Trump’s Climate Order Protects Fossil Fuel’s Bottom Line

The rollback of Obama-era provisions including the moratorium leasing public lands for coal won’t bring back jobs due to the strong market advantage held by cheaper fuels like natural gas, says Oil Change International’s Janet Redman

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.

Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on Tuesday, to undo a slew of Obama era climate change regulations that his Administration says is hobbling oil drillers and coal miners — a move environmental groups have vowed to take to court. The decree’s main target is former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan — that requires states to slash carbon emissions from power plants; which is a critical element in helping the United States meet its commitments to a Global Climate Change Accord, reached by nearly 200 countries in Paris, back in 2015.

The so-called Energy Independence Order also reverses a ban on coal leasing on Federal lands; undoes rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas production, and reduces the weight of climate change and carbon emission in policy and infrastructure permitting decisions. Here he is at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, speaking on a stage lined with coal miners.

DONALD TRUMP: With today’s executive action I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations.

KIM BROWN: The wide-ranging order is the boldest yet in Trump’s broader push to cut environmental regulations to revive the drilling, and mining industries — a promise that he made repeatedly during the Presidential campaign. But, energy analysts and executives have questioned whether the moves will have a big effect on their industries.

And environmentalists have also called these moves reckless. Trump signed the order with EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, and Vice President, Mike Pence at his side. And with us to discuss the new Executive Order we’re joined today by Janet Redman.

Janet is the former Director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, and currently works with Oil Change USA, which is a group dedicated to exposing the cost of fossil fuels, and creating a clean energy future. She joins us today from Washington D.C. Janet great to have you back.

JANET REDMAN: Thanks for having me.

KIM BROWN: So, there’s a lot to discuss here Janet, and first, Donald Trump’s new Executive Order is titled, “Energy Independence”. Is energy independence the issue here? Or, is this more about oil and fossil fuel interests than the American publics’?

JANET REDMAN: Yeah, this is absolutely not about energy independence, unfortunately. I mean, America has already been in the space where we’re producing more oil and gas than we can use ourselves. And in fact, mainly are expansions for export. So, what we’re seeing here now is an Executive Order that says, “We don’t care that much about the American public’s health. We don’t care that much about the impacts of climate change here at home or abroad. What we really care about is the fossil fuel industry’s bottom line. So, we’re going to hand them a bunch of goodies.” That’s what this Executive Order really does.

KIM BROWN: So, Trump signed this Executive Order in front of the backdrop of a stage lined with coal miners, promising to bring back their jobs. So, let’s take a look.

DONALD TRUMP: Basically, you know what this says? You know what it says, right, you’re going back to work… You’re going back to work. (applause) Ready?

MEN: We’re ready.

KIM BROWN: Janet is lifting the ban on coal mining leases on public land, or cutting carbon emission regulations going to put miners back to work? Or even create a significant number of jobs across the fossil fuel industry?

JANET REDMAN: No, it’s really not. I think looking specifically at lifting the coalmine moratorium — we need to look at why there was a coalmine-leasing moratorium on public lands in the first place. The reality is their leasing program on public lands is broken. That’s not necessarily a Democrat or Republican issue; that’s across the board. What we’ve seen so far is that coal-mining companies pay an incredibly low rent for public lands and royalty rate for pulling resources off of our public lands. And so that system is broken.

So, the overall program of coal mining leasing was in the middle of a programmatic review — a sweeping review of the entire program. So, while that was happening, President Obama put a moratorium on new leases, to make sure that coal companies weren’t rushing in to get public land for these cheaper costs, while we reinvigorated that program.

But more broadly-speaking, the entire Executive Order from talking about shutting down the Clean Power Plan, to opening up more public lands and ending this coal lease moratorium, to taking away money for resilience for communities around the country to deal with the impacts of climate change. This is not going to bring back coal jobs. I mean, we’ve talked about this before on The Real News Network, there’s an underlying problem first of all in the market — economics of his plan — we can’t expand natural gas and expand coal. They’re in competition.

And right now, natural gas is a lot cheaper than coal. So, we’re not going to see more jobs coming back because we’re still going to see that same bottom line competition. But more broadly speaking, even if the coal sector increased, we would probably see more mechanization, not more jobs coming back. So, we’d see more jobs for robots and machines, but not necessarily for coal miners, not individual people themselves.

