April 6, 2017
This post is part one of a two-post series exploring the design and potential implications of President Trump's recent Executive Order, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.
Though somewhat anticipated by many, the 45th president's 19th executive order, entitled "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth", proposed a series of seemingly paradoxical asks. Despite the administration's slashing of regulations enstated to protect public health, it weakly states the allowance of "necessary and appropriate environmental regulations ... [that] are a greater benefit than cost, [and] when permissible, achieve environmental improvements for the American people".
What Else Does the Executive Order Hide?
The mandate begins with a very general provision, instructing departments and agencies to 'trim the fat' and review regulations that may "burden the development or use" of American energy; regulations that are thought to violate the specification are liable to be suspended, revised, or rescinded. Special attention is given to policies affecting natural gas, coal, oil, and nuclear energy.
The order also bluntly slashes numerous publications and policies of the preceding administration. It provides a laundry list that mandates the revoking of an Obama executive order supporting and investing in climate resiliency and preparedness, a memorandum outlining power plant pollution standards, a memorandum protecting natural resources from private development, and a memorandum to combat climate change in the name of national security. Additionally, Trump determined two "reports [that] shall be rescinded"-- Obama's Climate Action Plan and his Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.
As has been well publicized, the Obama-era EPA's "Clean Power Plan"-- legislation that attempted to impose emissions standards on power plants-- will be revised, suspended, or entirely rescinded. Additional emissions standards for oil and natural gas excavation will undergo the same scrutiny, as well as legal rights for fracking and resource ownership on federal and Indian lands. As of last week, a moratorium preventing the leasing of federal lands to private coal interests has been repealed.
In addition to negating the validity of numerous efforts and pieces of legislation, the order indicates that social costs of greenhouse gases are "no longer representative of governmental policy" and are therefore withdrawn.
Social costs are determined for pollutants such as carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane in order to approximate the monetary damage inflicted by the release of a marginal ton of the aforementioned substances; it allows the government to forecast costs that may be incurred or compounded in the future, and translate them into the present day.
During the Obama administration, carbon was valued at about $40/ton-- experts estimate that by changing the discount rate, the Trump White House may drive the price down to as low as $5.
What Will Change?
For the average American, the effects of this Executive Order will not be immediately felt, for better or for worse. However, the creeping health implications of continued fossil fuel use will arrive incrementally over time. The warming effect of increased greenhouse gases will exacerbate diseases and viruses such as West Nile, hantavirus, and malaria, and heighten the rate of heat-related deaths. Rises in pollution concentration in our environment will exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular disease and chronic issues such as asthma, lung cancer, respiratory tract infections, rhinosinusitis, and stroke.
Trump's ostensible concern for domestic energy markets is also somewhat exaggerated. The United States is both an importer and exporter of petroleum-- a term which includes a wide variety of products, from crude oil to gasoline to jet fuel to diesel. Though the current administration bemoans the days of yore in which energy production was more domestic, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that the U.S.'s net import (import-export) of petroleum was 24% in 2015-- the lowest it has been since 1970; last year, the figure rested comfortably at 25%.
The seemingly patriotic desire to satisfy domestic demand with domestic sources is further curbed by the order's evasion of renewable energy generation, and its failure to hold it as a national priority. Not only can clean alternatives be incorporated throughout the nation, but they demand meager operating costs and require little maintenance. Whereas the market price of fossil fuel-derived energy is driven by oil, coal, or gas scarcity, a free "fuel" source-- solar radiation, wind's kinetic energy, or falling water-- could ensure low electricity costs for ratepayers.
The combined repeal of regulations and facilitation of fossil fuel business indicates a staunch favoritism of industry over public interest. Targeted regulations are considered those that "obstruct, delay, curtail, or ... impose significant costs" on industry activity, including "sitting, permitting, production, utilization, transmission, or delivery" of fuel products. The ultimate effect of this order is an easement of the liabilities placed upon fossil fuel industries and power plants, that hold said actors accountable for environmental degradation and the adverse effects on resources such as water, air, open space, and land quality.
Despite steep campaign promises, it's clear that the forgotten coal miner has again been shirked. Though blue-collar workers made regular appearances in President Trump's rhetoric and public appearances, there were no provisions that directly aided miners, such as healthcare, guaranteed job security, or skill training. Independent of pollution-curbing legislation, it seems that the market has moved on, beyond coal to more clean alternatives such as natural gas and renewable power.
"I suggest that [Trump] temper his expectations. Those are my exact words," stated Robert Murray, CEO of coal giant Murray Energy. "He can't bring [the jobs] back."
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