President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday before signing his 'Energy Independence Executive Order' -- an action directed at rewriting former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan and lifting "job-killing" environmental regulations in the United States energy industry. Pool photo by Ron Sachs / UPI | License Photo
March 28 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to roll back a suite of planned environmental regulations from the Obama administration in an effort to spur not just domestic energy independence but "energy dominance."
The president announced the action at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., and signed the memorandum flanked by a group of administration officials and coal miners.
Trump's order will kick off a review of former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, lift a short-term ban on leasing federal land for coal production, lift limits on coal production and return energy production authority to the states.
"I knew they were going to like this one," Trump said after his introduction, to a standing ovation. "The action I'm taking eliminates federal overreach, restores economic freedom and allows our workers to thrive, compete and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time.
"That's what this is all about -- bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again."
The Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of Obama's climate change agenda, sets a goal of cutting carbon emissions by 32 percent of their 2005 baseline by 2030. Trump's order Tuesday directs the EPA to begin the process of withdrawing and rewriting the law.
The CPP, which is frozen by a Supreme Court injunction, seeks to close hundreds of coal plants and replace them with renewable energy-producing facilities.
Trump was joined at the ceremony by Vice President Mike Pence, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, all of whom lauded the efforts to end what they termed a "war on coal."
"We are taking a great step in breaking the restraints that have become burdens," Perry said. "Mr. President, you understand the path forward is through American ingenuity."
Perry added that the order is the first step of a plan by the administration to make the United States not just energy independent, but "energy dominant."
"Our nation can't run on pixie dust and hope. Our last eight years showed that," Zinke added. "Jobs matter. Hard-working Americans deserve to have a future."
Since taking office, Trump, a reputed climate change skeptic, has moved through executive orders to erase his predecessor's environmental legacy, starting first with a decision to fast-track the approval process for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines -- two projects that were halted by Obama's government on environmental grounds but have since received final approval by Trump.
Fresh off the political embarrassment of unsuccessfully trying to unravel Obama's Affordable Care Act, the president took aim at complex federal environmental regulations in an effort to revive the U.S. energy market -- a promise he made to coal country during his campaign last year that played a significant role in his upset victory on election night.
"I made them this promise: We will put our miners back to work," Trump said. "Today I'm taking bold action to follow through on that promise."
"Over the past two years, I have spent time with the miners all over America," he continued. "They told me about the struggles they endured. ... And I said this: 'Why don't we get together, we go to another place and you get another job? You won't mine anymore, do you like that idea?' They said, 'No we don't like that idea, we love to mine that's what we want to do.' I said, 'If that's what you want to do, that's what you're going to do.'"
Pruitt said Trump is committed to finding the right balance between job growth and environmental protection with Tuesday's Energy Independence Executive Order.
"The president is rejecting the narrative that we can't be both pro-energy and pro-environment," he said at Tuesday's ceremony. "The president is setting a new pathway forward. ... It's an exciting day."
"We are going to have safety, we are going to have clean water, we are going to have clean air," Trump said. "But so many [regulations] are unnecessary and so many are job-killing. We are getting rid of the bad ones. ... We are ending the theft of American prosperity and rebuilding our beloved country."
The practical impact of Trump's order might be limited, though. Industry experts have pointed out that the United States already relies on domestic coal to power the nation's plants.
"We don't import coal," Harvard University energy economist Robert Stavins said. "So in terms of the Clean Power Plan, this has nothing to do with so-called energy independence whatsoever."
Others say even if the order ultimately keeps open plants marked for closure, the power-producing facilities are using more unmanned equipment today than ever before.
"Even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs," Wyoming energy economist Robert Godby said.
Further, experts add, the CPP isn't the main culprit behind the United States' declining coal industry. The rise of natural gas, a cleaner and cheaper alternative, is giving coal most of its competition.
"The problem with coal jobs has not been [carbon dioxide] regulations, so this will probably not bring back coal jobs," Godby said. "The problem has been that there has not been market demand for coal."
It remains to be seen how Trump's order will impact the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, a treaty signed by nearly 200 nations requiring steps to reduce global carbon emissions. Experts have said, though, that if Trump's environmental agenda succeeds, the United States will almost certainly be unable to meet the clean air requirements laid out in the pact.
"President Trump and Congressional Republicans' contempt for clean air, clean water and our clean energy future endangers the health of our children and the strength of our economy," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responded Tuesday. "The administration's spiteful assault on the Clean Power Plan will not bring back jobs to coal country, it will only poison our air and undermine America's ability to win the good-paying jobs of the future."
Trump's agenda to unwind Obama's environmental safeguards, though, won't be easy. An executive order is merely an opening salvo in what most experts say will be a protracted and, in some cases, an uphill political fight. Obama's final five-year ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic, for example, couldn't even begin reversal for a minimum of several years.
"Under [President Obama's] leadership, the United States did more to combat climate change than ever before, while growing the economy," Obama's non-profit foundation said last week, echoing the former president's words at his farewell speech in Chicago on January 10.
"In just eight years, we have halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet," Obama said in his hometown address. "But without bolder action, our children won't have time to debate the existence of climate change; they'll be busy dealing with its effects -- environmental disasters, economic disruptions and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.
"We can and should argue about the best approach to the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our founders."
The Sierra Club planned rallies at the White House and Mahnattan's Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon to protest Trump's order and defend Obama's climate agenda.
"President Trump values polluter profits and special interests over public health," Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement. "Like Trump's attempts at a Muslim ban and taking away healthcare that came before, this too will fail, and the public will stand up to fight it every step of the way.
"Unfortunately, Trump would rather line the pockets of his billionaire corporate polluter friends than help clean our air and reduce the threat of climate disruption. As usual, it seems as if Trump is living in another reality."