What You Need to Know about Trump’s “Energy Independence” Executive Order
By Tanya Stasio, Policy Fellow
On Tuesday, March 28th, President Trump signed an “energy independence” executive order that aims to bring back jobs to the coal industry and promote domestic energy sources–with a focus on fossil fuels. According to energy economists, it is unlikely that either of these goals will be met. It will, however, halt and even reverse much of the progress the nation has made to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.
The executive order largely targets the Clean Power Plan, a set of national standards that limit pollution from coal-fired power plants. With 40% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions coming from the power sector, the Plan required states to develop plans to to reduce emissions from existing power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The order also aims to review and/or eliminate other climate policies introduced during the Obama Administration, including the federal moratorium on coal leasing, the consideration of climate change impact in analysis of environmental permits, and the “social cost of carbon” incorporated in the rulemaking process.
If carried out in full, the executive order will backtrack federal climate action and reduce the incentive to cut emissions. Blocking these climate protections may have very serious consequences for the environment and public health.
As the White House continues its indecision on US commitment to the Paris Agreement, many fear that his executive order renders the Paris goals unachievable as well. If the US does not meet its commitment or withdraws from the agreement, it will suggest to other countries that they don’t need to meet their commitments either.
Dismantling the Clean Power Plan and removing other environmental regulations will do little to improve energy independence or revive the coal industry. While recent environmental regulations are often blamed for the declining coal industry, the industry has been on the decline for decades due to increased competition from natural gas and renewables, as well as increased automation.
The Bottom Line
Although the term “executive order” sounds very authoritative and final, it is no nail in the coffin. It will take the EPA several years to go through the process to change the Clean Power Plan. The EPA must first go through a rulemaking process to either change it or eliminate it entirely. Before finalizing any changes, the EPA will need to issue a proposal and take public comment. Any changes need to be based on a technical record and legal analysis, and will be subject to legal challenge.
No matter what Trump says, the market just isn’t there. With 3 million domestic jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, compared to a meager 77,000 in the coal industry, renewable energy is poised for market growth. The clean energy revolution is already underway and is strong enough to overcome rules that prop up the old energy system. And while Trump is taking drastic measures to undo all progress on climate, state-level actors are working day and night to preserve and progress our emissions reductions.
Massachusetts has historically been a leader in progressive environmental policies to reduce carbon emissions. Emissions from power plants have already fallen by 40% in Massachusetts through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the state is recognized as a solar energy leader. Ultimately, the so-called “energy independence” executive order will do little to revive the coal industry or reduce energy dependence. While it will reverse much of the climate progress made at the federal level, states are standing by to make the changes necessary to combat one of the greatest social and economic challenges of our time.
Tanya Stasio is CABA’s Policy Fellow. She is a student currently studying environmental science and economics at Simmons College. In her studies, she has conducted empirical research on the topics of water quality management and renewable energy. In the past, she has interned Socializing for Justice, A Better City Transportation Management Association and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.