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Obama’s Environmental Legacy Just Went Up in Smoke: ‘You can pretty much burn the Paris agreement’

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President Obama’s environmental legacy went up in smoke the minute Donald Trump won. Obama has spent the past four years pursuing an aggressive regulatory agenda aimed at lowering the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, boosting green energy, and giving the U.S. a leading role in the global fight against climate change. His hope was to hand off this regulatory framework to Hillary Clinton, who would then spend much of her term following through on it.

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That stops cold now. Trump has vowed to reverse course on Obama’s entire slate of environmental policies by rescinding “job-killing” regulations, including rules limiting oil and gas development on federal lands, as well as Obama’s signature climate initiative, the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Because much of what Obama put in place was done through either regulatory rule-making or executive order, Trump may be able to make good on most of those promises, especially since he’ll be bolstered by support from congressional Republicans, says Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners. “We spent much of our time examining how Clinton might expand the existing green agenda,” he says. “Now we’re looking at what may constrain Trump’s attempt to collapse it.”

The CPP remains in legal limbo. A coalition of 27 states, led by West Virginia, has challenged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s legal authority to implement the plan, which directs states to lower carbon emissions from power plants. Even if the EPA wins, a Trump administration could simply revoke the rules. And while the agency would remain obligated to lower greenhouse gas emissions under the auspices of the Clean Air Act, a Trump administration would have wide latitude in determining how to fulfill that duty.

The fate of the Paris climate accord is much clearer. Because it’s not a treaty and wasn’t ratified by the Senate, Trump is under no obligation to follow up on the pledges Obama made. “You can pretty much burn the Paris agreement,” says Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank in Washington. Obama’s temporary moratorium on coal production on federal land will likely be overturned by Trump, who may also go after Obama’s rules to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas wells. While U.S. energy-related carbon emissions are down from a peak in 2007, the reductions largely have resulted from market forces such as cheap natural gas, rather than any rule changes. But while those emissions could continue to drop, Trump’s pledges to support coal could certainly slow that decline.
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