Yes, US President Donald Trump acted audaciously
on Mar. 28 when he signed an executive order gutting environmental policies of his predecessor. But
former President Barack Obama acted audaciously,
too, when he made affordable energy subservient to
the mitigation of climate change.
Obama governed as he believed. And his be-
liefs went on famous display in an Atlantic inter-
view published last April. The Islamic State poses
no existential threat to the US, he told the writer.
“Climate change,” on the other hand, “is a poten-
tial existential threat to the entire world if we don’t
do something about it.”
Trump, too, governs as he believes. He believes
Obama was wrong. Election results indicate he’s
The headline casualty of Trump’s executive order
is the Clean Power Plan, which requires generators of electric power to slash emissions of greenhouse gases. Unraveling the CPP will take time.
The Environmental Protection Agency must issue
a finding that the program should be changed or
revoked. Environmental groups will sue. But the
CPP is doomed.
Its future already was cloudy. The Supreme
Court last year stayed the program in a case challenging federal authority over state-level energy
choices. The case, which the Department of Justice last week sought to suspend, underscores the
Obama administration’s readiness to strain legality for initiatives consequential far more to cost
than climate. Even under climate models assuming high temperature sensitivity to greenhouse-gas loading of the atmosphere, says Bjorn Lombo-rg, Danish critic of standard political approaches
to climate change, the CPP would have slowed the
projected increase in global average temperature
through century’s end by only 0.023° F.
Trump’s executive order also targets mechanisms that exaggerate rewards of climate policies
in relation to always-lowballed costs. Gone is the
social cost of carbon (SCC), which came under
suspicion in 2013 after controversial EPA adjustments that raised the estimated value of carbon-dioxide abatement. The agency drew further criticism for skewing benefit-cost relationships when it
projected benefits globally but costs domestically.
Because of these and other political manipulations, the SCC lost credibility. So did the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse
Gases, which made the recommendation about
projecting benefits globally. It, too, is now history.
Regulatory analysis reverts to Office of Management and Budget procedures published in 2003.
Trump also rescinded lawsuit bait installed
by the White House Council on Environmental
Quality last year in guidance about including climate effects in National Environmental Policy Act
reviews. And he ordered EPA to review its final
rule controlling emissions of methane from new
or modified oil and gas sources.
EPA based that and other assaults against natural gas on methane’s potency as a greenhouse
gas. Yet methane is sparse in the atmosphere, and
emissions of it already are falling. What’s more,
growing use of gas for power generation explains
much of the recent flattening of carbon-dioxide
emissions in the US and world. With its contradictory methane rule, EPA seems mainly to have
wanted to impede gas development.
In these and other ways, Trump dismantles a
legally questionable framework designed to make
climate mitigation the priority of policy-making. If
the electorate shared Obama’s anxiety over climate
change and thought the threat warranted constitutional compromises, Hillary Clinton would be
The question remains whether Trump will
withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, to which Obama committed the US
by executive signature. With CPP aflame, that
commitment now means little. Trump can quit the
agreement as easily as Obama entered it.
But the Paris summit addressed a genuine problem.
It produced an agreement worth little more than
photo opportunities because it accommodated only
narrow prejudices and extreme remedies. Climate
change deserves better. Candidate Trump called
the issue a hoax. President Trump would perform
valuable service if he surprised everyone by reviving debate within the Paris framework while insisting the discussion encompass all views.
His negotiating perspective is clearer than ever.
And he’s said to be quite the deal-maker.