WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump plans to dismantle President Barack Obama’s efforts to reduce planet-warming carbon emissions. But delivering on his campaign pledges to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and bring back tens of thousands of long-gone coal mining jobs could prove far more difficult.
Internal documents from the president-elect’s transition team reviewed by The Associated Press show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan and other recent Obama-era environmental regulations that have been the subject of long-running legal challenges filed by Republican-led states and the fossil fuel industry.
Against that potential opposition, environmental groups are gearing up to defend Obama’s environmental legacy in court.
Leading Trump’s transition team on the EPA is Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that gets financial support from the fossil fuel industry and that opposes “global-warming alarmism.”
Though his academic credentials are in philosophy and political theory, Ebell is an enthusiastic denier of the voluminous scientific data that show the planet is warming and that burning fossil fuels is primarily to blame.
Trump said during the campaign he would “cancel” the Paris agreement to make global reductions in carbon emissions that Obama signed in December.
The agreement was not a treaty and was not approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, and legal experts agree that as president Trump would have the authority to walk away. Even without a formal withdrawal, Trump could simply order EPA not to take any action toward meeting the U.S. commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels within the next 10 years.
As a legal matter, Trump also can’t simply get rid of the EPA. Though established in 1970 by President Richard Nixon through an executive order, eliminating a federal Cabinet agency would require congressional approval and face a likely filibuster.
Even without a wholesale elimination, Trump and the GOP-led Congress could gut the agency’s budget — defunding core enforcement efforts enshrined under the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. During the campaign, Trump proposed slashing the EPA’s $8 billion budget as a way to offset some of the cost of his planned tax cuts.
Internal transition documents show Trump’s primary targets are Clean Power Plan limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and a recent EPA rule expanding the definition of “waters of the United States” protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands. Other items include EPA’s recently issued standards for reducing smog caused by coal-fired power plants and limits on harmful emissions and chemical-laden waste water from oil and gas operations.
Dismantling EPA regulations is difficult, especially if the rules have already been finalized and implemented.
“The agency has already built up a very strong record to support those rules,” said Jody Freeman, director of the environmental law program at Harvard Law School. “It can be very hard to do an about-face.”