One area where President Trump is notching early victories is unleashing American energy, which for years has been held hostage to progressive climate obsessions. On Tuesday Mr. Trump signed an executive order to rescind many of the Obama Administration’s energy directives, and he deserves credit for ending punitive policies that harmed the economy for no improvement in global CO 2 emissions or temperatures.
The order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, which the Supreme Court stayed last year in an extraordinary rebuke. The plan essentially forces states to retire coal plants early, and the tab could top $1 trillion in lost output and 125,000 jobs, according to the American Action Forum. Also expected are double-digit increases in the price of electricity—and a less reliable power grid. All for nothing: A year of U.S. reductions in 2025 would be offset by Chinese emissions in three weeks, says Rice University’s Charles McConnell.
The rule also fulfills a campaign promise to end Barack Obama’s war on coal. It’s true that market forces are reducing coal’s share of U.S. electric power—to some 30% from about 50% a decade ago—thanks mainly to fracking for natural gas. Yet Mr. Obama still deployed brute government force to bankrupt the coal industry. Mr. Trump is right to end that punishment and let the market, not federal dictates, sort out the right energy mix for the future.
The story is similar on a methane rule that the executive order will begin to roll back. Total U.S. methane emissions have dropped 15% since 1990, as Bernard Weinstein of Southern Methodist University told the House last fall, even though domestic oil-and-gas production has doubled over the past decade. One reason is that energy companies have a financial incentive to capture the stuff and sell it. Still, EPA promulgated expensive new emissions targets, equipment rules and more.
The order also dumps the “social cost of carbon,” which is a tool the Obama Administration employed to junk mandatory cost-benefit analyses for regulations. For example: An EPA power plant rule predicted net benefits from $26 billion to $46 billion, but as much as 65% of that derived from guesswork about the positives of reducing carbon, as Bracewell & Giuliani’s Scott Segal explained to Congress at a 2015 hearing. The Obama Administration rolled out these new calculations with no public comment, and the models surely wouldn’t survive a rigorous peer review.
Our contributor Paul Tice makes an intriguing case nearby that the Trump Administration should go further to bring regulatory certainty for energy investment. He argues that the EPA should revisit its 2009 “endangerment finding,” which blacklisted carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
The Trump Administration could update this finding, as recent literature has revealed a pause in rising global temperatures that can’t be explained by carbon reductions. Meantime, progressives will continue to flog the endangerment finding in court as long as it exists, and then use it as a pretext for more regulation when a Democrat returns to the White House.
Another question is whether President Trump will withdraw from the Paris climate deal, which would—in theory—force annual U.S. emissions reductions of 26% over 2005 levels by 2025. That decision is “still under discussion,” according to a White House official who briefed reporters Monday night.
Yet the Clean Power Plan would only fulfill a fraction of the U.S. Paris commitments at an exorbitant cost. Not even Mr. Obama’s entire regulatory agenda would have reached the targets. Already other countries with no intention of reducing their emissions are demanding U.S. compliance and threatening tariffs, so a prompt exit may minimize the damage.
Environmental groups are accusing Mr. Trump of “reversing climate progress,” even as they call the order “symbolic” because the regulatory damage to the coal industry—from rules on mercury, ozone, dust—is mostly irreversible. In any event, Scott Pruitt’s EPA can expect lawsuits that may take years to untangle.
The Trump order is a promise in the bank for the voters who elected the President because he promised to focus on jobs and revving up the economy. It’s also a welcome return to regulatory modesty: One of the more outrageous aspects of the Obama anti-carbon agenda is that agencies rammed through what Congress refused to pass in legislation.
As for climate change, President Trump’s order will have the same practical effect on rising temperatures as the Clean Power Plan: none.
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