by Tara Debra G

In January I wrote an assessment of Obama’s environmental record during his eight-year presidency. In my piece I discussed the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the fragile cornerstone of the U.S.’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and how this one central piece of environmental legislation during the Obama era could prove to be a house built upon sand. On Tuesday President Trump proved his willingness to blow down that house and signed the Energy Independence Executive Order.

Much of the coverage on this order has focused on the plan to conduct a review of the CPP. The original goal of the CPP was to avoid 870 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission by 2030, but the legislation has been in legal limbo ever since 27 states challenged it in the Supreme Court. If a review conducted by the EPA, headed by Scott Pruitt, does find faults with the CPP, it is legally obliged to replace what it repeals. The EPA is also legally mandated to regulate carbon emissions and there’s not a whole lot the Trump administration can do about that.

Paris agreement

Paris Climate Change Agreement, 2015. Image credit: UNFCCC.

Probably the most damaging aspect of cutting the CPP would be the signaling of a U-turn on America’s leadership in curbing carbon emissions in the international community. Putting that fact aside, is there still substance in the concerns over this order? If you judge executive actions by whether they actually achieve the aims they set out, then yes.
For a while, Republicans have been the most vocal advocates for increasing domestic energy production, and their reasoning is rock solid. The typical argument tends to be that depending on foreign oil is bad for national security, economic growth and jobs. People like Sarah Palin have been long-time critics of America enjoying relationships a little too close for comfort with countries it shouldn’t have. For example, Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s worst records on human rights abuses and may be committing war crimes in Yemen (that the U.S. and U.K may or may not be aiding), yet remains an incredibly close ally of America. From the U.S. government’s own records Saudi Arabia is the second-largest source of oil imports. It’s undeniable that too much of America’s foreign policy is dictated by oil markets and the only way to remedy that is for a huge increase in cheap, homegrown energy.

if you show enough of these people how a particular issue affects them personally, and not the ‘entire planet’ in the abstract, they can be motivated to shake up political systems. President Trump has already shown this.

Trump’s wide-sweeping order across agencies to mandate a review of regulation aims to elevate some of the roadblocks in place that prevent the growth of non-renewable energy, particularly for the coal industry. Both my dad and brother work in a coal power station, one that is undergoing mass redundancies as it prepares for its need-based-only mode of operating later this year. It’s painful that a place of work that has been a big part of my family’s life is dying out so soon. But if my dad and brother were working in coal in America, this order would not bring back their plant and secure their jobs.

Institute for energy research 2011.png

Image credit: Institute for Energy Research, 2011

We need to be criticising how well this order achieves its aims and what the consequences are, rather than chastising the motivations behind it. And instead of the Left shouting ‘coal is never coming back!’ (even though it’s not), we need to be saying ‘how can we help workers transition from one industry into another?’ And that’s not something Trump’s order does either. It’s a sad truth that global markets are deep into their preference of gas and nuclear over coal, but even this hasn’t got a long life-span; the tide of green energy is inevitable, and trying (with a lot of legal backlash) to put a short-term plaster over it doesn’t offer anything substantial to coal workers who need long-term employment.
This order is a lot more symbolic than it is substantive, and the green panic around it isn’t really helping. In fact, I’ve become more and more disillusioned with the way we (Lefties, environmentalists, etc.) frame climate change. One of the reasons why Republicans are historically much better at getting turnout on the local and state level is because they know how to capitalise on selfishness. If (and a strong if at that) this order does have environmental consequences, it’s your children’s health on the line because of carbon emissions and it’s your country’s national security at risk when more natural disasters happen and international tensions rise.

chaoticness 2014

Image credit: Chaoticness, 2014

I recently spoke to a law professor who had worked in the EPA during the Obama administration, and he told me that the only way to make states want environmentally progressive actions is to stay as far away from the words ‘climate change’ as possible, and to make the discussion about how these actions are really going to help them. It’s simple as that. The vast majority of the electorate just wants the best for themselves and their families, and if you show enough of these people how a particular issue affects them personally, and not the ‘entire planet’ in the abstract, they can be motivated to shake up political systems. President Trump has already shown this.

American workers deserve a lot better than this order.


Featured image credit: Emilian Robert Vicol

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