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Disagreement Over Trump Climate Agenda

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Wyoming's congressional delegation is thrilled with the executive order President Trump signed to unwind President Obama’s climate change initiatives. But some in their party aren’t happy with the effort to roll back America’s role in combating global warming.

President Obama envisioned a clean energy future for America, but his hopes and dreams were set back with the stroke of President Trump’s pen. The newly signed executive order sets in motion what promises to be a drawn-out legal process to unwind the Clean Power Plan, which would have shuttered coal plants and moved the nation toward renewable energy. Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi says he’s glad the president’s working with the GOP to undo Obama-era regulations.   

“Well, primarily the things that he shoved through in the last 90 days when he knew he wasn’t going to be the president. And a lot of those were designed to actually gum up the works and we needed to reverse them. I don’t think there’s been a president that’s put through that many before.”

States like New York and California are already vowing to fight Trump’s effort in court, but the energy industry largely views the items as a positive step that will help their profit margins. Enzi says it’s already being felt at home.

“They’ll have a big impact, they’ve already had a big impact. I’m seeing articles about people who have new solutions for cleaner coal. Now you don’t go and invent things and put the money into building prototypes if it’s going to be a source that’s going to be disappearing and we’ve watched that before with coal. That’s why some of the mine incidents happened, people quit inventing safety equipment for underground mines.”

Democrats are sensing it’s a new day in Washington. Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva is the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee. He says Trump’s policies are bad for public lands out West.

“What Trump did with his executive order is consistent with what industry wants him to do and that is to turn the public lands into basically a real estate opportunity and especially for mining they pay no royalties so this is great for them.”

Grijalva says the GOP is rejecting science, which he says is evident in the new order to not take climate change into account when federal agencies write new rules.

“I think the underlying of it all is the whole climate denial, taking that rule out that said you must factor in impacts of climate change into your decision making for the agencies. That’s just the ignorance that’s been expressed all the way through.”

It’s not just Democrats. A small group of coastal Republicans whose districts are already facing sea level rise have banded together to start the Climate Solutions Caucus, which is a group of thirteen Republicans and thirteen Democrats looking for modest areas where the two parties can work together on environmental issues. Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo helped form the group.

“So what we’re trying to do now is unwrap that whole process and just expose what the reality of the environment and climate change is and hope that the facts and science and evidence will guide people’s decision making as opposed to reflexive politics.”

But Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney brushes aside those voices.

“I don’t think we ought to be regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and I think that the requirement that the administration do that that’s left over from the last administration is not supported by science and we need to undo that so that we really can begin the process of focusing on frankly what will help improve our economy.”

But even many industry analysts doubt President Trump’s claim that he can revitalize the coal industry because natural gas is so cheap and machines have taken over many of the former coal jobs. But Cheney remains optimistic.

“No, look I think it can be. Obviously they face market challenges with the price of natural gas, but I think getting this burden regulation off of them so they have to deal with market competition instead of being targeted by an administration that wants to kill them is really important and I think can go a long way.”

Cheney was in the middle of an effort to get rid of environmental regulations this week when president Trump signed an order to repeal so-called BLM 2.0 – which sought to conserve Bureau of Land Management lands. 

“It did a bunch of bad things but one of the worst was it sort of re-centralized authority. It took a lot of decision-making out of the regional BLM offices and it changed fundamentally the structure so now before BLM 2.0, our county commissioners and our local stakeholders really had a seat at the table. They were cooperating agencies so the BLM had to take their view into account as we were doing land use planning. What 2.0 would do is essentially dilute all that input.”

Still, Democrats are now looking to the courts as their last defense against the aggressive effort by Republicans to deregulate. So you haven’t heard the last of these debates.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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