Seeking to weaken EPA’s authority to regulate carbon, while boosting domestic energy production from fossil fuels, President Trump this week signed an executive order that suspended, rescinded or flagged for review more than a half-dozen standing regulations and other measures.
As had been expected, one of the initiatives the White House’s executive order aims to undo is the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a key element of the Obama administration’s plan for meeting carbon emission reduction targets expressed under the international climate agreement reached in Paris in December 2015.
The CPP calls on states to develop strategies to reduce specific amounts of carbon emissions from existing – mostly coal-fueled – and new power plants. The move was expected to drive the expanded development of clean energy alternatives, including wind, solar, biomass and other technologies.
The president’s executive order puts the CPP “under review,” a first step toward what is expected to be the dismantlement of the rule. The review is also expected to lead to an end of the government’s defense of the plan in federal court, where more than two dozen states had filed a lawsuit to stop its enforcement.
At the heart of the White House order, which also lifts a moratorium of coal leases on federal lands and ends a standing directive to federal agencies to factor in the social cost of carbon in setting new regulations and approving projects, is the president’s campaign promise to turn back regulations he said were sending the coal industry in decline.
However, industry analysts have been relatively unanimous in their assessment, as expressed by a recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, that the U.S. coal industry is not on a path to recovery in the short or the long term, due to market dynamics unrelated to regulation. The institute and other mainstream analysts also point out that the industry will continue to suffer from declining demand, low prices, and its inability to compete with natural gas and renewable energy. Even a major CEO in the coal industry acknowledges that coal mining jobs cannot recover to pre-Obama numbers.
In its efforts to boost the coal industry and other fossil fuel development, the White House is missing the reality of a sector fast making the transition to cleaner, renewable alternatives that customers are demanding. The White House strategy should focus instead on the example of Texas under Gov. Rick Perry and consider the opportunity for U.S. leadership to grow an industry that can bring America and other nations the benefits of clean energy.
DOE data shows clean energy jobs currently outnumber all fossil fuel jobs in this country by a margin of 2.5:1. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission numbers for 2016 show that for the second year in a row, new renewable electrical capacity exceeded that from gas, coal, oil and nuclear combined, and almost one-fifth of the nation’s total generating capacity now comes from renewables.
The sheer economics of the move to clean energy would seem to render the White House efforts moot. Yet this order is costing the administration the opportunity to further a lower-carbon economy that not only produces cleaner energy, but is driving explosive economic growth, especially in rural America where the large majority of wind farms, solar facilities and biomass-fueled power plants are located, creating jobs and generating tax revenues to help maintain schools and build roads.
The White House strategy also represents an abdication of the U.S. leadership role in the world, costing America the ability to help guide other nations toward the future benefits of clean energy and creating a void that could be filled by other world powers hurting the American economy.
Still, on the home front, states are continuing to take a leadership role through Renewable Portfolio Standards, tax credits and other policy mechanisms that are helping to continue to push the domestic growth of clean energy. And corporate America remains a significant proponent of renewable energy development, setting their own clean energy targets, with most building their own renewable power sources or entering into long-term Power Purchase Agreements from clean energy providers.
Even if federal policy does ignore the reality in the marketplace, states, corporations and advocates across all geographical and political spectrums, like 25x’25, will continue to pursue the clean energy goals that can create jobs, boost our economy, enhance our national security, and make our world a better place to live.