Can Trump undo Obama’s policies?

What the President-elect can — and can’t — do when it comes to water, coal and climate change.

 

One week after the presidential election, on a summery November day, I phoned Denver-based climate activist Jeremy Nichols. Nichols has pressured the government to keep its fossil fuel reserves in the ground, with some success: In January, the Obama administration put a moratorium on federal coal leasing, something unimaginable during the heady drilling years of Bush and Cheney. I called to ask what Nichols expected from the next president? He remarked on the unseasonably warm weather, then lamented, “I’m going to yearn for the George W. Bush days.”

Environmentalists have good reason to worry about President-elect Donald J. Trump. In 2012, Trump tweeted that climate change was a “concept” ginned up by the Chinese. Now, he’s appointed a prominent critic of climate science and policy to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition. On his new website, Trump promises to grease the permitting skids for fossil fuel production, end the “war on coal,” support renewable energy and scrap the Clean Power Plan. At the same time, he professes a commitment to “our wonderful natural resources.”

The energy industry is delighted. “I think what we’re looking for right off the bat is simply having an administration that is not openly hostile to us,” says Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance. Meanwhile, conservationists expect to spend the next four years defending their Obama-era gains. But Obama’s environmental achievements are considerable, and Trump can’t vanquish them with a snap of his fingers. Many power plants have already taken steps to rein in toxic mercury emissions and pollutants that cloud parks and wilderness with brown haze. Obama’s clean car rules have already stood up in court. So far, Obama has designated 27 national monuments more than any other administration — and the new president has no clear legal authority to erase those protections.

Still, the carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan, one of the president’s most significant accomplishments, is in peril. And the rarely used Congressional Review Act allows Congress to weigh in on any rule finalized after May 30 of this year, according to a Congressional Research Service estimate, by giving it 60 days in session to pass something called a “joint resolution of disapproval.” If the president signs the resolution, the rule is nullified, and agencies are forbidden to issue similar rules.

Here we highlight some of the Obama administration’s achievements and Trump’s position on them, if known, and explain how Trump could attempt to undo them.

Federal Coal Leasing Moratorium

What Obama Did: In January, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued a “secretarial order” directing the department to stop leasing federal coal reserves, pending a review of the program. Environmentalists like Nichols had pushed for this, arguing that leasing federal coal was inconsistent with Obama’s climate goals, and that the program didn’t deliver fair returns to taxpayers.

Trump’s Take: One of the few specific promises Trump has made is to lift the moratorium.

Trump’s Options: Trump’s administration can scrap the moratorium with the stroke of a pen — the same way the Obama administration created it.

Workers observe as excess methane gas is vented and burned in the oil fields near Williston, North Dakota. New Obama administration rules limit flaring and other emissions from oil and gas operations.
Andrew Burton / Getty Images

BLM and EPA Methane Rules

What Obama Did: Both the EPA and Bureau of Land Management finalized rules this year to limit the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, vented or flared by oil and gas drilling. The rules would limit those emissions at both new and existing facilities and funnel additional royalties to taxpayers, who don’t currently earn revenue on methane that’s burned as waste.

Trump’s Take: We don’t know. However, Trump has positioned himself as a staunch ally of the industry, which vigorously opposes the rules. The BLM’s rule, finalized on Nov. 15, was met immediately with an industry lawsuit. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, released a statement saying he looks forward to helping the new administration rescind the rules.

Trump’s Options: Congress could use the Congressional Review Act to ask Trump to nix the rules, or include language in appropriations bills temporarily prohibiting the agencies from using funds for implementation or enforcement. Whatever happens, Erik Schlenker-Goodrich of the Western Environmental Law Center notes that waste prevention is a core principle of federal oil and gas law, and says his group will continue to ensure that BLM fulfills its legal obligations.

Oil and Gas Leasing Reforms

What Obama Did: In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, The Wilderness Society’s Nada Culver says, you had to visit BLM field offices in person to keep tabs on oil and gas lease sales. Coordinates for parcels up for auction were posted, but you had to map them yourself and protest within a short window. As public-land drilling intensified, encroaching on places like Dinosaur National Monument, environmentalists protested more and filed more lawsuits. The result, says Culver, frustrated everyone: Environmentalists felt that the BLM put too little thought into leasing, and some offices became burdened with multi-year backlogs, a burden for industry.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sought to break the gridlock by increasing public participation and including more upfront planning. Public comment periods now precede lease sales, and the BLM is starting to give citizens more insight into its thinking before it drafts management plans. Master leasing plans, which try to resolve conflicts between industry and others ahead of leasing, are another product of Salazar’s reforms.