KIM BROWN: The way that we usually see this framed in the mainstream media is that it’s either the environment, and its interest to try to protect clean air and water, or jobs. But it’s usually, it’s not really that cut and dry, because it’s not necessarily about pitting jobs against the environment. I mean, this is big oil interest against the environment.

JANET REDMAN: Yeah, what’s really interesting is that we, especially here, Scott Pruitt, taking on what was once the environmentalists’ frame, which is you’re right we don’t have to pit jobs against the environment, or jobs against climate, or economic growth against protecting the environment. In fact, we can have both. People who’ve been advocating for expanding the Clean Energy sector have been saying that for a long time.

What’s really clever is that Pruitt and Trump have actually taken the message from that sector and used it as their own. But what’s really critical to understand, is right now there are actually more people working in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector, than there are working in the fossil fuel sector. So, not just thinking about tomorrow, but even today there are more jobs, more workers in the clean energy.

And so, Trump’s Executive Order is actually incredibly retrograde, and it’s putting that sector, which is already expanding and is becoming a place where really good jobs can happen, at risk.

KIM BROWN: Janet Redman from Oil Change USA is joining us in our conversation about Donald Trump’s signing an Executive Order allowing public lands to be reopened for coal mining, amongst other gifts to the big oil and gas industry.

Stick around for part 2 of our conversation right here on The Real News Network.

KIM BROWN: Welcome back to The Real News Network for part 2 of our conversation with Janet Redman from Oil Change U.S.A.

We’ve been discussing the signing of an Executive Order by Donald Trump, freeing up public lands to make them available to big oil and gas companies for coal mining. Also, Donald Trump has rolled back some key climate change protections put in place by the Obama Administration. Janet still joins us on the line from D.C.

So, Janet talk to us about the review of the Clean Power Plan that is coming. So, what could this mean for Americans’ health, if what America has agreed to participate in, with the Paris Accords; if those are rolled back or eliminated entirely, what would that mean to public health in this country?

JANET REDMAN: Well, there are two things we should understand about the Executive Order. There are two pieces it doesn’t touch on. One is, the United States’ interaction with the Paris Agreement. So, Scott Pruitt — Trump made it very clear, this is not a conversation end on whether we’re engaged in the Paris Climate Agreement anymore, or whether we’re not. I think in part that’s because there may be some purpose to having a seat at the table, where they can muck things up internationally as well. But for now, that piece is off.

But the Clean Power Plan was really one of the main ways we were going to deliver on the climate plans that we put in place in the Climate Paris Agreement, that we said we would work toward achieving climate goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, from our entire economy, by about 26, 28% by 2050.

So, what this means is we probably won’t make that target in time. It also means that while we still have to… under the Clean Air Act, regulate greenhouse gas emissions, that’s still part of the mandate of the Clean Air Act, and of the EPA under the finding. That in fact, greenhouse gas emissions are pollution that impact public health. So, unless that gets reversed, there is still an obligation by the EPA to do something to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

This Executive Order would just mean it would roll back the Clean Power Plan, as the way that we address those emissions. And what we would expect, is something a lot weaker that wouldn’t push our energy, our electricity system into moving away from coal, as one of the main ways we’re generating electricity. Right now, we’re increasingly generating electricity from gas. Which is potentially cleaner at the power plant, but it’s still a whole lot dirtier, when we look at the entire life cycle of gas. We make a lot of methane from pipelines, and we’re moving gas around.

So, another thing, unfortunately, that the Executive Order does, is rescind rules that the EPA and the Bureau of Land Management had put in place, to make sure we stop those leaks of methane, again to protect public health, but also to protect the climate from more greenhouse gas emissions.

KIM BROWN: So, Janet just to be clear, I want you to go over for me the rules regarding the power plant emissions. So, in this Executive Order signed by Trump, he keeps those rules, those Obama era rules in place, or he weakens them? Can you help me to understand that?

JANET REDMAN: Sure. It basically means that Trump has asked the EPA to revise the Clean Power Plan. What he’s basically said is, you know, right now the Clean Power Plan is stopped in court. It’s sitting at the D.C. District Court waiting to be reviewed by that court to understand whether or not it’s legally okay for the Clean Power Plan to be the tool by which the EPA regulates greenhouse gas emissions. We expect that whatever the decision is at the D.C. District Court, will then go to the Supreme Court.

