On Tuesday President Trump signed an executive order at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency that directs federal regulators to rewrite the rules that curb carbon emissions in the U.S. while rolling back many other environmental regulations.
With EPA head Scott Pruitt, Vice President Mike Pence, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a group of purported coal miners looking on, Trump put his pen to work dismantling a major component of President Obama’s climate change policies. Dubbed the “Energy Independence Executive Order,” it starts to undo Obama’s Clean Power Plan, rescind a temporary ban on new coal leases on federal lands, eliminates a federal guidance to factor in climate change when making policy and gets rid of the federal researchers who measure the social cost of carbon, methane and nitrous oxide.
Trump said he signed the executive order to grow America’s wealth, gain energy independence and end “job-killing regulations” so the country can “put our miners back to work.” As he declared, it marks an end to “the war on coal.”
The executive order sparked a huge reaction nationwide. Here in New York, the response was vehement, whether from elected officials or environmental activists.
“If there was any doubt that big oil was back in charge under the Trump administration, today’s executive order lays that to rest,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.). “It reads as if it was written in an Exxon board room, with no regard for the health and safety of the American people, or the planet. This executive order is nothing more than a giveaway to big oil at the expense of the health and safety of our children and the bank accounts of hard working middle-class families. Simply put, the Trump administration has put the health of the American people and the future of our planet on the back burner all for the sake of lining the pockets of big oil and extreme-right special interests.”
New York’s junior Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also weighed in with this tweet:
The complete disregard for human health in this decision is astounding. https://t.co/bnY28yeo0w
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) March 27, 2017
Her spokesman said, “New Yorkers are on the front lines of climate change, and rolling back this plan ignores science and the threat of extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy. Climate change will hurt our fishing industry, and rising sea levels will result in more New Yorkers residing in flood zones.”
Long Island Republican Congressman, Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) applauded Trump’s action Tuesday, saying that President Obama had overstepped the bounds of the Constitution by ordering the EPA to overhaul the nation’s energy market through regulation and without an act of Congress.
“I support President Trump’s executive order calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly review and revise the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan,” said Rep. Zeldin in a statement. “While I support clean and renewable energy on Long Island, I am opposed to unfunded EPA mandates that ignore the role of Congress and the Constitution.
“On Long Island we pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, and, as proposed, the Clean Power Plan is expected to double electricity rates,” Zeldin continued. “The solution is an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy that lowers rates, is reliable, and protects the environment. I will continue working across the aisle to protect the valuable natural resources we treasure on Long Island, to support clean energy research and safeguard our environment.”
His Democratic colleague from Long Island, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), didn’t see it that way.
“President Trump and Scott Pruitt deny basic science and do what big oil companies tell them to do, even when it means jeopardizing our national security, environment, and public health,” said Rice in a statement. “But it’s people in places like Long Island who will pay the price of polluted air, rising sea levels and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy.
“We have an opportunity on Long Island and across New York to create a lot of good local jobs by leading the transition to clean energy,” Rice told the Press in a statement. “I’m going to keep working to make sure we seize that opportunity, even if the Trump administration continues to deny basic facts and lead us in the opposite direction.”
She was joined by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who slammed the executive order for derailing important environmental regulations.
“This executive order unravels important measures that are meant to keep the air we breathe clean for families and children,” said Suozzi in a statement. “Even if New York has clean power plants, polluters in other states will negatively impact our air quality. We can’t let that happen.
“Keeping our environment safe is not a partisan issue,” Suozzi added. “As co-chair of the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus and a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, we need to work together to protect our ever-changing climate. [Tuesday’s] actions go too far.”
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, who represents parts of Queens and a sliver of Nassau, called Obama’s Clean Power Plan “evenhanded” and predicted it could prevail in court.
“This executive order will certainly be challenged in the courts and I hope they will see Trump’s executive order for what it is—an ill-conceived and potentially dangerous plan that could hurt Americans and people around the world,” said Meeks in a statement. “Smart regulations help protect our environment and ensure that our children enjoy a beautiful world, as so many generations have before them.”
In Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a joint statement with California Gov. Jerry Brown that reaffirmed both states’ commitment to exceed the targets of the Clean Power Plan and reduce carbon pollution.
“Dismantling the Clean Power Plan and other critical climate programs is profoundly misguided and shockingly ignores basic science,” the governors’ joint statement said. “With this move, the Administration will endanger public health, our environment and our economic prosperity.
“Climate change is real and will not be wished away by rhetoric or denial,” it continued. “We stand together with a majority of the American people in supporting bold actions to protect our communities from the dire consequences of climate change.
“Together, California and New York represent approximately 60 million people–nearly one-in-five Americans–and 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product,” added Gov. Cuomo. “With or without Washington, we will work with our partners throughout the world to aggressively fight climate change and protect our future.”
Their statement noted that New York and California lead the nation in ground-breaking policies to combat climate change. Both states, which reportedly account for roughly 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, have adopted advanced energy efficiency and renewable energy programs to meet and exceed the requirements of the Clean Power Plan and have set some of the most aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in North America–40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The governors concluded, “New York and California will continue to work closely together–and with other states–to help fill the void left by the federal government.”
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that he’s leading a coalition of 23 states, cities and counties in opposing President Trump’s executive order designed to curtail the Clean Power Act.
The coalition includes the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the chief legal officers of the cities of Boulder, Colorado, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and South Miami.
“We strongly oppose President Trump’s executive order that seeks to dismantle the Clean Power Plan,” they said in their statement released Tuesday afternoon. “Addressing our country’s largest source of carbon pollution—existing fossil fuel-burning power plants—is both required under the Clean Air Act and essential to mitigating climate change’s growing harm to our public health, environments, and economies. We won’t hesitate to protect those we serve—including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change.”
Schneiderman’s office pointed out that the EPA had adopted the Clean Power Plan “through a multi-year stakeholder process that drew heavily on the experience of states and utilities in reducing power plant greenhouse gas emissions…These states recognize that, on such a crucial issue that is already costing taxpayers billions of dollars in storm response and other costs, state action alone will not be enough and strong federal actions like the Clean Power Plan are needed.”
Activists were practically unanimous in slamming Tuesday’s executive order.
“Anyone with Twitter knows that President Trump fails to grasp the impact of his words,” said Travis Proulx with Environmental Advocates of New York. “But today, he’s demonstrated a failure to grasp the devastation of his actions as he’s placed our health and security at risk. With the stroke of a pen, President Trump thinks he can repeal facts and bully us back to the dirty and dangerous ways of the past. He may view this as a moment of ‘American Pride,’ but he and his administration are the only ones who don’t get that no one voted for air that makes our kids sick.”
He urged Cuomo to step up.
“If it wasn’t clear to Governor Cuomo before today why he must place his climate and clean energy policies into law, he must get it now,” said Proulx. “Climate action cannot be sustained through executive actions alone; New Yorkers need the force of law to protect them. As New York joins with California to fight for state-based climate action, it would be wise to replicate the wisdom of California by enshrining our goals and programs into law. President Trump may be a lost cause, but his actions are causing millions of New Yorkers who know that climate change is getting worse to engage. New York State owes it to them to provide security in knowing that their government is looking out for them.”
Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York , called Trump’s executive order “an opening salvo. There’s a lot that the administration will have to do to actually rewrite the Clean Power Plan,” she told the Press in an email. “The fact remains that the Supreme Court has affirmed that carbon dioxide is a pollutant governed by the Clean Air Act, which obligates the EPA to address it.
“There’s certainly other things the administration could try to do to slow our transition to clean energy,” Leibowitz warned, “but ultimately, I think the trend is unstoppable. Slowing it down can certainly do harm, but we’ll be doing everything we can at the local, state and federal level to limit pollution and grow clean energy.
“When it comes to climate change, everyone lives downwind,” she said. “Allowing more pollution will increase the risks we in New York City and Long Island face from more extreme weather, coastal flooding and heat waves.”
Leibowitz didn’t buy Trump’s explanation that repealing the Clean Power Plan as well as lifting other environmental protections will lead to many more jobs in coal mining.
“Already in the US, more than 2.5 million Americans go to work every day in the clean energy industry, one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy,” said Leibowitz.
According to an analysis by the Energy Department released in January before Trump’s inaugural, coal mining in the U.S. reportedly accounts for 75,000 jobs, while renewable energy, which includes wind, solar and biofuels, has yielded more than 650,000 jobs nationwide.
“The Clean Power Plan is one of the biggest steps forward to address climate change and promote clean air in the history of our nation,” noted Adrienne Esposito, Long Island’s executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The President cannot obliterate a federal law just to give a gift to his friends in the fossil fuel industries.”
Esposito pointed out that our region is especially vulnerable to the unfortunate by-products of fossil fuel.
“Long Island is in the air shed of Midwest power plants, which means their pollutants travel to Long Island and degrade our air quality, and are deposited in our bays, harbors and estuaries,” she told the Press in a statement. “This means our waters will contain more nitrogen leading to toxic tides, and will become more acidic, which kills shellfish and changes the ecology of our local waterways. We need Congressman King and Congressman Zeldin to stand up and stop this public health and environmental nightmare. We have made tremendous progress in protecting our air and water in our nation. No one voted to ‘Make America Polluted Again’ so let’s stop this environmental assault.”