Trump’s Take: We don’t know. Trump has promised to “lift restrictions” on energy development on public lands, but the Western Energy Alliance says it’s hard to know exactly what that means. Litigation still bogs down leasing and protests continue, Sgamma says, pointing to a WildEarth Guardians lawsuit challenging all leases sold in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming since the start of 2015. She hopes for changes that speed up leasing and permitting.

Trump’s Options: The reforms were created through memoranda issued by Salazar, and they could be changed in the same fashion. But whether the new administration will do so is anyone's guess. Culver notes that the reforms have been incorporated into BLM's management handbooks, and that reducing public involvement could be politically tricky. “It’s going to be hard to say, ‘Never mind, don’t pay attention to that man behind the curtain making all of the oil and gas decisions.’ Culver contends that there aren’t that many restrictions on development anyway; the market is the primary limiting factor.

Nichols expects some change: “I think we will see Interior move to limit BLM’s discretion to reject leases,” he says.

Waters of the U.S. Rule

What Obama Did: This supremely wonky rule allows the feds to regulate pollution in small and intermittent wetlands and streams under the Clean Water Act.

Trump’s Take: Trump has promised to eliminate what he calls a “highly invasive” rule, opposed by energy companies, agriculture groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many Republicans, who say it represents an egregious expansion of federal regulatory power.

Trump’s Options: Since the rule is currently tied up in court, Trump could let the legal system decide its fate. It’s likely to end up in the Supreme Court, which may soon tilt in the GOP’s favor. He could also ask the court to send the rule back to the EPA for revision. However, that process would be open to public comment and ultimately to more litigation.

Offshore Oil Leasing

What Obama Did: On Nov. 19, the Obama administration finalized its five-year plan for offshore oil leasing, which determines where leases will be offered through 2022. It canceled proposed lease sales in the Arctic Ocean and put the Atlantic and Pacific coasts off-limits to new leasing.

Trump’s Take: We don’t know, but industry groups and Alaska Republicans aren’t happy, and an “infuriated” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R, has promised to fight the decision.

Trump’s Options: The new administration could write a new plan, but probably not quickly. Obama’s plan was developed over two years, and industry interest in Arctic drilling has cooled amid low oil prices. Shell abandoned its exploratory efforts in the Chukchi Sea in 2015, citing disappointing results.

Cally Carswell is a contributing editor for High Country News. She writes from Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

Mark Squillace
Mark Squillace
Nov 24, 2016 04:21 PM
Cally Carswell's otherwise excellent article describes the EPA/Corps definition of "waters of the United States" as "[t]his supremely wonky rule [that] allows the feds to regulate pollution in small and intermittent wetlands and streams under the Clean Water Act." This type of characterization, which we see all too often, has long been promoted by developers but it is flat out wrong. The WOTUS rule, as it is often called, merely tries to avoid the ad hoc determinations about the federal government's jurisdiction over various types of waters that became necessary because of two misguided decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court. Forcing the government to make case by case decisions was highly inefficient, which obviously worked in favor of developers who were happy for any rule that could cause delays and challenges. Importantly, it does not seek to expand the government's jurisdiction over water; it merely makes it easier and more efficient to determine whether a water body meet the Supreme Court's test.
Mark Rozman
Mark Rozman
Nov 26, 2016 09:19 AM
When President Trump is sworn in, environmentalists will be crying enough to end drought conditions. President Obama's arrogance will be his undoing, rather the undoing of many executive actions. By not reaching compromise, the demise was begun. As an example, when the methane gas rule was written, agriculture was exempted, ag is the single, largest contributor to greenhouse gas behind urban areas. Why you ask was this written this way ? To strike against agriculture AND urban areas at the same time would have been political suicide, and Obama knew it. In my opinion, the ONLY lasting legacy will be the beginning of normalized relations with Cuba, which is not entirely Obama's doing. LET THE GAMES BEGIN !! Happy hunting.
Jim Bolen
Jim Bolen
Nov 29, 2016 01:02 PM
Mark
I think Obamas has compromised too much. Your example of not including AG and Urban areas demonstrates that.
But like you said it would be political suicide, so what choice did he have? He doesn't have the support as people's commitment to the environment only goes as far as their own pocketbook.
The affordability care act is another example where compromises had jeopardizes the system.
Yes Obama has used executive actions but not out of arrogance but due to the do nothing obstructionist he has to deal with from the majority party(Republicans aka WNP) .
Nick Schroeder
Nick Schroeder
Dec 04, 2016 09:25 AM
1) Per IPCC AR5 Figure 6.1 prior to year 1750 CO2 represented about 1.26% of the total biosphere carbon balance (589/46,713). After mankind’s contributions, 67 % fossil fuel and cement – 33% land use changes, atmospheric CO2 increased to about 1.77% of the total biosphere carbon balance (829/46,713). This represents a shift of 0.51% from all the collected stores, ocean outgassing, carbonates, carbohydrates, etc. not just mankind, to the atmosphere. A 0.51% rearrangement of 46,713 Gt of stores and 100s of Gt annual fluxes doesn’t impress me as measurable let alone actionable, attributable, or significant.


