Opposition to Trump’s Executive Order targeting the Clean Power Plan

The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  released a new paper,  “Trump’s Energy Plan: A Brighter Future for America’s Workers? , which urges the labour movement to “unwrap the package” and examine the proposals in Trump’s America First Energy Policy , released on the first day after his  Inauguration.  LNS reviews and refutes the major planks in that policy, including the “bring back the coal industry” claim, and states, “Our hard-hit coal miners and communities deserve a plan that will enable them to find decent livelihoods in the future, not one that lures them with illusions that it will bring the coal industry back.”  LNS has previously published its plan,  The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money , written by Synapse Economics .

trumphardhatThe most recent installment of the America First Energy Policy was released on March 28: the  Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth , replete with the illusory promise to bring back coal jobs.  Summaries and explanations are easy to find: from the Office of the White House Press Secretary ;  the Brookings Institute  ;  “The Giant Trump Order is Here. What it is, what it does”  in The Atlantic; “Trump just gutted U.S. policies to fight climate change”  from Think Progress . Dismay and outrage is also widespread, summed up by Vox :“This is it. The battle over the future of US climate policy is officially underway”.  Even the mainstream Washington Post brings out the battle imagery in its headlines:   “The standoff between Trump and green groups just boiled into war” (March 30)  ,  and “The assault on climate science is evil, and evil must be fought”   (March 31).

Although disguised in the language of job creation for coal miners, the Executive Order goes beyond the attack on the Clean Power Plan and coal-fired power plants  –  empowering the Cabinet to review and rollback  other Obama-era policies, including limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions. The Editorial Board of the New York Times sums up the scale of the attack:  “President Trump risks the Planet”  (March 28) .

The claim of “bringing back coal jobs” has been disproved repeatedly and convincingly. Typical is the press release from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis , which sees “zero employment impact” from Trump’s measures, stating,  “Market forces overwhelmingly favor natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewable energy, and the trend away from coal will continue”…. Coal is simply being outpaced. It is an industry in decline, and the fundamentals are inescapable.”  “A simple way to see why Trump’s climate order won’t bring back many coal jobs”  in Vox refers to the Department of Energy  Annual Energy Outlook 2017 , which projected that without the Clean Power Plan,  U.S. coal consumption would rebound only as far as the  historically low levels of 2015, when there were approximately 63,000 coal miners in America.  Today, there are approximately 50,000.   Compare this to the solar workforce, which created 51,000  jobs in 2016 alone – to bring the total number to 260,077 U.S. solar workers, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.  Even the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S., acknowledged in a report in The Guardian, that coal jobs are not coming back.

What the Trump Executive Order could do, according to modelling by consulting firm the Rhodium Group,  is to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emission reduction to around 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 – a far cry from the Paris Agreement pledge of 26 %, and effectively ceding climate leadership to the European Union and China.  The Sierra Club USA provides a thorough discussion of the environmental impacts in  Donald Trump Orders EPA to Unwind Clean Power Plan in Setback for “Vitally Important” Clean Air   (March 28) .    The reaction of major environmental groups such as Environmental Defence Fund, Earthjustice, and  Natural Resources Defence Council is summarized in “Environmental groups vowing to fight Trump’s Climate Actions ”   in the  National Observer (March 29).

Is there any cause for hope?  Yes, according to analysis by  Inside Climate News in  “Hundreds of Clean Energy Bills Have Been Introduced in States Nationwide This Year”  (March 27).  This provides a state-by-state summary of bipartisan clean energy legislation, stating:  “At least eight states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York,  Pennsylvania and Vermont—are considering legislation to dramatically boost their reliance on clean power in the coming decades. These bills specifically call for increasing the mandate to obtain electricity from sources like wind and solar, a common form of escalating quota called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Currently,  29 states in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., have them and eight others have voluntary targets.”

Voices of Business are also challenging the Trump agenda.  In  “Climate change is real: Companies challenge Trump”  in The Guardian  (March  29) , the CEO of the We Mean Business coalition calls  the transition to a low-carbon economy “inevitable”, and the Executive Order “regrettable “.  Further, he states: “This announcement undermines policies that stimulate economic competitiveness, job creation, infrastructure investment and public health.” Similar sentiments appear in the Business Backs Low Carbon USA statement signed in November 2016 by over 1000 companies and investors. The statement  calls for the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy, and  re-affirms “our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.”   The list of over 1000 companies is here  .