So, what Trump has said now is, stop moving forward on that plan, and ask the District Court to not make a decision on that plan. And instead, asks the EPA to revise the plan of how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. He’s basically saying, “Let’s scrap the Clean Power Plan; come up with another plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. And you know, we’ll make it a bunch weaker.”

I think what he’s really clearly saying is, we don’t want as many provisions putting weight on the coal sector, to shift electricity away from being generated by coal, to being generated by other sources — again gas, but also renewable energy, and using energy efficiency as a way to reduce demand for electricity.

KIM BROWN: So, Trump is saying that, “Meh, we want clean air, but we don’t want it too clean, do we?”

JANET REDMAN: That’s right. That’s right. I mean one of the things that we should be really clear about — sorry to interrupt — is that he has put in place… I mean, he’s struck Executive Orders that Obama put in place, specifically focused on making sure that communities were going to be able to be resilient in the face of climate change. Of course, that means disasters, but it also means pollution that gets worse when we have increased temperatures.

So, the idea that he cares about clean water, and clean air, is incredibly spurious, because what he’s just done, is put in place an Executive Order that will make people sicker — that will make people at greater risk for public health impacts.

KIM BROWN: So, what else is significant in the Executive Order that Trump signed on Tuesday?

JANET REDMAN: A couple of wonky pieces, I mean again, like, as I mentioned, he takes away methane regulations that would have made it so that the gas industry has to really, really plug a bunch of holes in its system, so it’s not releasing methane into the atmosphere — which is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas.

But again, he also takes a hammer to the Climate Action Plan. That’s a place where Obama had laid out the ground rules for the Clean Power Plan, but it also laid out ground rules for making sure that communities have greater resilience when we see greater, heavier storms, when we see sea level rise. There are provisions in there to spend money on renewable energy, and energy efficiency, that makes people’s houses more comfortable, and their electricity bills go down.

It also had money, for example, training for emergency responders to deal with extreme weather events. That money has been slashed now. So, it’s clear that Trump unfortunately, doesn’t care about the American public as much as he cares about the fossil fuel industry’s bottom line.

Another really key piece, it’s a little bit wonky, but it’s something called the National Environmental Protection Act’s Greenhouse Gas Guidance. It was a super important little piece of policy that was put in at the very end of last year, that basically said — any Federal activity, under any agency, not just the EPA, has to account for environmental impacts, including climate impacts. And that means measuring the greenhouse gas emissions that come from any projects. That’s now being slashed as well.

As well as something called the social cost of carbon. That was the administration’s way of calculating what were the costs and benefits of any project, based on the impact it would have on society. That’s going to be taken away as well.

KIM BROWN: So, Janet, when Donald Trump talks about cutting regulations to create American wealth, and to help the economy, whose wealth is most linked to these cuts? And who stands to benefit the most? Is it the American worker? Is it the coal miners that were standing on stage with him today at the EPA headquarters?

JANET REDMAN: No. I mean, as we can see really clearly for the fact that Trump has said let’s scrap this coal lease moratorium, while we redo royalty rates for the coal industry — no. What we’re seeing is, a massive push toward fossil fuel expansion. Who that helps, is the fossil fuel companies.

Certainly there are jobs associated with fossil fuel expansion, but they’re few and far between; and again, the more we spend on renewable energy and energy efficiency, the more jobs we have. Those are just more job intensive sectors. It takes more people to do the activity of building those sectors out. So, what we’re seeing instead is really a handout to the fossil fuel industry.

That’s not surprising, if you look at where fossil fuel companies spend their money when they’re making contributions and lobbying in Congress. It’s 91% spent on Republicans. This is really a Republican agenda in many ways, in my view, although, of course, Democrats take fossil fuel money as well. I think what we have to look at clearly here is — what’s the government that the fossil fuel industry is paying for? What are the policies that the fossil fuel industry is paying for?

And really, what are the policies that the Trump Administration and this Congress is rolling out? And I think we see a big connection between those two things.

KIM BROWN: Donald Trump signed this Executive Order on the exact same day that oil began flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline, specifically under the reservoir that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe rely on — Lake Oahe — so, I don’t think these things are coincidental. But it’s interesting that they did occur on the same day.

We’ve been speaking today with Janet Redman. She’s the former Director of the Climate Policy Program, at the Institute for Policy Studies, and she currently works with Oil Change U.S.A. Janet as always, we appreciate you joining us and lending us your expertise. Thank you.

JANET REDMAN: Thank you for having me on.

KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.

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