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EPA Chief: Trump Plans To Kill Obama-era Clean Power Plan


The Trump administration is ready to announce its plans for cutting President Obama's signature climate policy. Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told ABC's "This Week" that the president will sign an executive order on Tuesday to undo the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.


SCOTT PRUITT: We can be both pro-jobs and pro-environment. And the executive order is going to address the past administration's effort to kill jobs across this country.

GREENE: All right. I'm here at NPR West with NPR's Nathan Rott, who covers environmental issues. Nate, good morning.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what do we know about this executive order so far?

ROTT: Well, we know that it's been expected for a while. Scott Pruitt and President Trump have made it pretty clear from day one, even earlier, that they were no fans of the Obama administration's efforts to combat climate change, especially this Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan is Obama's biggest climate change policy.

It restricts the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. That's where a significant amount of the U.S.'s carbon dioxide emissions comes from. When Obama introduced it a couple of years ago, he called it the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against climate change.

GREENE: But very quickly Republicans said it was killing jobs and a huge problem.

ROTT: Yeah, Republican states, industry groups, they've all spoken out against it. So it's absolutely been on the chopping block for a long time. There have been reports that Trump's executive order will also try to do other things too, that he'll slash a whole slew of Obama-era regulations tied to climate change. There's a federal moratorium on coal leasing on public lands which could be addressed, a policy that requires agencies to consider climate change when making new regulations. He may even adjust something called the social cost of carbon, which puts a dollar figure on pollution, and maybe even more.

GREENE: Well, Nate, that is a long list. And of course we've had these battles over what exactly presidents can do with executive power. Can Donald Trump actually accomplish all of that if that's what he's writing into this order?

ROTT: Some of it he can. He's going to need help with some of the other stuff. The smaller policies, like the moratorium on coal leasing and the instructing agencies not to consider climate change when they're doing their cost-benefit analysis, he can do that with the stroke of a pen. Undoing the Clean Power Plan, that's going to be a really tough thing to do.

We don't know exactly how he plans to do it until we see the actual language of the executive order. But no matter how he approaches it, there's going to be challenges. I spoke to a much smarter Nathan, Nathan Richardson, a law professor at the University of South Carolina. And he said that Trump absolutely can undo the Clean Power Plan. But...

NATHAN RICHARDSON: That's like saying it's possible for a battleship to turn around. It's not something - yeah, it's totally possible. It's not something that can happen right away. Once you have something like the Clean Power Plan, a final rulemaking, then that can't be withdrawn using any other process than actually the same one that was used to create it.

ROTT: And that's no small process. We're talking notices and proposals and public comments. There's sure to be lawsuits from environmental groups and maybe even some states. You put all that together, and this could very well be a years' long process.

GREENE: And one with global implications, right? I mean, isn't this power plan we're talking about basically - that was the Obama administration's commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

ROTT: Absolutely, it is. We should note, though, that the Clean Power Plan currently is being challenged in court by 28 states. So it's not actually being enforced. It's also - we're saying, though, in terms of the Clean Power Plan, that there is a chance that even if they completely dismantled this rule, the U.S. could still meet its commitment to the world under the Paris climate agreement. If you look at renewable energy, it's surging in the U.S. Natural gas is cheaper than coal, has fewer emissions.

I've talked to a lot of experts about this, and all of them agree that killing the Clean Power Plan is not going to bring back the coal industry, which is one of Trump's central campaign promises. If anything, it may keep some existing coal-fired power plants a lot longer. But don't look for utilities to build any new ones. As for the Paris climate agreement, we don't know if Trump is going to explicitly say that he wants to withdraw from it. But this executive order will undoubtedly send a message the U.S. is not going to take action on climate change any time in the foreseeable future.

GREENE: OK. That's NPR's Nathan Rott with me here at NPR West. Nate, thanks.

ROTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
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