Finally, and giving everyone a voice: the People’s Climate March  on Washington D.C. on April 29 , organized by the coalition which emerged from the  2014 March in New York City and around the world.  The Labor Network for Sustainability will be leading a labour contingent in Washington – see their Facebook page for information , and see the People’s Climate March website for  locations of sister marches.

climate march


Recommendations to change the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon, and possible impact for Canada

The U.S. National Academies of Science Press released an important report in January 2017, suggesting changes to the methodology of the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), an economic metric used to measure the net costs and benefits associated with the effects of climate change- including changes in agricultural productivity, risks to human health, and damage from extreme weather events.  U.S. government  agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency  are required by law  to estimate SCC when  proposing regulations such for vehicle emission standards or energy efficiency standards for appliances.  One of the most recent, thorough, and important applications of the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon appears in the 2015  Regulatory Impact Analysis Report for the Clean Power Plan Final Rule.    The U.S. updated the SCC to $37 U.S. per tonne of carbon dioxide in September 2015, a value often criticized as too  low, and economists continue to differ about the methodology.  A study by researchers at Stanford University, published in Nature Climate Change  (2015) estimated a more accurate  SCC of $220 per tonne – six times higher.

The January  report from the National Academy of Science, Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide  , suggests restructuring the Integrated Assessment Models framework used to ensure greater transparency, and  recognizes new research  which should be incorporated into the  models (e.g. the effect of heat waves on mortality) . It also recommends a regular 5-year updating schedule,  “to ensure that the SC- CO2 estimates reflect the best available science.”  For a summary of proposed changes and the political context, see “Scientists have a new way to calculate what global warming costs. Trump’s team isn’t going to like it” in the Washington Post  . Noting that the new report has no legal force, The Post article quotes expert reviewer Richard Revesz, Dean emeritus of the New York University School of Law: “If the metric is revised, then the incoming administration would have an obligation to explain why it’s departing from the current approach… Any changes made without adequate scientific justification would likely be struck down in court.”   But see also “How Climate Rules might Fade away”     in Bloomberg Business Week.

What are the implications for Canada?  Canada, like the U.K., Germany, France, and other countries, already uses its own Social Cost of Carbon, pegged at a $28 per tonne in 2012, according to  Canada’s  Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement issued with the vehicle emissions regulations for passenger cars and light trucks.  The Leaders Statement from the North American Leadership Summit in Summer 2016 ,  ties Canada more closely to U.S. and Mexico, when it pledges to “ … align analytical methods for assessing and communicating the impact of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emission of major projects. Building on existing efforts, align approaches, reflecting the best available science for accounting for the broad costs to society of greenhouse gas emissions, including using similar methodologies to estimate the social cost of carbon and other greenhouse gases for assessing the benefits of policy measures that reduce those emissions.”

Clean Energy Advances in the U.S. with Landmark Clean Power Plan

On August 3, President Obama released the finalized Clean Power Plan , which goes even further than the draft version in requiring the states to source 28 percent of their power from renewables by 2030. The U.S. Congressional Research Service published EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Highlights of the Final Rule August 14, 2015  to summarize the document and highlight the differences from the Proposed Rules. The National Resources Defense Council also released an Issue Brief, Understanding the Clean Power Plan  , and stated “The plan represents the most important step the United States can take right now to combat climate change and help spur climate action around the globe.” Labor Network for Sustainability provides a union view in The EPA Clean Power Plan, Jobs and Labor  , and The EPA’s Clean Power Plan: How Unions and Allies can protect affected workers  , both of which discuss the role labor unions can play in lobbying for transition funds and programs for workers in the fossil fuel industry. At the federal level, LNS envisions federal Just Transition programs, modeled after the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) initiatives operated by the Department of National Defense when military bases were closed.   At the state level, the report urges unions to build alliances among environmentalists, labor, and environmental justice advocates to lobby for Clean Power Plans which incorporate climate justice objectives.

