Energy independence, not climate change, a priority under Trump order

By:  Gregory Korte, USA Today
Source: KING 5 News

President Trump's executive order on American energy independence is a sweeping repudiation of Obama-era environmental initiatives, substituting a strategy of combating climate change through international cooperation for an America-first energy policy.

Trump proclaimed the order as "the start of a new era of American energy production" that would "restore economic freedom and allow our workers to thrive compete and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time." Trump spoke at a signing ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday on a stage with a dozen coal miners.

Trump's executive order will roll back at least 10 major Obama environmental regulations, but it goes beyond an attempt to reverse Obama-era environmental policies.

Officials said the order "will look back and it will look forward," providing the framework for a new Trump-era energy framework that will emphasize more production, more jobs and fewer environmental safeguards.

Despite relaxing many environmental standards, the Trump White House argues that its energy policies can be good for the environement in the long term. "The president strongly believes that protecting the environment and promoting our economy are not mutually exclusive goals," press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. "This executive order will help to ensure that we have clean air and clean water without sacrificing economic growth and job creation."

The order will ask all federal agencies to identify obstacles to domestic energy production, with a report back to the White House for future action. And Trump said the order is "returning power to the states, where that power belongs."

The order makes good on Trump's promise to end what he called a "war on coal," and to bring back coal jobs. "I made them this promise. We will put our miners back to work," Trump said Tuesday.

"The war on coal is over," said Vice President Mike Pence at an executive order signing ceremony Tuesday, flanked by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Former Vice President Al Gore called the order "a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come."

But while the action is discouraging, he said the world's resolve to address climate change would continue. "No one man or group can stop the encouraging and escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet," Gore said.

Meanwhile, West Coast Senators, including Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, wrote the Trump administration a letter, expressing concern that the order doesn't account for the economic impact of clean energy jobs. 

The letter signed by U.S. Senators notes that solar and wind industries are expected to account for more than 550,000 jobs, nationally, by 2020.

"The energy economy in America is changing," the letter read in part. "Due to advances in hydraulic fracturing technology, natural gas prices are the lowest in more than a decade. The market response to low natural gas prices, not regulations, has led to a shift from coal to natural gas as our primary source of fuel for electricity." 

Related: Read full letter from U.S. Senators to Trump

It's a message echoed by West Coast governors, including Washington Governor Jay Inslee. 

"We're inventing the future and creating jobs by the bucketful in clean energy," Inslee said on Tuesday. "No matter what President Trump does, he will not stop our progress in the state of Washington."