production.” In other words, it seeks to remove production safeguards and encourage more fossil fuel extraction from more areas. The Obama administration had put rules in place to limit the leakage of methane—which has 25 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide—and the contamination of water supplies from oil and gas production on federal lands. The E.O. asks agencies to toss out both rules—and the language of the new direction is so broad it could send lots of other important protections out the window.
This E.O. would also re-start the process to lease federal lands for coal mining, which were previously put under a moratorium during the Obama Administration. This could mean the public lands that belong to us all would be turned into strip mines, mountains would be flattened and laid bare, and the habitats of countless wild animals and plants would be decimated.
Unraveling Orders of Magnitude
As if all these blows weren’t reason enough to label this Executive Order the worst we’ve seen to date, there’s more. The new E.O. would also repeal the following previously issued Executive Orders:
Executive Order 13653 (issued November 1, 2013) Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change. This E.O. formed the basis of President Obama’s initiatives to support the federal government, states and tribes to prepare for climate and weather disasters, improve our ability to recover quickly, and rebuild in a smarter and more resilient way.
Executive Order 13677 (issued September 23, 2014) Climate-Resilient International Development. This order directed agencies that facilitate international development to implement principles of climate resilience in their work, similar to what E.O. 13653 required in domestic policy. This E.O. also asked agencies to promote greenhouse gas emission reductions in their international development efforts.
Executive Order 13690 (issued January 30, 2015) Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. This E.O. directed agencies to update flood risk assessments to account for the fact that climate change will raise sea levels and increase the severity of precipitation events, meaning that historic flood plain data may no longer accurately represent future risk to life and property. Repealing this E.O. will put trillions of dollars of assets at risk, in addition to potentially incentivizing development in river bottoms that would be better left as riparian habitat.
Executive Order 13693 (issued March 19, 2015) Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade. This E.O. directed agencies to improve their energy efficiency and water conservation efforts, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions of their vehicle fleets and data centers. Rescinding this order essentially tells agencies to stop trying to conserve; in other words, to spend more taxpayer dollars on water and energy.
A Quietus that Will Not Quiet Us
President Trump’s latest Executive Order cripples our efforts to both halt climate change and limit the damage it will cause. It scorns the near-unanimous consensus on the causes and effects of greenhouse gas pollution.
The president’s disastrous directive will mark a dark time in our history and the history of life on this planet if we are not able to offset its dangerous, short-sighted and self-interested priorities. The climate is warming, our actions are accelerating that warming, and if we abandon climate action, we will put ourselves on a collision course with destruction. This E.O. might seem like a quietus, but it will not quiet us. We must use it as a call to action if we intend to fight for life as we know it on Earth.
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