See also: “The Very Real Impact of the Clean Power Plan” (Aug. 14)    in Corporate Knights magazine, which refutes the negative reaction by Michael Grunwald of Politico , and concludes that “… to dismiss it as insignificant ignores the data and the political context. As the country sees the health and economic benefits of an accelerating movement toward renewable energy, we can expect greater openness to more aggressive actions. We are engaged in a process.” That’s clear from the timeline published by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

The WCR published an earlier summary of studies of the employment impacts of the CPP, including the widely cited report by Josh Bivens.

Further, the Obama administration announced initiatives at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on August 24.  Highlights: an additional $1 billion in loan guarantee authority for distributed energy projects using innovative technology, such as rooftop solar and methane capture for oil and gas wells; expansion of the residential clean energy financing program, which makes loans to homeowners who want to purchase home energy improvements; and $24 million to 11 solar research projects.


The U.S. Clean Power Plan  mandates a 30 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by 2030, using the baseline year of 2005. The Plan, submitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the White House Office of Management and Budget on June 1, now proceeds to review and is expected to be finalized in August 2015 – when it is also expected that legal challenges will begin immediately. Good background reading about the CPP:   The Clean Power Plan: A Climate Game Changer   from the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Center for Energy and Climate Solutions website has compiled links to detailed documents, (including an April 2015 report on the impact of the CPP on Canadian hydropower exports to the U.S. .) Amidst the controversy,  the Economic Policy Institute has released Employment Impacts of the Proposed Clean Power Plan in the U.S., by Josh Bivens. Bivens disputes the employment impact analysis done by the EPA. He concludes that the Clean Power Plan is likely to lead to a net increase in of roughly 360,000 jobs by 2020, but that the net job creation will diminish rapidly to approximately 15,000 jobs in 2030. Bivens differentiates between job-gaining and job-losing industries, and characterizes the workers in job-losing industries as less likely to have four-year college degrees, and substantially more likely to be unionized. He also points to a geographic concentration of gross job losses in poorer states. Another report, Assessment of the Economy-wide Employment Impacts of EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan  was released by the University of Maryland in April 2015. Perhaps the most controversial on this topic: “Potential impact of Proposed EPA Regulations on Low Income Groups and Minorities”, was authored by Roger Bezdek and published by the National Black Chamber of Commerce in June . Its dire predictions include that by 2035, job losses would total 7 million for Blacks and nearly 12 million for Hispanics. The Bezdek study is roundly criticized by the Union of Concerned Scientists in “ New Flawed Study of the Clean Power Plan: How the MISI Study Gets It So Wrong”  and by the National Resources Defense Council which states: “We should not let the polluter industry mislead us through the use of junk science and “mercenaries with PhDs” whose only goal is to prioritize polluter profits over the well-being and health of people.”

President Obama’s Landmark Executive Actions to Cut Coal Plant Emissions and Protect Oceans

For details about the June regulatory initiatives in the United States, go to: Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule at the Environmental Protection Agency website at http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule and for commentary, see `Taking Page from Health Care Act, Obama Climate Plan relies on States“ in the New York Times (June 2) at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/us/politics/obama-epa-rule-coal-carbon-pollution-power-plants.html. The Pembina Institute highlights the growing gap between Canadian and U.S. climate leadership at http://www.pembina.org/blog/us-action-on-climate-amplifies-leadership-vacuum-in-ottawa; The Natural Resources Defence Council discusses the possible impacts on jobs at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/new_carbon_pollution_standards.html and http://www.nrdc.org/media/2014/140529.asp . Regarding the U.S. Executive Order on June 17th to expand protection of the oceans, see the White House press release at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/17/presidential-memorandum-comprehensive-framework-combat-illegal-unreporte , and “Pew Applauds Obama Administration`s New Focus on Illegal Fishing” at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/news/2014/06/pew-applauds-obama-administrations-new-focus-on-illegal-fishing or “ Obama to Expand Marine Reserves and Crack Down on Seafood Black Market“ at The Guardian (June 17) at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/17/obama-oceans-marine-reserves-leonardo-dicaprio