The order represents a clear difference between how Trump and former President Barack Obama view the role the United States plays in combating climate change, and dramatically alters the government’s approach to rising sea levels and temperatures — two impacts of climate change.
A White House official briefed on the plan said Monday the administration believes the government can both “serve the environment and increase energy independence at the same time” by urging the EPA for focus on what the administration believes is its core mission: Clean air and clean water.
More important than regulating climate change, the official said, is protecting American jobs.
“It is an issue that deserves attention,” the official said of climate change. “But I think the President has been very clear that he is not going to pursue climate change policies that put the US economy at risk. It is very simple.”
Tuesday’s order will initiate a review of the Clean Power Plant initiative, rescind the moratorium on coal mining on US federal lands and urge federal agencies to “identify all regulations, all rules, all policies … that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence,” the official said.
Specifically, the order will rescind at least six Obama-era executive orders aimed at curbing climate change and regulating carbon emissions, including Obama’s November 2013 executive order instructing the federal government to prepare for the impact of climate change and the September 2016 presidential memorandum that outlined the “growing threat to national security” that climate change poses.
“The previous administration devalued workers by their policies,” the official said. “We are saying we can do both. We can protect the environment and provide people with work.”
The White House official went on to argue that the best way to protect the environment is to have a strong economy, noting that countries like India and China do less to protect the environment.
“To the extent that the economy is strong and growing and you have prosperity, that is the best way to protect the environment,” the official said.
The executive order also represents the greatest fears climate change advocates had when Trump was elected in November 2016.
“These actions are an assault on American values and they endanger the health, safety and prosperity of every American,” Tom Steyer, the president of NexGen Climate, said in a statement. “Trump is deliberately destroying programs that create jobs and safeguards that protect our air and water, all for the sake of allowing corporate polluters to profit at our expense.”
Andrew Steer, CEO of the World Resources Institute, said that the executive order shows Trump is “failing a test of leadership to protect Americans’ health, the environment and economy.”
But as much as Democrats and climate advocates will decry it, Trump’s executive order follows the President’s past comments about climate change. Though Trump told The New York Times during the election that he has an “open mind” about confronting climate change, he also once called it a hoax.
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump tweeted in November 2012.
“I will also cancel all wasteful climate change spending from Obama/Clinton,” Trump said in October 2016.
The changes, the official said, do not mean the Trump administration will not look to protect the environment any longer, the official said, but when pressed about the human impact on climate change and Trump’s beliefs, the official was reluctant to say whether all government officials in the Trump White House believe humans cause climate change.
“I think there are plenty of rules on the books already. We will continue to enforce that provide for clean air and clean water. And that is what we are going to do,” the official said. “The President has been very clear that he wants the EPA to stick to that basic core mission that Congress set out for it.”
The changes also reflect the view of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who routinely sued the organization he now leads during his time as the Attorney General of Oklahoma. In an interview with CNBC earlier this month, Pruitt argued incorrectly that carbon dioxide isn’t the “primary contributor” to climate change, a comment that goes against most scientific research.
This executive order is also an attempt by the Trump administration to make good on its promise to bring more coal jobs back. The official said that Obama’s regulations “were not helpful” to the coal industry and these reversals are the President honoring “a pledge he made to the coal industry.”
“We are going to put our coal miners back to work,” Trump said at a March 2017 event in Kentucky. “They have not been treated well, but they’re going to be treated well now.”
He added: “The miners are coming back.”