President Donald Trump yesterday carried through on a vow to roll back key elements of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change, a decision likely to have profound impacts on a coastal state like New Jersey.
To environmentalists, Democrats, and other critics of the new president, the step is probably going to mean more windblown air pollution from other regions, increased risk of respiratory ailments, and an even bigger surge in fracking of natural gas in neighboring states.
In signing an executive order to undo several climate-change initiatives, including a proposal to rewrite a new regulation clamping down on global-warming emissions from power plants, the president declared an end to a war on coal and a new era of energy independence for America.
Besides trying to revive a moribund coal sector, the order would scrap a requirement that the social cost of carbon be factored into new regulations, a step that would increaser reliance on fossil fuels, and eliminate regulations to limit methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.
In New Jersey, where clean-energy advocates have long opposed the Christie administration’s policy to expand the energy infrastructure, the new emphasis on easing fossil-fuel regulations is likely to expedite efforts to increase reliance on renewable energy, cutting energy consumption, and lower dependence on fossil fuels.
“We can’t deny ourselves out of the climate crisis,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “We can tackle the climate crisis by investing in science and clean, renewable energy, but only if we move boldly and quickly.’’
For its part, the Christie administration never liked the Clean Power Plan, the cornerstone of Obama’s efforts to fight climate change. New Jersey is one of 28 states suing to overturn the regulation clamping down on power plant emissions. The state Department of Environmental Protection never began a plan to comply with the new regulation, noting it has already met specific targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020.
Among other things, the state said the regulation penalizes New Jersey for failing to give it credit for reductions in carbon pollution, which it achieved prior to enactment of the Clean Power Plan.
The presidential executive order sets in motion an effort to rescind the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration repeatedly said, in effect, amounts to a war on fossil fuels, particularly coal-fired units. Many energy experts say, however, the coal sector is hurt more by cheap natural gas prices than environmental regulations.
Conservative think tanks dispute that argument. “This executive order rolls back one of the most economically damaging policies of the Obama administration, and it is another sign that President Trump intends to keep his promises to those hardest hit by President Obama’s energy and environmental policies,’’ said Craig Richardson, of the Energy and Environment Legal Institute.
With nearly half of its electricity produced by nuclear, New Jersey gets less than 5 percent of its power from coal, with most of the rest supplied by natural gas. The two biggest coal plants in the state are expected to shut down this year, closed by their owner PSEG Power of Newark.
“The market economics that drove the decision to close those plants are not directly impacted by this order,’’ said Michael Jennings, a spokesman for the company. “While the executive order won’t impact our coal plants, we do hope policymakers at all levels of government pursue energy policies that recognize the economic and reliability benefits of nuclear energy.’’
The actions by Trump alarmed many politicians and clean-energy advocates who say New Jersey, as a coastal state, is particularly vulnerable to impacts of climate change.
“A sweeping directive informing EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) agencies to ignore, rewrite or deny environmental policies that have helped to deter global warming is irresponsible and obnoxious governing,’’ said Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), the chair of the Assembly Environment Committee.
“His (Trump) order will have a devastating effect,’’ agreed David Pringle, campaign director for Clean Water New Jersey. “New Jersey is one of the most vulnerable states for climate change because greenhouse gas emissions don’t respect state borders.’’
While the state has fewer coal plants than many other states, much of the air pollution is windblown from areas relying heavily on fossil fuels to produce electricity, environmentalists and state officials often argue.
“Midwest power plants treat the sky like a carbon sewer,’’ O’Malley said. “Without the Clean Power Plan, we don’t have a lot of leverage.’’
The regulation never took effect, however, being tied up in litigation since its enactment. Rescinding the rule, too, will be an arduous process, taking at least a year. It is then sure to face more court challenges when and if it is rewritten and adopted.