President Donald Trump has issued an executive order on “energy independence,” which focuses on dismantling the Clean Power Plan (CPP) – what Trump vowed to do before he was even elected president.
The Obama administration’s climate change initiative – which has already been met with its share of opposition and lawsuits – calls for reducing carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. To do so, the plan calls for, among other initiatives, phasing out coal plants with clean energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Scott Pruitt, the newly appointed administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – who was part of a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA itself in an effort to block the CPP back in 2015 – notes in a press release that “job growth and a healthy environment aren’t at odds” under the new order, which calls for Pruitt to “review” the CPP.
According to a White House press release, the order tells the EPA to “suspend, revise, or rescind four actions related to the Clean Power Plan that would stifle the American energy industry.” Citing the National Mining Association, for example, the White House says the CPP would decrease coal production by 242 million tons.
Further, as explained in a release from the EPA, the order “directs agencies responsible for regulating domestic energy production to submit plans to the White House, which will identify, and propose measures to revise or rescind, regulatory barriers that impede progress towards energy independence.”
“Moreover, the order rescinds several Obama executive orders and policies related to climate change. It also directs the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the secretary of the Interior to review, and if necessary, revise or rescind, several regulations that may place unnecessary, costly burdens on coal-fired electric utilities, coal miners, and oil and gas producers.”
Recently, in an interview on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Pruitt said, “We need a pro-growth and pro-environment approach for how we do regulations in this country. For too long, we have accepted a narrative that if you’re pro-growth [and] pro-jobs, you’re anti-environment. That’s not where we have been as a country. We have made tremendous progress on our environment; we can be both pro-jobs and pro-environment. The executive order will address the past administration’s effort to kill jobs throughout the country through the Clean Power Plan.”
Unsurprisingly, some notable proponents of climate change action have spoken out against the executive order.
Al Gore, former vice president under the Clinton administration, is calling the order a “misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come.” Moreover, he says the “increasing competitiveness of solar and wind” will spark the U.S.’ transition to clean energy and, in turn, the fight against climate change.
“No matter how discouraging this executive order may be,” he adds, “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.”
In a joint statement issued by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and California Gov. Jerry Brown – whose states are known for their emissions-reduction initiatives, including 50%-by-2030 renewable portfolio standards – the Democratic governors are calling Trump’s order “profoundly misguided.”
“Climate change is real and will not be wished away by rhetoric or denial,” the governors state. “We stand together with a majority of the American people in supporting bold actions to protect our communities from the dire consequences of climate change.
“Together, California and New York represent approximately 60 million people – nearly one in five Americans – and 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. With or without Washington, we will work with our partners throughout the world to aggressively fight climate change and protect our future,” they add.
Even the American Bird Conservancy, which has long voiced its concerns over the threat of wind turbines to birds, is worried about the “further deregulation of energy development, especially of the rapidly growing wind industry.”
“Wind energy development can be done using bird-smart strategies that avoid risky locations and mitigate for impacts,” the ABC’s Michael Hutchins says in a statement. “People love birds and public lands and do not want to see them squandered.”
In addition, the Sierra Club maintains that Trump’s plan “cannot stop the energy boom in Oklahoma” – which generated more than a quarter of its electricity from wind last year, according to a recent American Wind Energy Association report.
Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma Chapter, says in a release, “The attempted rollback of the Clean Power Plan and other clean air and clean water protections will cost lives and impact our health. And no matter what Trump wants, coal is no longer profitable, nor is it good for us – and we now have much better options. Coal is declining, and here in Oklahoma, renewables like wind are booming, creating jobs and cleaning up our state.”
According to the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), even though the CPP would bring “long-term investment in the nation’s renewable energy infrastructure,” the thriving industry is strong enough to stand on its own, says Greg Wetstone, president and CEO of the group.
“The reality is that America’s renewable energy industry is growing rapidly because of declining costs, forward-looking state policies, and increasing demand by residential and corporate electricity consumers – a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future,” he says. “Even without a regulatory mandate, renewable energy growth may be sufficient to enable the U.S. to stay on track toward the Clean Power Plan’s emissions-reduction objectives.”
Frank Maisano, partner at law firm Bracewell LLP’s policy resolution group, remains optimistic that an “effective climate change policy based more on market principles,” as opposed to “command-and-control regulations,” is plausible.
“It is possible to keep up international dialogue without the straightjacket of regulations that exceed legal authority,” he says in a statement to Solar Industry.
Maisano also adds that the order will likely “take time to unwind” – a sentiment echoed by the New York Times, which brings up the fact that in order for the EPA to repeal the CPP, the agency will be required to go through a rulemaking process, which includes an opportunity for the public to provide input.
Likewise, a White House press release, which cites a senior administrative official, said undoing the CPP will require adherence to a “notice and comment” process – which could “take some time,” even up to a few years. The official also noted that there will likely be “litigation once the final [CPP] review is undertaken.”
As for the country’s participation in the Paris Agreement, the release says this decision is “still under discussion.” Notably, the official also said there is not yet a time frame for the CPP review, but Pruitt is “ready to hit the ground running.”
To watch President Trump’s speech, fast forward to the 45-minute mark on the EPA YouTube video below. To learn more about what the potential loss of the CPP and other climate change initiatives might mean for the solar industry, check out our January 2017 cover story here.