On March 28 President Donald Trump signed an executive order that affirmed to the international community he has no plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The effect of this executive order on the United States is uncertain. President Trump said he believes this action will revive the coal industry and put miners back to work. Former Colorado Governor and founder of the Center for the New Energy Economy, Bill Ritter, is doubtful.
“It is not likely that the Trump administration is going to save coal jobs. What is happening here is market driven,” Ritter said. “In short of subsidizing the coal industry, which I don’t think the Trump administration is likely to do, your probably not going to resuscitate these jobs.”
Ritter created the Center for the New Energy Economy in partnership with Colorado State University to work with states on a clean energy transition. Part of the work they do is help utility companies create new business models tailored to renewable energy while the coal industry declines.
Ritter said that last year, Wyoming had the three largest coal producers in the country: Peabody, Arch and Alpha. All three went into bankruptcy in the past year, and while they have since recovered, their stock prices have been at all-time lows.
The Clean Power Plan, which Trump plans to end with this executive order, was introduced by the Obama administration. The plan was created to transition away from coal power plants and move toward renewable energy, but it has never actually been implemented.
Michele Betsill, chair of political science at CSU, explained that the Clean Power Plan has been halted by legal barricades in which several states sued the Obama administration.
“Under the Obama administration, when the Clean Power Plan was being challenged in court, the administration was defending the Clean Power Plan,” Betsill said. “With this executive order, Trump said we are not going to defend the Clean Power Plan. So essentially, he is letting this die.”
Betsill predicts people in favor of the Clean Power Plan will similarly challenge Trump’s action and the legislature will remain in court for years.
However, just because Trump is attempting to get rid of the Clean Power Plan, does not mean he will be able to stop the EPA from regulating emissions. Betsill said the EPA previously recognized that carbon dioxide is a danger to human health and gave it an endangerment ruling. Under the Clean Air Act, with an endangerment ruling present, the EPA is legally bound to regulate carbon emissions.
“It’s very easy for people to come back to the Trump administration and say, ‘Look, if your not going to regulate CO2 under the Clean Power Plan, you have to regulate it in some other way,’” Betsill said.
The federal government has never been the leading force in climate change policy. Betsill said that opposition to congress often blocks new legislation, even during the Obama and Clinton administrations. State and city governments, as well as the private sector, are stepping up to drive progress.
The city of Fort Collins has some of the most ambitious climate goals in the nation, according to Betsill. Fort Collins has a Climate Action Plan that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below the 2005 levels by 2030. Fort Collins is also one of the only cities in the world that has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Ritter said that ironically, by Trump’s actions to eliminate the the Clean Power Plan, he is actually making it harder for some states to shirk their responsibilities in emission reductions. This is because part of the Clean Power Plan was to create allowance trading between states.
California, Oregon and Washington, who have gone ahead of their clean power goals, would have been able to ease the burden on states like North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming who have yet to meet their targets. Ritter said by eliminating this trading platform under the Clean Power Plan some states will have to do more to implement renewable energy.
Beyond the United States, the international community has begun to respond to the stance Trump is taking on greenhouse gas emissions. Betsill said world leaders are not impressed with the United States, but they are ready to take action in reducing emissions.
“The president of China has stepped in and said we are going to be a leader on this global issue, which was unheard of a decade ago,” Betsill said.
While change is coming to the energy industry, Ritter said that he can not demonize coal. He said it helped build a manufacturing sector in America, and contributed to developing the middle class. The problem, according to Ritter, is that coal is driving climate change and new energy sources need to be developed. State, city, private and international support can still continue to promote this transition.
“It would be ideal to have a federal partner here who was on board in trying to move this clean energy transition,” Ritter said. “We don’t have that. But we still have a lot of reasons to be positive.”
Collegian reporter Ty Betts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TyBetts9.