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Democratic lawmaker: Battle to protect climate policies will be in courts

The courts, not Congress, will be the primary venue for challenging the Trump administration's plan to undo Obama-era climate policies, a leading Democratic lawmaker said.

President Donald Trump signed a sweeping executive order March 28 to repeal several Obama administration efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The order included a directive for the U.S. EPA to withdraw and review its Clean Power Plan, a rule that required states to reduce emissions rate limits for existing power plants, and ordered the U.S. Department of Interior to cancel a temporary moratorium on new federal coal leases.

Despite heavy Democratic opposition to the order, one prominent Democrat acknowledged that GOP control of the White House and Congress will make it all but impossible to reverse Trump's plans through legislative action, leaving challenges to the courts.

"The heart of the battle is going to be litigation," U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told reporters at a March 28 briefing. Whitehouse said the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Massachusetts vs. EPA case and the EPA's carbon endangerment finding have solidified the agency's authority to regulate the greenhouse gas.

"That puts a legal duty on Administrator [Scott] Pruitt to proceed with regulation," he said.

If the Trump administration tried to reopen the question of whether carbon should be regulated, "they'd get slaughtered," Whitehouse added.

Trump's executive order mirrors his campaign pledge to lower the energy sector's regulatory burdens and free up more U.S. fossil fuel resources for production. The order came as no surprise to Democrats, who have opposed Trump's call to unwind climate rules, and party leaders vowed to do what they could to preserve regulations that protect air and water.

"The United States should be investing in cleaner water and cleaner air and in renewable energy, not ignoring basic scientific facts and rolling back the great progress we've made in addressing climate change," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said. "I will never stop fighting to protect the environment, the integrity of our government, and the health and safety of our children, and I hope the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans will appreciate the significance of doing so too."

Despite near-zero chance of passage, Democrats have or plan to introduce several bills to offset Trump's order. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said he will submit a bill to reform the federal coal leasing program, including with respect to lease valuations, and revive a resolution calling for the U.S. to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., will introduce "Keep it in the ground" legislation March 28 to prevent new fossil fuel leases in federal areas.

Whitehouse also said Democrats will seek to "hold funding" for agencies that deal with climate-related issues, resisting efforts from the Trump administration to cut budgets for the EPA and other parts of the government outside of defense.