Posted by: maboulette | April 12, 2017

Interior Department Moves Swiftly After Trump’s Climate Order


Ryan Zinke

Last week, before President Trump ordered an about-face on federal climate change policies, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had a few minutes to speak to a gathering of members of Congress and industry executives. With a colorful quip, the former Montana congressman captured the Trump administration’s contempt for former President Obama’s approach to addressing climate change: “You know, our nation can’t run on pixie dust and hope, and the last eight years showed that,” Zinke said.

SYMBOLISM

The event was thick with symbolism. Rather than sign the executive order in the Oval Office, as he usually does, Trump joined Zinke, Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt at the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where much of the Obama climate agenda was crafted. The White House invited a dozen coal miners, who stood behind Trump as he signed the executive order outlining numerous rollbacks to climate change initiatives and promoting fossil fuels. “We love our coal miners,” Trump said. “I made them this promise. We will put our miners back to work.”

SCOUR GOVERNMENT AGENCIES

Trump’s order shows that he’s determined to scour government agencies to find any regulations, policies or practices that “unnecessarily obstruct … the delivery of energy resources,” such as oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear power. It immediately cancelled Obama’s executive orders that directed agencies to address climate change across the government. And it withdrew policies that guide agencies to account for the social cost of carbon to society over time.

COAL EXECUTIVES

But even some coal executives are skeptical that Trump’s promises to the coal industry can be achieved.  Low-priced natural gas is outcompeting coal, and increased automation makes it unlikely that the tens of thousands of coal workers laid off in recent years could return to work. Robert Murray, founder and chief executive of Murray Energy, a large coal company, recently counselled the president about this. “I suggested that he temper his expectations. Those are my exact words,” Murray told the Guardian. “He can’t bring them back.”

REALITY CHECK

That reality check won’t stop the Trump administration from trying. The executive order sets tight deadlines for action, but much of what Trump declared could take months or even years to achieve. Pruitt’s EPA, for example, likely will have to slog through a years-long effort to justify undoing or rewriting the Clean Power Plan and then will likely preserve what he does in court. But unlike his colleagues, Zinke on Wednesday announced a series of immediate and short-term actions to root out policies of the last administration that may hamper the development of oil, gas and coal on public lands, especially if they were intended to address climate change.

MORATORIUM

With a secretarial order, Zinke instantly lifted a moratorium on leasing federal lands for coal mining and stopped a three-year assessment of the federal coal program launched by his predecessor Sally Jewell. About 40% of the nation’s coal comes from federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The review was intended to evaluate whether Americans get a fair return for that coal and how climate change should figure into decisions about leasing coal. But Zinke called the moratorium and review of the federal coal program “unnecessary” because the law needs far-reaching environmental analyses of each individual lease.

IMMEDIATE EFFECT

It’s not clear that lifting the moratorium will have much immediate effect. With coal production down and many coal companies bankrupt or in financial distress, companies have not been clamoring for new leases. Zinke agreed as much to reporters in a press call Wednesday: “There has not been a rush in the last few years for coal leases; some of it has been market, some of it has been an uncertain regulatory environment.”

MEASURED TONE

Zinke’s measured tone stood in contrast to the triumphant oratory the day before about how Trump’s order would end the war on coal and bring back coal jobs. “We’ll see where the market goes,” Zinke said. “We don’t favor one source of energy over another. We just want it to be market driven.”  His comments showed the new Cabinet secretary creating an independent voice from himself in an administration where the White House seems to want to apply tight control. He also seemed to veer off message when he spoke this week about how “complex” constructing some of Trump’s border wall will be, especially along the Rio Grande.

TIGHT DEADLINES

In another secretarial order, Zinke set tight deadlines for his staff to examine policies that may hamper energy development on public lands. He gave agencies two weeks to identify policies tied to Obama’s executive orders on climate change and mitigating the effects of energy development on wildlife and other natural and cultural resources. He set a deadline of 30 days to decide whether to review or withdraw those policies and 60 days to have any replacement policies drafted. The goal, the order states, is to “better balance conservation strategies and policies with the equally legitimate need of creating jobs for hardworking American families.”

REWRITING OR STRIKING DOWN

Zinke also kicked off the process of rewriting or striking four Obama administration oil and gas rules. One, which regulates hydraulic fracturing on public lands, is stuck in the courts already. The others regulate drilling in national parks and wildlife refuges and limit companies from wasting methane through leaks and intentional flaring of natural gas on public lands.

PRESS CALL

During the press call, Zinke was asked whether and how he would consider climate change impacts when making future decisions, considering that Trump’s order cancels guidance on the social cost of carbon. Zinke said that the agency would be “transparent” as it figures out its new methodology. But he stressed: “The social cost of not having a job is important too.”

IGNORING CLIMATE CHANGE

But ignoring climate change impacts could tangle Zinke’s Interior Department in the courts. A series of court rulings in recent years entail agencies to account for climate in environmental analyses for major actions. “They can’t just throw up their hands and say we don’t care, we don’t want to, or we don’t believe in it,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel of the Wilderness Society.

JUST LIKE TRUMP

Like Trump, Zinke claims the administration values clean water and clean air, as well as jobs. “My intention is to be the steward over the majesty of our public lands,” Zinke said during an interview with Fox News Wednesday morning, “and make sure we can make wealth and jobs on some of it.”

 

Related Content

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: