Remember the Clean Power Plan (CPP)? The EPA first proposed it under President Obama in 2014, with a final draft released in 2016. It was an instrumental bargaining chip to show the U.S. was serious about climate change during the Paris Climate Conference. Good times.
Soon after taking office; however, President Trump issued the Energy Independence Executive Order, which rescinded several Obama-era executive orders and mandated that all regulations regarding domestic energy be submitted to the White House for approval. Then, in June, he announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
So, what does this all mean for the EPA, and what even is an executive order? Here’s a simple breakdown of what’s been going on, what the arguments are, and who has the power to do what.
First, we need to understand what an executive order is. Executive orders are a little like proclamations (actually, a name for another form of executive power, but let’s not get into that); they aren’t laws, but rather official statements from the executive branch to federal agencies describing or declaring how they would like them to act. The executive branch can’t make laws or appropriate money, meaning that they can’t decide where funding should go or how it should be spent.
So, what did the CPP propose? It was a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent nationally by 2030, relative to 2005 levels, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. It sought both supply and demand side solutions. Supply solutions considered the source of the energy, such as stationary power plants, and sought to limit emissions, while demand-side options considered the energy itself, such as coal-produced electricity, and sought to make its use more efficient. This was never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution, as the EPA works directly with states to develop reasonable goals. The EPA has the power to assist states in developing standards of emissions and the processes to implement those standards through the Clean Air Act.
Keep in mind that regulation is a slow, careful process. Regulations would be studied, then proposed one year after a polluter is identified. After that, affected parties, like industry leaders and even regular people, can submit comments and complaints which are all read and considered before the final regulation is proposed.
One of the reasons the Trump administration fought to change the Obama-era regulations is concern for the power industry, specifically coal which has been a favorite topic of the executive branch. So, let’s take a look at the stats on coal.
In 2013, the EPA found that the creation of electricity accounts for 33 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions and 60 percent of the stationary source of greenhouse gasses in the U.S. Power plants powered by fossil fuels, meaning natural gas, petroleum, coal, or any other form of such substances, are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. Of these plants, coal makes up 80 percent of the CO2 emissions from the power sector in the United States. One must also admit that the coal industry is declining in importance, as the number of people employed by it has steadily decreased and alternative energy sources have been identified as both profitable and better for the environment. As the newly resigned senior EPA official, Elizabeth Southerland, wrote in her exit memo, “there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities.”
The fight over-regulation might make your head spin with the slow process and complicated technicalities, but it’s an important cause. These issues matter and can have rippling effects for decades. Plus, once a regulation is put into place, it’s very hard to alter.
As recently as August 1st, it was reported that industry associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are recommending that the Trump Administration alter the Clean Power Plan rather than eliminate it altogether. With even some business leaders advocating for limiting power plants’ emissions, conservatives will have to twist into pretzels to justify their regressive policies; we have to make sure the public isn’t misled by ideology over facts.