The president of the United States signed the Energy Independence Executive Order today, a funny name for an order that has nothing to do with energy independence; America only imports 11 percent of its energy now, and none of that is coal. And really, much of this order is about coal; according to the Washington Post, the president said:
“Our administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” he said, accompanied onstage by more than a dozen coal miners, Vice President Pence and three Cabinet members. “We’re ending the theft of American prosperity, and rebuilding our beloved country.”
A lot of people are wringing their hands today, saying that this order is a catastrophe, a disaster, the end of the world as we know it. Tom Steyer says “these actions are an assault on American values and they endanger the health, safety and prosperity of every American.”
I suppose it is important to show that this is a big deal and to get all worked up. But the reality of the situation is likely different. The reality is probably that this is a totally useless and ineffective executive order that doesn’t change much at all.
But it rolls back the Clean Power Plan.
However the clean power plan never actually went into effect; it is in the courts. If the courts kill it then nothing is changed by the EO; If they don’t, it still is law and has to be changed. That will be challenged; it would have likely taken much of the first term of any President before substantive changes would happen.
It eliminates restrictions on the use of coal and allows mining on federal lands.
But the use of coal is declining everywhere in America; Natural gas is cheaper right now, and all the other rules that make fracking easier ensure that natural gas will stay cheaper. Coal plants are still expensive to build and nobody is going to start because of the change in regulations, given how a new President could be in office before it even gets started, there is no security in this business right now. Coal mining is increasingly automated and modern mines are huge stripping operations; there is a glut of coal and just saying that it can happen on federal lands does not make it happen. Coal mines closed and miners were let go because a) there was less demand for the stuff and b) the workers aren’t needed anymore because big machines are cheaper.
It wants to reconsider regulations on methane emissions from drilling operations.
This is a big deal, methane is a significant greenhouse gas. But this again will need new regulations, it cannot just be ignored, the regulation is in place. That will take some time and some justification, and it is hard to justify waste, which is what this is.
But it’s all about the trend, not just the details.
Yes, and as Brad Plumer notes in Vox,
Overturning everything Obama has done on climate will be difficult, however. Some rules, like the fuel economy standards, can only be weakened — not killed entirely. Other regulatory rollbacks may get thwarted by federal judges. And Congress will have final say over the EPA’s budget, with even some Republicans now balking at the steep cuts Trump has been mulling to clean energy programs.
Then there are the States and the cities, all of which are going to baulk at much of this.
Yes, this is all a disaster. And the president is going to fire on all cylinders to increase demand for fossil fuel energy, climate be damned, because that is the only way to get people mining coal and making a profit on fracking, by reducing fuel efficiency standards, killing Energy Star and probably trying to limit solar and wind. Or he could start a war, always a big expensive fuel suck.
But how much if it will actually get approved and when? Unless he can convince the car makers to build rolling coal-fired pickup trucks, it doesn’t seem to me that it will make much difference. Everywhere in the world, even governments that pay fealty to the climate change issue (like Canada to the north) are just talking but not really doing much. With this particular president, we just get screwed a little bit faster.