Trump’s supporters and policy writers were more effusive. “This is a great start, and it accomplishes most of the work at the EPA,” said Myron Ebell, who ran the EPA transition for the Trump administration but who has now returned to directing environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell has long cast doubt on the mainstream consensus around climate change.
He said the remaining question was whether the EPA would withdraw the endangerment finding, the decision that carbon dioxide poses a threat to human health. “My feeling is the litigation to try to block the withdrawal of the power-plant rules could tell us really useful input on how to withdraw from Paris and pull out of the endangerment finding,” he told me.
The Trump administration says the order will bring about energy independence for the country and constitute regulatory relief for coal miners.
Neither of these arguments are backed up by fact, though. In the power sector, the United States has long been a net exporter of coal. Last year, it began to net-export natural gas as well. (America does depend on foreign petroleum—but the White House rolled back gasoline fuel-efficiency rules earlier this month.)
Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that the rule could extend the working life of some coal-fired power plants for up to a decade, but that many mining jobs still might vanish due to increased mechanization. Richard Murray, the founder and CEO of the coal giant Murray Energy, told Trump last week that he shouldn’t expect to see most coal jobs return.
“I suggested that he temper his expectations. Those are my exact words,” Murray told The Guardian. “He can’t bring them back.”
Ebell said the goal of the rule is to “prevent turning the heartland states into copies of the California economy. California, and to some extent New York and New England, have been the leaders in pursing energy-rationing policies in the name of climate.”
By energy-rationing, Ebell meant the replacement of existing coal plants with natural-gas facilities and renewables. “It forces the closure of the least expensive form of electricity,” he told me, meaning coal. “Most utilties would have decided to keep their coal power plants going had it not been for this looming regulatory regime.”
Since the advent of fracking, natural gas has been consistently cheaper than coal. Natural-gas plants also need fewer workers. “Because of the competitive price of natural gas and the declining price of renewables, continuing to drive carbon out makes sense for us,” Lynn Good, the chief executive of Duke Energy, told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.
Prominent environmental leaders from the Obama era condemned the announcement. “This is not just dangerous; it’s embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth, and U.S. leadership,” said Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator during Obama’s second term, in a statement.
International leaders also spoke about the order. “I don’t know anyone who wants to breathe dirty air, who wants to worry about their water source, or who wants to leave a dangerous world to their children,” said Christiana Figueres, the former UN diplomat who led the Paris climate talks, in a statement. “And because we are all united by these common desires, I am optimistic that Paris will endure, with world leadership remaining resilient in its commitments to Paris.”