President Donald Trump is preparing to sign executive orders to undo major climate and possibly water policies established by the U.S. EPA and U.S. State Department, according to industry and administration sources.
Trump is expected to sign the orders soon now that the U.S. Senate has confirmed his nominee to lead the EPA, now-former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
The president may nullify parts of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan, which prompted the EPA to form the Clean Power Plan for slashing electricity-sector carbon emissions. The rule is on hold pending resolution of court challenges, but the Trump administration is likely to toss the rule or replace it with something less stringent, depending on the court's ruling.
The president could also seek to unwind U.S. commitments to international climate efforts. Trump promised during his campaign to eliminate Obama's Climate Action Plan and "cancel" U.S. involvement in the Paris climate agreement that was formed with some 200 countries in December 2015.
The reports of Trump's planned executive action have troubled environmental groups hoping to preserve Obama's climate legacy.
"Undermining the international leadership the U.S. has shown on climate action would be an enormous mistake of historic consequence," Sierra Club's global climate policy director John Coequyt said. "If Trump does follow through it would mean he is declaring open season on our air, water and climate while further destabilizing our role in the world."
But the orders may take a more incremental approach. Frank Maisano, a partner with law firm Bracewell LLP, said he heard Trump could issue three orders on Feb. 21. One order would broadly target Obama's Climate Action Plan. Reversing the plan, however, would not mean its elimination, which Trump may leave to Pruitt.
Another order would involve State Department support for international climate work, though Maisano was unsure whether it would target the Paris deal specifically. Trump's Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has expressed concern that withdrawing from the Paris agreement could keep the U.S. from participating in global climate talks. "We suspect [the order] would probably be along the lines of targeting U.N. [climate] funding," Maisano said.
A third Trump order may be related to a highly contested water regulation opposed by coal producers and several states. Maisano heard that the president could take action on the U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Rule, which was finalized in 2015. The rule redefined waters subject to federal regulation in a way that critics worried would drastically expand permitting obligations and restrict energy production.
A federal appeals court stayed the rule nationwide in October 2015, and Trump has said that as president he would eliminate the regulation.
Since his inauguration Jan. 20, Trump has signed several memorandums and executive orders tied to energy. He asked TransCanada Corp. to resubmit an application to build the Keystone XL crude pipeline and directed the Army Corps to expedite its review of controversial easements that Energy Transfer Partners LP needs to build the Dakota Access oil pipeline through a part of North Dakota near Standing Rock Sioux tribal land.
Trump also signed an executive order requiring all federal agencies to eliminate at least two existing regulations for every new rule they promulgate in an effort to reduce compliance burdens for the industry.
Some of the early actions have already encountered legal challenges. A coalition of three groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a lawsuit to block the 2-for-1 regulatory cut, saying the president exceeded his authority and that the order would undo or block needed environmental protections. Environmental group Earthjustice is challenging Trump's Dakota Access directive and pushing to have the Corps conduct a more thorough environmental impact statement for the pipeline easements.
Proponents of Trump's early orders said the legal challenges are premature, but executive orders from other administrations have been overturned, Earthjustice managing attorney Patti Goldman said. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce successfully fought to reverse an executive order from President Bill Clinton that would prohibit government contracts for companies that hire workers to replace employees on strike.