Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a sign supporting coal during a rally at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on October 10, 2016. / AFP / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump’s Executive Order reducing environmental regs draws harsh criticism

Surrounded by coal miners, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday intended to undo a range of President Obama’s climate change regulations. The Trump administration says the regulations are hurting oil and coal producers. Environmental groups are vowing to fight the order in court.

The biggest regulation rolled back would be President Obama’s Clean Power Plan that required states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants in order to get the United States to adhere to a global climate change accord signed by 200 countries in Paris in 2015. The order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, and come to a finding about whether the CPP should be revised or repealed. Based on the Clean Air Act, the EPA must regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants, which include carbon dioxide.

According to the Brookings Institute, “the EPA had previously estimated substantial benefits from the CPP, including $14-34 billion in benefits accruing just to health, with 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and of 300,000 lost work and school days avoided every year.”

Trump’s “Energy Independence” order reverses a ban on coal leasing on federal lands, increases limits on methane emissions from petroleum processing, and encourages government agencies to give the environment less attention in policy and infrastructure permitting decisions.

“We’re going to go in a different direction,” a senior White House official told reporters ahead of the order. “The previous administration devalued workers with their policies. We can protect the environment while providing people with work.”

President Trump signs Energy Independence Executive Order, at EPA headquarters, March 28, 2017 (AP)

The order drew significant public outcry.

Former Vice President Al Gore, a vocal proponent of clean energy, issued a statement calling the order “misguided” and “discouraging”:

“Today’s executive order, directing the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rolling back environmental protections and policies including the Clean Power Plan, is a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come. It is essential, not only to our planet, but also to our economic future, that the United States continues to serve as a global leader in solving the climate crisis by transitioning to clean energy, a transition that will continue to gain speed due to the increasing competiveness of solar and wind.

No matter how discouraging this executive order may be, we must, we can, and we will solve the climate crisis. No one man or group can stop the encouraging and escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said in a statement, “No matter what the fossil fuel industry and its lackeys may claim, it’s cheap natural gas that’s killing coal – not environmental protections.”

In November, the Center for Climate & Security, a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders, had urged then president-elect Trump to consider climate change a grave threat to national security. A report issued by the group argued that climate change presents a significant and direct risk to U.S. military readiness, operations and strategy. The group recently praised Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ “clear-eyed view on the national security risks of a changing climate,” as per his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation. This included his position that, “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.” Mattis had stated that:

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

As reported by Science, in September, acting on the basis of a National Intelligence Council report, President Obama had ordered more than a dozen federal agencies and offices, including the Defense Department, “to ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.”

President Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese, issued today’s executive order as part of his push to bolster drilling and mining industries, and to end the “war on coal,” a promise he made repeatedly during his presidential campaign.

Department of Energy statistics show that the coal mining industry employed about 66,000 miners in 2015, compared to an estimated 3 million jobs supported by clean energy.

Trump signed the order at the EPA headquarters with the relevant secretaries, EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

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