Executive Order on Energy

The price we pay for fossil fuels simply does not include their social costs. Photo courtesy of Berkeley.edu.

Written by Aditya Garg

On Tuesday, March 28th, President Trump issued an executive order to renege on many of the promises and efforts of the previous administration in combating global climate change. Specifically, the order reversed the moratorium on coal mining in the US, directed the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan, and has urged all agencies to review and identify any regulations and/or obstacles to achieving American energy independence.

While the executive order does not have the US formally withdraw from the Paris Accords brokered by President Obama, it is a clear signal to nations around the world that the US is not positioned to and will not attempt to honor its commitments to reduce emissions. The Paris deal was designed to try and keep the planet from warming more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit – the temperature that a majority of scientists believe is the threshold after which the world will be irreparably damaged. As part of that goal, the US had pledged to reduce emissions by 26% from by 2025.

Under this executive order, this will not happen.

White House officials have insisted that the president still cares about protecting the environment. “He does not believe…that there is a binary choice between job creation, economic growth, and caring about the environment,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said when prompted.

However, the administration has yet to unveil any replacement to the Clean Power Plan and has given little guidance on how it will continue to protect the environment. Rather, all policy statements have taken the form of rhetoric around job creation.

For instance, Trump claimed, “My action today is latest in steps to grow American jobs. He went on to add that he is “ending the theft of prosperity.”

The Clean Power Plan was designed to try and replace coal powered power plants with alternative energy sources. Numerous studies and the EPA had estimated that it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1 billion tons by 2030 and would lead to over $55 billion in public health benefits.

While White House officials claim this will bring relief to coal miners, this posit is simply not true.

America is the middle of an energy revolution. With the development of new technologies and methods to extract oil and natural gas, the United States has now become a net exporter of natural gas and has long been a net exporter of coal. The U.S. is no longer dependent on foreign oil; yet the White House continues to perpetuate this notion. Market forces drive out coal miners rather than regulatory pressures.

Lynn Good, Chief Executive of Duke Energy commented in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week: “Because of the competitive price of the competitive price of natural gas and the declining price of renewables, continuing to drive carbon out makes sense for us.”

So what then is the purpose of this executive order? Not only is it detrimental to our environment and may potentially set us on the path towards irreparable damage, but it props up an industry that is in a period of secular decline. Rather than continuing to encourage coal powered plants, the government should be looking for ways to help workers/miners working in these industries to transition to other related fields.

The price we pay for fossil fuels simply does not include their social costs. While the US has chosen its course, for the sake of the planet and future generations, I hope that other countries around the world continue to uphold their obligations and abide by the accords.

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