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Expected Executive Actions On Climate Change Policies Aim To Ensure Focus On Energy Independence


President Donald Trump will be at the Environmental Protection Agency today where he is expected to begin this long process of rolling back climate change policies put in place during the Obama administration. First among them, the Clean Power Plan which would limit carbon emissions from coal fire power plants. NPR's Jeff Brady is with us to talk about this. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what exactly is the president doing today?

BRADY: A senior White House officials says the Clean Power Plan will get a thorough review, and the goal there is to make sure policies fit with the administration's priorities. Those are focusing on energy independence, growing the economy and creating more jobs. And that's how the administration defines it. Environmental groups call this a gutting of the Clean Power Plan.

And a few other items we can expect today - the White House wants to end a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands, also requirements that agencies consider something called the social cost of carbon and how new federal rules would affect climate change. Another rule designed to address methane emissions from oil and gas operations will get a review, and agency heads will be told to go back and look for anything that's an obstacle to domestic energy projection - production. That's all kinds of energy - fossil fuels, nuclear, renewable energy - and they're to look for ways to refocus policy on exploiting those resources.

GREENE: Jeff, just listening to some of the language you're using there - refocusing policy review. It doesn't sound like these are necessarily changes we will 100 percent see. These are executive actions, not new laws, right? So what can the president actually do with just a signature?

BRADY: Yeah, exactly. There are some things that the president can reverse pretty much on his own, such as the coal leasing moratorium. He'll direct the Department of the Interior to lift that. But you're right.

A lot of these actions - they have to go through a complicated process to change them, and I talked with David Doniger with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He puts it this way.

DAVID DONIGER: Under the way our laws work, you have to tear a building down the same way that you built the building up, so they have to go through all the same steps - making a proposal, taking public comment, showing that what they're doing is consistent with the Clean Air Act or other laws.

BRADY: Doniger says then the administration has to be able to defend those decisions in court, and that's going to be key here because environmental groups already are gearing up for some big, legal battles to try and preserve what they see as the gains made during the Obama administration.

GREENE: And the voice there we should say is coming from one of those environmental groups hoping that they could take these legal fights as long as possible, I guess, and block some of these reforms. Let me ask you - I mean, if Donald Trump is talking about things like ending a moratorium on new coal leases, does that mean he might be able to fulfill his promise to help coal miners?

BRADY: You know, I think you can say these executive actions will help the coal industry, and that's certainly something that they want. Now, whether that's going to lead to more coal miners getting their jobs back - that seems a little unlikely. This is an industry that's been hit hard by a number of factors that go well beyond environmental regulations. That's what coal executives like to focus on, though.

The biggest issue has been the rise of natural gas in the U.S. - fracking and horizontal drilling. Those are producing huge amounts of gas very cheaply that is used to power electricity-generating plants around the country. And we're seeing coal plants shutting down because they just can't compete.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about climate change. I mean, President Obama's Clean Power Plan designed to help the United States meet commitments to reduce carbon emissions under the big Paris Climate Agreement. Does this mean that President Trump is actually going to pull the United States out of that agreement?

BRADY: The Senior White House official who briefed reporters on these executive actions said whether or not the U.S. will stay in the Paris Agreement, that's something that's still being discussed. He said the Clean Power Plan was the Obama administration's way of addressing that issue.

The Trump administration has other ideas, so instead of shutting down coal power plants, we may hear more about technology designed to make burning coal cleaner. I know the industry would like a lot more research dollars spent on that, and it's pretty clear this is an industry that has the president's ear.

GREENE: And I guess these changes - we've been hearing about them for a while. Was there some kind of delay?

BRADY: You know, the senior White House officials said that these are really complex issues, there's litigation going on around the Clean Power Plan right now. There's threats of more litigation from environmental groups. He said the White House wanted to be careful in crafting these executive actions and looks like that took a little bit longer than they first imagined.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Jeff Brady. Jeff, thanks a lot.

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

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers the mid-Atlantic region and energy issues. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
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