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White House Takes Aim at Obama Era Climate Policy in New Executive Order

The White House took a major swipe at President Obama’s climate change legacy Tuesday with the signing of an executive order on energy independence.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump is surrounded by coal miners as he holds up the signed Energy Independence Executive Order on March 28 at EPA headquarters in Washington.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The White House took a major swipe at President Barack Obama’s climate change legacy on Tuesday with the signing of an executive order on energy independence.

The order asks the Environmental Protection Agency to review Obama's Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and is considered one of the past administration's signature pieces of climate policy. The plan’s implementation was already put on hold by the Supreme Court in February of 2016.

The reversal in U.S. environmental policy should come as little surprise, however. While Obama called climate change a national security threat, Trump mocked the sentiment on the campaign trail.

With miners lined up behind him at EPA, President Donald Trump announced an end to the moratorium on coal production, signaling the beginnings of a campaign promise kept to coal miners despite skepticism from the mining industry that Trump can reverse the market forces working against the industry.

Trump promised “clean coal, really clean coal” and heaped praise on the miners behind him. “These people haven’t had enough thanks,” he said.

Further restrictions on the production of oil, natural gas, clean coal and shale, were also announced by the president who trumpeted the executive order as an act of promises kept and regulations lessened. Today’s action, he said, was the “latest in a series of steps to create American jobs and grow American wealth.”

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump is surrounded by coal miners as he holds up the signed Energy Independence Executive Order on March 28 at EPA headquarters in Washington.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Related: Meet the Four Republican Lawmakers Who Want to Abolish the EPA

A senior administration official stressed the priority of growing the economy when briefing reporters on the environmental executive order Monday evening. The new policy keeps workers front of mind, the official said. They agreed that economic factors were the main drivers of the administration's energy policy, but disagreed that workers were more important than the environment. "We're saying we can do both," the official said.

The president echoed that sentiment Tuesday, promising “safety,” as well as “clean water and clean air” while lessening regulations on what emissions can be put into the environment. We’re “getting rid of the bad” regulations, he said.

Groups that decried previous the administration's regulations as overly-onerous hailed Trump's move.

The executive order "is a positive step forward in providing American families and businesses with affordable supplies of energy," Consumer Energy Alliance, a group which supports the energy industry wrote in a statement.

President Trump himself has previously called climate change a "hoax" — then he later called that stance a joke. He’s also called global warming a “very expensive form of tax” and said that terms like global warming and climate change have been efforts of branding.

When asked by reporters if the president believes in man-made climate change, the senior administration official responded: “Sure, yeah I guess I think the president understands there's a disagreement over the policy response.”

Asked once more for clarity, the official said, "Sure, yeah" the president believes in man-made climate change.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not directly answer the same question on Tuesday, telling reporters less than an hour before the president signed the order Tuesday that Trump understands there's not a "binary choice" between economic growth and caring about the environment.

Those around the president working on climate change matters will also impact the direction of policy.

During Monday's briefing, the senior administration official said he wasn’t aware of scientific reports that showed sea levels rising and impacting major coastal cities — "I’d like to see it," he said when asked about these sorts of reports, "send it to me."

And that's exactly the type of sentiment that worries climate change advocates.

"The scientific evidence is clear: climate change is happening — primarily due to human activities — and already impacting people and our environment," Rush Holt, chief executive officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote in a statement on Tuesday. "We encourage the White House and Congress to support the evidence on climate change, and welcome opportunities to bring scientists to meet with policymakers to discuss the state of the science, the degree of scientific understanding on climate change, and other areas of concern and interest."

A cadre of attorney generals from California, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and the chief legal officers from Boulder, Chicago, New York city, Philadelphia, South Miami and Broward County have all vowed to oppose the plan.

"We won’t hesitate to protect those we serve — including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change,” the officials wrote in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Vice President Al Gore, whose efforts to raise awareness about climate change were chronicled in the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth", called the order "misguided".

"No matter how discouraging this executive order may be, we must, we can, and we will solve the climate crisis," Gore said in a statement. "No one man or group can stop the encouraging and escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet."