Trump targets two Obama-era green rules in boost to coal and oil industries despite warnings over climate change
Donald Trump’s administration has announced proposals to roll back two Obama-era environmental polices to boost the coal and oil industries – despite increasingly dire warnings about the effects of climate change.
First, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, announced that new coal plants could be allowed emit up to 1,900 pounds (862 kg) of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity, up from 1,400 pounds now.
The current rules for new plants, put in place by former President Barack Obama, required technology to capture released carbon dioxide – which traps heat on Earth and causes climate change. However, the technology has not been used at a commercial scale and the Trump administration believes new emission rules are a better fit.
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While the move would be largely symbolic, considering that US companies view burning natural gas as more affordable and environmentally-conscious option, it sends a strong signal about the Trump administration’s position.
Mr Wheeler said he believed the new proposal would not boost greenhouse gas emissions, but in fact drive them down by encouraging investment in new energy technology that could be exported.
“By replacing onerous regulations with high, yet achievable, standards, we can continue America’s historic energy production, keep energy prices affordable, and encourage new investments in cutting-edge technology that can then be exported around the world,” Mr Wheeler said in a statement.
When asked about a federal government report last month that found climate change would cost the US economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century Mr Wheeler was non committal.
“We are not ignoring the government report,” Mr Wheeler said. But he added “a lot of the media’s focused on is the worst-case scenario.”
The second proposal the Trump administration announced on Thursday involved easing protections for the greater sage-grouse, potentially opening up thousands of acres of habitat in Western states to oil and gas drilling.
Announced by Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a Colorado native and a former energy lobbyist, the proposal would allow for changes to habitat boundary maps of the chicken-sized prairie fowl.
The protection plan, launched in 2015 by the Obama administration, has been repeatedly dismissed by the oil and mining industries as overreaching.
But environmentalists and scientists are outraged by the two policies changes, which need to be put through a public consultation period.
“Trump and his deputies are delivering on the wish list of the coal and oil industries, but they are up against the public and market demand for clean energy,” said Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
David Doniger, The Natural Resources Defence Council’s (NRDC) climate director, said the rollback on coal plant restrictions “will be judged harshly by future generations”.
“The science is clear: operating large fossil fuel plants without carbon capture and storage is a disaster for the climate,” he added. “What we need instead is swift and decisive action to curb dangerous climate change.”
Democrats in Congress were equally dismissive of the easing of the coal plant restrictions.
“This proposal is another illegal attempt by the Trump administration to prop up an industry already buckling under the powerful force of the free market,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee.