Monday, November 14, 2016

Trump will change many energy and environment rules, but some will be harder to reverse

"President-elect Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to topple just about every major energy and environment policy enacted in the past eight years," Robin Bravender reports for Environment & Energy News. "But while massive change is expected, Trump will face limits on carrying out his plans."

Even with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, "Passing major energy legislation is time-consuming and politically daunting," Bravender writes. "Writing new regulations is a bureaucratic slog, and those are likely to face protracted legal battles. Trump might also face hurdles unraveling some Obama rules that are already on the books and trying to roll back some executive moves, such as designations of national monuments."

Trump "has big promises to keep ... from torpedoing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and international climate deal to expanding oil and gas development and overhauling the regulatory system," Bravender writes. But experts on energy and environmental issues "warn that the Trump administration could overreach and spark a public opinion backlash if it doesn't tread carefully on its regulatory rollbacks."

The biggest and most likely reversals for the Trump administration will be the Environmental Protection Agency's redefinition of "waters of the United States" in the Clean Water Act, strongly opposed by farm interests, and the regulations to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, though the exact procedure for that is uncertain. The rules are designed to fight climate change; Trump said he would "cancel" the international climate-change agreement, but "direct withdrawal from the Paris deal is a four-year process," Bravender writes.

On coal specifically, "A Trump interior secretary is expected to quickly rescind the current moratorium on coal leasing, ending a program review about royalties and climate change," Bravender reports. "Changes at the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement . . . could also undermine the final stream-protection rule, overdue for publication. While a new rule would be required to strike new restrictions on coal mining near waterways, implementation would fall into unwelcoming hands."

West Virginia University law professor Patrick McGinley told Bravender that Republicans have a chance to create "a whole new regulatory regime for coal," but "I don't see any major jump in coal production in the near future, no matter what regulatory, legislative actions are taken by the new administration," due to competition from cheap natural gas.

Trump "will have limited leeway to scotch existing regulations aimed at improving air quality," Bravender reports. "There's probably no going back, for example, from EPA's rule to limit mercury from power plants, one of the most expensive rules ever issued by the agency. As of April, almost all coal-fired plants were in compliance, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Still, the new administration will have more latitude to drag out implementation of more recent regulations — and to simply avoid offering new ones. . . . Trump has more wiggle room to reverse Obama's policies when it comes to energy development on public lands."

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