April 22, 2017 marked the anniversary of 195 countries signing the Paris Agreement. The cross continental agreement was a pledge made by each country to do their part in keeping the planet from warming more than 3.6 degrees. Scientists say at this temperature the earth will be locked into a future of droughts, floods, diseases, severe weather changes, rising sea levels and food shortages. This initiative is now under potential contest.
On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed the Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. This will cut back on the United States’ environmental policies which met the regulations of the Paris Agreement.
According to the Office of the Press Secretary in the first policy, the executive order states that “it is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our Nation’s vast energy resources, while at the same time, avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily, encumber energy production, constrains economic growth, and the prevent job creation,” initially published on whitehouse.gov.
One of the regulatory burdens being targeted is the Clean Power Plan introduced by Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August 2015. In the Clean Power Plan, hundreds of coal-fired plants would be shut down and/or replaced with wind and solar farms. This shutdown was intended to limit the effects of coal mining on surface water, groundwater, fish and wildlife. An overarching theme was to limit pollution as a contributing factor to global warming.
Under Trump’s new executive order, coal mines that were assigned to be shut down will remain open. The bans of mining on federal land would be lifted, and the order would remove the requirement under the Clean Power Plan that government officials must consider climate change when making federal decisions.
Under the Obama administration, limiting pollution and lowering the earth’s emission of carbon dioxide gas outweighed the economic benefits of the coal industry.
Conservative critics have said the regulations under Obama are too restrictive and value environment over business.
Charles Chen, Ph.D. APU Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry, acknowledges that some people might feel that Obama’s environmental polices made business hard for many people.
“There’s a valid argument in the country on how to implement environmental regulations. We should have a constructive debate about how [environmental initiatives/policies] should be implemented,” Chen said.
Chen also noted that the perception and interpretation of a regulation changes based on the goals and values of the person reading it.
“There’s a translation that happens when science informs policy and when the regulations or rules are written there’s another translation about how it actual gets enforced, then another translation happens when companies and people actually respond to it, and achieve it,” Chen said.
During Trump’s campaign, miners who had expressed feelings of being forgotten about under the Obama administration rallied in support of his vow to restore lost coal industry jobs.
Mining jobs, however, have been decreasing rapidly throughout the years. From 2011 there has been a decline in coal mining by over 40 percent, according to the National Mining Association (NMA). In 2008, coal powered plants generated almost half of the electricity for the United States. Today only 30 percent of electricity can be contributed to coal.
The New York Times reports that it is not the Clean Power Plan that has reduced the need for coal; it is because there is an increase in natural gas production which is cheaper to produce, burns cleaner than coal and allows coal companies to produce more fuel with fewer employees.
Chen and scientists around the world acknowledge that we need to reduce pollution emissions.
According to the New York Times, the demand for coal even under Trump’s rollback would only be extended for up to ten years.
Under the Obama administration the EPA claimed that the Clean Power Plan “shows the world that the United States is committed to leading global efforts to address climate change.”
“Internationally we might not be considered leaders anymore. Other countries are stepping up…it’s possible for countries worldwide to internationally cooperate and be informed to create constructive policy based on science to make an impact and help avert environmental disaster,” Chen said.
Senior Sociology major Miranda Warf recognizes that the effects of climate change are real and whether or not we see them now, we will feel them in the future. Warf believes climate change should be a priority in the government for future generations.
“We can’t wait for everyone to be convicted by climate change to make a difference in society the government works at a large scale, protecting the environment will be one of the most effective things they can do,” Warf said.
Market companies are already pushing companies to more renewable energy or at least away from coal.
According to Chen, if the U.S. doesn’t push forward and be the leaders developing ways to store renewable energy sources, the country will miss its chance to own patents on wind and solar energy that would contribute to the economy.
“Right now what they are trying to do is resurrect old industries maybe the rest of the world has already moved on from. If you think farther into the future the potential economic cost of cleaning things up or even health related costs due to diseases such as asthma, the problems that we get from poor air and water quality end up costing us more economically in our country as a whole when we don’t take care of the environment,” Chen said.
The EPA would be in charge of writing the new order that would rewrite the Clean Power Plan.
Scot Pruitt, the EPA administrator, said the Energy Independence Executive Order will help the United States “be both pro-jobs and pro-environment” in an ABC interview March 28, 2017.