Trump’s Climate Order Didn’t Touch Several Obama-Era Programs

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By David Schultz

The Trump administration rolled back many of its predecessor’s signature climate change measures with an energy-focused executive order, but the order was notably silent on several Obama-era climate programs that don’t affect the energy industry.

Trump’s March 28 order either rescinded or began the process of rescinding numerous regulations on power plants, oil and gas drillers, coal miners and others in the energy sector.

But his executive order left untouched several other Obama-launched initiatives meant to combat climate change. These include measures that affect the chemicals, waste management, agriculture and aviation industries, and some of these measures impose significant costs on those industries.

The fact that Trump is willing to let these Obama-era measures stand—at least for now—indicates his White House may be taking a less dogmatic stance toward climate change than one would expect, given the many statements of climate skepticism that have come from administration officials and from the president himself.

The Trump administration did not respond on the record to a request for comment for this story.

Chemicals

The executive order leaves intact the Obama administration’s ban on a type of refrigerant chemical called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. These chemicals were targeted in Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan because, while they are a small contributor to climate change, they are also highly potent greenhouse gasses that trap 1,000 times more heat in the atmosphere than the same amount of carbon dioxide.

The ban’s exclusion from the executive order comes as little surprise, since just weeks earlier Trump administration attorneys went to court to defend it against a legal challenge from HFC manufacturers ( Mexichem Fluor Inc. v. EPA, No. 15-01328 (D.C. Cir. 2/17/17)).

David Doniger, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Trump’s defense of his predecessor’s HFC ban betrays the White House’s contradictory stance toward the issue of a warming planet.

“They seemed to a draw distinction: ‘Climate change is a hoax when it involves the energy industry, but not a hoax when it involves the chemicals industry,’” Doniger said at a March 22 D.C. Bar panel discussion.

Landfills

Though Trump’s executive order took aim at a number of regulations on methane emissions, it didn’t address a particular regulation on methane emissions from landfills that the Environmental Protection Agency finalized last year. The waste management industry is challenging this regulation in federal court, arguing that its emissions thresholds are too difficult to meet ( Nat’l Waste and Recycling Ass’n v. EPA, No. 16-01371 (D.C. Cir. 10/27/16)).

The lead plaintiffs in this case said they didn’t anticipate the Trump administration to pull back this EPA landfill rule in his executive order.

“There wasn’t a big expectation on our part,” Anne Germain, a director with the National Waste and Recycling Association, told Bloomberg BNA. “The president is really trying to focus [deregulation efforts] on energy production and isn’t targeting methane holistically.”

Aviation

Significantly, Trump’s executive order did not instruct the EPA to rescind its 2009 finding that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, a landmark document that laid the basis for nearly all of the agency’s climate regulations during the Obama era.

The order also did not nullify a much narrower EPA finding from last year on the pollution effects of greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes. This finding triggers a legal requirement that the EPA establish limits on airplane emissions.

The aviation industry has come out in favor of imposing these regulations on its own planes. It wants U.S. rules on greenhouse gases to be harmonized with soon-to-be-established international standards, which the industry will have to comply with regardless of what Trump’s EPA does.

Agriculture

The executive order also gave no indication that Trump will put a halt to the work federal agencies have been doing on promoting biogas generation, another of the priorities listed in Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Since 2014, the EPA has been working with the Departments of Agriculture and Energy to help livestock farmers turn the waste from their animals into biogas fuel, rather than allowing it to decompose into climate-harming methane. A joint 2014 report from the agencies laid out a plan to promote this practice by allocating loans to farmers and grants to biogas researchers, among other measures.

Patrick Serfass, head of the trade group American Biogas Council, said his emerging industry was likely excluded from the executive order because of many other economic benefits to biogas generation, aside from reducing methane emissions.

“We don’t have to talk about the climate benefits to make a really compelling point as to why it’s important,” he told Bloomberg BNA. “We’ve stopped using our climate-related messages because the other ones are resonating more.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dSchultz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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