2) Figure 10 in Trenberth et al 2011jcli24, in addition to substantial differences of opinion, i.e. uncertainties, 7 of the 8 balances considered, 87.5%, showed more energy leaving ToA than entering, i.e. atmospheric cooling.


3) Even IPCC AR5 expresses serious doubts about the value of their AOGCMs (IPCC AR5 Box TS.3).

The sea ice and sheet ice is behaving as usual for decades (DMI) and does not affect sea levels. Polar bear population is the highest in decades, the weather (30 years = climate) is less extreme not more, the sea level rise is not accelerating, the GCM’s are repeat failures, the CAGW hypothesis is coming unraveled, COP21 turned into yet another empty and embarrassing fiasco, IPCC AR6 will mimic SNL’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, “Well, neeeveeer mind!!”
Nick Schroeder
Nick Schroeder
Dec 04, 2016 09:26 AM
1) Per IPCC AR5 Figure 6.1 prior to year 1750 CO2 represented about 1.26% of the total biosphere carbon balance (589/46,713). After mankind’s contributions, 67 % fossil fuel and cement – 33% land use changes, atmospheric CO2 increased to about 1.77% of the total biosphere carbon balance (829/46,713). This represents a shift of 0.51% from all the collected stores, ocean outgassing, carbonates, carbohydrates, etc. not just mankind, to the atmosphere. A 0.51% rearrangement of 46,713 Gt of stores and 100s of Gt annual fluxes doesn’t impress me as measurable let alone actionable, attributable, or significant.


2) Figure 10 in Trenberth et al 2011jcli24, in addition to substantial differences of opinion, i.e. uncertainties, 7 of the 8 balances considered, 87.5%, showed more energy leaving ToA than entering, i.e. atmospheric cooling.


3) Even IPCC AR5 expresses serious doubts about the value of their AOGCMs (IPCC AR5 Box TS.3).

The sea ice and sheet ice is behaving as usual for decades (DMI) and does not affect sea levels. Polar bear population is the highest in decades, the weather (30 years = climate) is less extreme not more, the sea level rise is not accelerating, the GCM’s are repeat failures, the CAGW hypothesis is coming unraveled, COP21 turned into yet another empty and embarrassing fiasco, IPCC AR6 will mimic SNL’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, “Well, neeeveeer mind!!”
Nick Schroeder
Nick Schroeder
Dec 04, 2016 09:26 AM
And what is the US Clean Power Plan supposed to accomplish? A 32% reduction in CO2 output from US power generation (not just coal). The US is responsible for about 16% of the world’s CO2 output. Power generation represents about 31% of US CO2 production. Therefore – 16% * 31% * 32% = 1.6%. CPP will reduce the global C2 output by 1.6%. China and India will cancel that out with their next dozen coal fired power plants.
Mark Rozman
Mark Rozman
Dec 04, 2016 09:32 AM
Exactly. A complete and udder failure, what a tit.
Jim Bolen
Jim Bolen
Dec 04, 2016 01:22 PM
Nick
maybe you are a scientist I don't know but you have presented a lot of figures. As I am not a scientist so I guess I will go with the 97% of scientist and major science organization who disagree with you conclusion.
To do nothing because of China and India still polluting is not a solution. Maybe you have seen the latest reports on New Delhi horrible pollution which effects rich as well as poor in that city.
We are leaders of the World and we have to take the initiative and should use this as an economic opportunity of being on the cutting edge of a new technology of clean energy.
Of course If you don't even agree on global warming I guess we don't have a starting point
so all i can say to Nick and Mark "is what if we made a mistake and cleaned up the air and water for nothing , the downside is much worse.
Karl Anderson
Karl Anderson Subscriber
Dec 04, 2016 03:36 PM
Nick Schroeder demonstrates the "Gish Gallop" popular with pseudo-skeptical deniers of anthropogenic global warming. It was pioneered in the 1970s by Duane T. Gish of the Institute for Creation Research, during public "debates" with unsuspecting evolutionary biologists. Gish would spew out a barrage of false but specious claims, knowing the scientist would bog down trying to rebut each one in detail. I 'll just hit a couple of Mr. Schroeder's highlights:

