President Donald Trump's plan to reverse the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan and other climate policies will prevent the U.S. from satisfying its commitments to the Paris climate deal, according to a new study.
The findings highlight doubts about the fate of U.S. participation in the climate pact, which the country joined during the Obama administration.
Trump released an executive order March 28 that directed EPA to review its Clean Power Plan and suspend, revise or rescind the rule. The regulation required each state to meet specific emissions rate limits, which the EPA estimated would cut power sector carbon output by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030.
The order made similar requests for other climate regulations, including emissions standards for new and modified oil and gas sources and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's methane rule for oil and gas production on federal lands. In addition, Trump directed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to resume issuing new leases for coal production on federal lands.
The directive will have little impact on carbon emissions over the next couple years, the Rhodium Group said in its report. But by 2019, "a gap begins to open up" between emissions declines under Obama's Climate Action Plan and those from Trump's plan.
The executive order will cause total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to hold steady between 2015 and 2030, stabilizing at about 14% below 2005 levels, the study said. That would leave the U.S. "pretty far" from its commitment to cut emissions 26%-28% by 2025 as part of the Paris global climate deal.
The March 28 order did not address involvement in the Paris agreement. Trump has criticized the deal and vowed during his campaign to withdraw the U.S. from the pact. But members of his cabinet and inner circle, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and daughter Ivanka Trump, have encouraged him to remain in the Paris deal.
Seemingly natural allies of Trump also support the agreement. The president has called for freeing up more domestic oil and gas production and removing regulatory barriers for that industry. But several large oil and gas producers want to stay in the global climate pact, said Jon Sohn, a lawyer and climate expert at the Dentons law firm.
Those companies, which have operations in and outside the U.S., benefit from having a global policy system rather than dealing with different programs in different countries, he said. In addition, producers want credit for their carbon capture projects or other clean technology investments, rewards that are harder to come by if an international climate framework is lacking.
Sohn said the Trump administration could offer a less aggressive plan for lowering emissions under the Paris deal, but powerful GOP allies in Congress are calling for a complete U.S. withdrawal. U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said March 29 that the Paris pact is a "bad deal for America" that will impose burdens on the U.S. economy and unfairly benefit other major emitters like China and India.
"Pulling out of this agreement would help rev the engines of America's economy, which is necessary if we are going to develop the next generation of technologies to reduce our emissions even further," Barrasso wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Times.
Power sector plays a big role
If the U.S. does stay in the Paris deal, it will struggle to meet its targets without the Clean Power Plan remaining in place and largely intact.
The EPA may decide simply to ease the rule's emissions targets and timelines rather than throw the plan out entirely. But doing so would still likely require the Trump administration to adjust its Paris obligations.
The Clean Power Plan has been a big part of expected U.S. greenhouse gas emissions cuts in the coming years.
In a recent long-term outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that electric power sector CO2 emissions would go from about 1.92 billion metric tons in 2015 down to 1.54 billion in 2030 in its reference case, which included implementation of the Clean Power Plan. Without the rule in place, emissions would only fall to about 1.89 billion metric tons by 2030, EIA said.