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Trump causes a stir in the energy universe with executive order

Even though many details of President Donald Trump's long-awaited executive order on energy policy had been leaked by the time it was officially signed and released to the public March 28, the six page document promising energy independence still caused a stir across the nation's energy and environmental communities.

The executive order promised to usher in an era of energy independence and redirect policy away from climate change and other environmental priorities of the new president's predecessor. Trump signed the document at the U.S. EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in a symbolic ceremony, during which the president was surrounded by members of his cabinet and coal miners bused in for the event.

Opening for the president and Vice President Mike Pence, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt looked around at the senators and industry executives in the room. "Perhaps this is your first visit to the EPA for some of you; it's good to see some coal miners here at the EPA. So, welcome to you, here," he said, gesturing to some individuals behind him on stage.

Coal interests certainly cheered the release of the executive order, which sets in motion the process for lifting some of the regulatory burdens placed on the industry. Trump lifted the moratorium on federal coal leasing, which was the fulfillment of a promise he made on the campaign trail. Even so, Murray Energy Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Robert Murray remained skeptical that markets will improve in the next few years for the coal industry.

The order also set Pruitt to work undoing a regulation that has been the bane of Murray: the Clean Power Plan. "Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers, and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry," Trump said during his remarks at the EPA.

How Pruitt will go about unwinding that regulation remains to be seen. A proposed substitute for the rule penned by the EPA administrator when he served as Oklahoma's attorney general, however, could provide some clues in the event the agency issues a replacement regulation. If Trump wants to completely eliminate the need for regulating carbon, the EPA will have a heavy lift. While Congress cheered the executive order, broader action on restricting the EPA might be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.

Trump also set the Department of the Interior to work rolling back methane emissions reduction goals and policies for the oil and gas sector, delighting industry and dismaying environmental advocates. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who attended the signing of the executive order, promised a robust examination of the regulations he has been tasked with reviewing.

The order also targeted broader climate change and environmental goals, including the social cost of carbon and requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act that direct federal agencies to consider the climate ramifications of their decisions.

Even as Trump seeks to bolster the fossil fuel industry, his order briefly mentioned renewable generation. The order did not, however, set out any specific policy to aid expansion of any renewable generation sources. Either way, industry experts expect renewables will continue to grow regardless of Trump's policies.

Meanwhile, states that supported Obama's policy goals, including the Clean Power Plan, vowed to fight Trump's agenda. Any attempt to undo regulation must be done through a typical notice and comment rulemaking, and therefore each agency decision will be subject to a court battle. That became abundantly clear when Earthjustice filed a lawsuit challenging the lifting of the coal moratorium.