NS: "A 0.51% rearrangement of 46,713 Gt of stores and 100s of Gt annual fluxes doesn’t impress me as measurable let alone actionable, attributable, or significant."

This is the "CO2 is just a trace gas" AGW-denier meme, based on the argument from ignorance, or as Sagan called it the "argument from personal incredulity". Whether you are impressed or not, the crucial role of carbon dioxide in retaining heat radiated from the Earth's surface was first shown experimentally by John Tyndall in 1859. It has been repeatedly confirmed by laboratory experiment, and recently by direct observation from space (http://www.nature.com/[…]/nature14240.html).

NS: "Figure 10 in Trenberth et al 2011jcli24, in addition to substantial differences of opinion, i.e. uncertainties, 7 of the 8 balances considered, 87.5%, showed more energy leaving ToA than entering, i.e. atmospheric cooling."

It's not clear what you're trying to say here, but it might be "models are unreliable", another popular pseudo-skeptic meme. What do you think the paper you cite (http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/2011JCLI4171.1) shows? It discusses the difficulties in computing energy flux from moisture-transport models run over the interval 2000 to 2005. The authors conclude: "All of the net TOA imbalances are not tenable and all except CFSR imply a cooling of the planet that clearly has not occurred". In fact, all the temperature records show strong warming over the period, although it's far too short for meaningful trend analysis. So? BTW, to a climate scientist, "uncertainties" are quantifiable parameters specific to particular datasets, not just "differences of opinion".

So, are any of you still reading? I'm sure Mr. Schroeder didn't expect you to.
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Dec 17, 2016 08:46 AM
Dark days ahead for this Country,as you can see from his many statements he believes only what he wants even if the facts are in front of him.
Kind of Putin like. His previous wife stated his favorite book by Trumps bedside was a book by Hitler in how to give speeches and influence people.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Dec 23, 2016 12:12 PM
Karl, well put. Nick - polar bear numbers? Here's the reality:
>>Canada is home to two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, but experts say climate change could make the Hudson Bay population extinct within a few decades.<<
http://www.winnipegsun.com/[…]/polar-bear-encounters-up-in-churchill
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Dec 23, 2016 02:54 PM
It is interesting this week the Arctic circle area temperatures are 50 degrees F. above normal. That is not normal at all. Wonder who will admit responsibility when part of Florida will be under water?
Joe Cosentino
Joe Cosentino
Dec 25, 2016 02:15 PM
Dale, this cherry picking the news is just the kind of misleading the so called conservationists use to point out what they believe.

This was a FREAK storm and as such gets tossed out when doing averages. Plus this so called news is a year old. No matter what side you're on this just shows how far some will go to misrepresent the truth.

Sad and this is why so many voted for Trump over Clinton. Seems we are tired of being lied to.

Was this one of the stories you were using?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/[…]/?utm_term=.dce40cbed50f
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Dec 25, 2016 03:44 PM
Joe, wrong, period, wrong, speaking of alleged lies. The Arctic was that warm earlier this month. And, throughout much of this year, well above normal.
http://e360.yale.edu/[…]/
Irene Schmidt
Irene Schmidt Subscriber
Dec 28, 2016 11:19 PM
Thank you Karl Anderson, for so eloquently refuting the Schroeder "bullshit". You don't have to be a genius to look around and see the growing horrors of climate change. And if you actually read the latest reports by actual scientists, it's damn terrifying. The deniers are either paid mis-informants or they simply can't face what's ahead. I don't think Obama did nearly enough, even with the stonewalling of the Rethuglicans during his entire administration. I still can't wrap my mind around what we're facing now with DT. Perhaps Guy McPherson is right after all.