Since taking office in January, President Trump has made it clear that he intends to dismantle nearly everything his predecessor built. He replaced President Obama's executive branch with a class of administrators more amenable to conservative policies, tried to stop refugees at their borders, and energized Republicans in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Things on the immigration and healthcare front may have stagnated, but Trump's latest executive order eradicates much of Obama's Clean Power Plan on the environmental front.
President Obama introduced the Clean Power Plan in 2015. In the final rule as submitted to the federal register, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sought to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from the utility power sector. Last year, the Supreme Court blocked implementation of the Clean Power Plan until judicial proceedings were complete. Nonetheless, the law represented a significant commitment to reducing emissions and preserving a cleaner environment.
In announcing the Clean Power Plan in August 2015, President Obama said, "I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate." The executive order signed by President Trump on Tuesday seems to directly negate Obama's concern. In fact, a closer examination of Trump's order shows exactly what part of Obama's rule the new president has unraveled.
1. Carbon Pollution Emissions Guidelines
Section 4 of President Trump's executive order instructs the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan. To be more specific, the executive order targets three particular rules, the first of which is formally known as the "Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units." The rule is as long and complicated as its name suggests, but basically, it established greenhouse gas emissions guidelines for existing power plants and charged states with developing their own plans for meeting progressive emissions reductions goals by 2030. If withdrawn by the EPA, the Trump administration would presumably remove the Obama administration's emissions reduction goals for existing power plants.
2. Standards of Performance
The second rule that Trump's executive order calls into question is formally known as "Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units." This rule went in conjunction with the previous one, setting guidelines for a separate category of power plants. Under Trump's executive order, the EPA will review and potentially withdraw this rule.
3. Federal Plan
Let's just say you don't want to know the name of the third rule targeted by Trump's executive order. (If you really want to know, you can find the mouthful here.) Simply put, the third portion of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan is a federal plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to be used if states fail to submit their own appropriate plans. The plan puts some pressure on the states to submit their own plans by a certain deadline, but it notes that states "will not be penalized" for failing to prepare a plan.
4. Legal Memorandum
The legal memorandum accompanied the Clean Power Plan rules. It provides several legal arguments for the Obama administration's proposed guidelines. Trump's executive order gives his administration's EPA the right to rescind the legal memorandum.
Ultimately, the rules introduced by the Obama administration as part of the Clean Power Plan sought to closely regulate the greenhouse gases emitted by power plants. As a proponent of reducing regulation, it shouldn't be a surprise that President Trump wants to roll back those rules. The question now is whether or not that rollback comes at too high of a cost.