Trump tosses 'war on coal' to roll back Obama climate measures

Surrounded by miners from Rosebud Mining, US President Donald Trump (C) signs he Energy Independence Executive Order at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Headquarters in Washington, DC, March 28, 2017 (AFP Photo)

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that looks to roll back many of his predecessor Barack Obama's environmental protections.

Trump declared the "start of a new era in American energy and production" as he signed the order.

It calls for a review of Obama's Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants but which has been halted in the courts.

It also rolls back a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land, orders a review of regulations on hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - and on methane emissions from oil and gas production, and lifts a requirement that officials weigh the impact of climate change in decision making.

Speaking alongside coal miners at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, Trump said the order would eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow workers to compete on a level playing field.

"This is all about bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again," he said.

The White House said the focus is on making the U.S. energy industry independent by lifting restrictions on energy production and creating more jobs.

During his presidential campaign, Trump frequently pointed to job losses in coal mining and other energy sectors. Trump recalled conversations with coal miners in West Virginia during his campaign and their love of the work.

"My administration is putting an end to the war on coal," he said.

The move to lift the Clean Power Plan however will be more complicated than simply signing an order. Because the matter is currently tied up in the courts, the administration will first have to seek permission from the court to make changes and under a 2007 Supreme Court decision would be required to issue regulations to replace the plan.

The move however does not address whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, an international accord aimed at curbing global warming, which officials said was still under consideration.

While Republicans have blamed Obama-era environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs, federal data shows that U.S. mines have been shedding jobs for decades under presidents from both parties as a result of increasing automation and competition from natural gas, which has become more abundant through hydraulic fracturing. Another factor is the plummeting cost of solar panels and wind turbines, which now can produce emissions-free electricity cheaper than burning coal.

According to an Energy Department analysis released in January, coal mining now accounts for fewer than 75,000 U.S. jobs. By contrast, renewable energy — including wind, solar and biofuels — now accounts for more than 650,000 U.S. jobs.

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