Fulfilling repeated campaign pledges to roll back the Obama administration’s climate change initiatives, President Trump signed a sweeping executive order yesterday targeting key Obama-era regulations, including the Clean Power Plan and emission standards for the oil and gas industry. The executive order states that it is in the interest of the nation to promote development of energy resources “while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.” The multi-faceted approach taken by the order makes it clear that this Administration views any regulation of climate change or carbon pollution as “unnecessary.” 

The order undercuts the Clean Power Plan to the greatest extent possible by issuance of an executive order. First, it rescinds a number of actions and reports issued under President Obama, including the Presidential Memorandum to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) directing the issuance of carbon pollution standards for new and modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants and the President’s Climate Action Plan, which set goals of cutting carbon pollution in the United States, preparing for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to combat global climate change and prepare for its impacts. In addition, the order requires review of the EPA’s carbon pollution emission guidelines for existing power plants and its standards of performance of new, modified, and reconstructed power plants and, if appropriate, to publish for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding those rules. It also requires the EPA to notify the Attorney General of any such actions so the Attorney General may request a stay of the litigation challenging those rules now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In response to the order, EPA submitted to the Federal Register a notice announcing that it is reviewing the Clean Power Plan, and filed with the court a motion to hold the litigation in abeyance while EPA conducts that review.

But the executive order doesn’t stop there. It directs a review of emissions standards for the oil and natural gas sector regulating greenhouses gases and volatile organic compounds. It rescinds the Council on Environmental Quality’s guidance directing consideration of greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews. And it disbands the Interagency Working Group of Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases (IWG), and withdraws technical support documents estimating the social cost of carbon published between February 2010 and August 2016, directing instead that agencies ensure that cost estimates are consistent with a regulatory analysis published in 2003.

The coal industry and the oil and gas industry will be significantly affected by eliminating regulations addressing climate change, and the executive order makes clear its intent to benefit these industries by other provisions, including those lifting an Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands and directing the Secretary of the Interior to commence federal coal leasing activities; directing review of emissions standards for the oil and natural gas sector; and calling for immediate review of all agency actions that potentially “burden” development or use of U.S. energy resources, including actions that regulate the siting, permitting, production, utilization, transmission, or delivery of energy resources.

Removing these hurdles to development will likely result in a resurgence of coal and oil and gas production in the United States. But how soon? Some provisions of the order will have immediate effect. NEPA reviews conducted by federal agencies evaluating the impact of federal action (including issuance of federal environmental permits) no longer need to evaluate the effects of the action’s greenhouse gas emissions and impact on climate change. Permitting decisions that must consider cost can no longer rely on the IWG technical support documents that quantify the cost of carbon emissions. And activities to lease federal lands for coal development can begin right away. The remainder of directives – including those aimed at the Clean Power Plan and emissions standard for the oil and natural gas sectors – will require notice and comment rulemaking and will likely be tied up for years by subsequent litigation.

At the least, the order offers a blueprint that we can expect the Trump Administration to follow to write regulation of carbon emissions out of U.S. law. The extent of the order’s impact on the mix of energy generation resources in the United States remains to be seen. However, the impact on carbon emissions in the United States will be significant, and the full effect of that change may not be apparent for years to come.