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Trump Speech to Congress Focuses Little on Energy, Climate

In his first address to Congress Tuesday night, President Donald Trump touted accomplishments since taking office in January—including withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ordering construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and nominating conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Crime, immigration, trade and health care dominated the speech, with little focus on energy and climate issues.

What Trump did make clear is his direction on regulation and infrastructure. Trump’s comments on Tuesday, ClimateWire reports, reaffirmed his desire to help coal miners and the idea that his policies are based largely on rolling back environmental regulations. Reuters reports that according to an unnamed White House official, Trump could lift a federal coal mining ban and an initiative forcing states to cut carbon emissions, in an executive order as soon as next week.

“We have undertaken an historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations, creating a deregulation task force inside of every government agency,” Trump said. “And we’re imposing a new rule which mandates that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. We’re going to stop the regulations that threaten the future and livelihood of our great coal miners.”

Although Trump vowed “to promote clean air and clear water” in his speech to Congress, the same day he issued an executive order for reexamination of the Waters of the U.S. rule. Written by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers and finalized in May 2015, the rule was meant to clarify the reach of federal regulators over wetlands and waterways under the Clean Water Act (subscription). The order directs the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to begin a formal rule review, the first step in what legal experts say is a lengthy process to rewrite or repeal the rule—a process that could take longer than one presidential term.

EPA Cuts Signaled in Trump’s Proposed Budget

President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal, sent to government agencies on Monday, would increase defense and security spending by $54 billion and strip roughly the same amount from non-defense programs, with some large cuts to come from the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA).

If enacted, the proposal could slash as much as a quarter of the EPA budget, shrinking programs introduced by the Obama administration—for example, EPA regulations on the fossil fuel industry.

A source told CNN that the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fueled power plants, is facing potential elimination, along with other regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They include 14 EPA partnership programs to reduce those emissions and Global Change Research, a program funded by several agencies, including the EPA, which reports humans’ impact on the planet.

Although the EPA is a perennial target for budget cuts for some conservatives in Congress, the purported cut, which would amount to about $2 billion from the EPA’s annual budget of about $8.1 billion, is not a certainty. Approximately half the EPA’s annual budget goes to popular state-level programs, like converting abandoned industrial sites into public facilities, and most of the EPA’s federal office spending goes to funding programs that are required by existing laws.

Just four days beforehand at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said those who want to eliminate the department are “justified” in their beliefs.

“I think it’s justified,” said Pruitt. “I think people across this country look at the EPA much like they look at the IRS. I hope to be able to change that.”

Pruitt, who fought two cases that led to courts freezing the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule, also told conference attendees that he would “restore federalism” by giving states a greater say in air and water protection and ensure that “regulations are reined in.” He demurred on the issue of the EPA’s cross-state pollution work, but said the EPA “can’t just make it up” when it decides rules to address climate change, adding that it is “hard to measure with precision” the impact of human activity on the changing climate.

California Acts to Keep Its Environmental Standards

Last Thursday, lawmakers in California introduced three bills—the “Preserve California” package—that made it clear that they want to continue the state’s stringent environmental and climate change policies. The attempt to insulate the state from potential rollbacks in federal environmental regulations and public health protections could set up a battle with the Trump administration and Congress.

“We’re not going to let this administration or any other undermine our progress,” said California Senate Leader Kevin de Leon. “Washington may choose to double down on dirty energy, but California will not follow.”

One of the three bills, SB49, would make current federal clean air, clean water, endangered species and workers’ safety standards enforceable under state law, even if the Trump administration weakens federal standards. With respect to air standards, it would require local air districts to comply with federal rules for new stationary pollution sources in place as of January 1, 2016, or January 1, 2017, “whichever is more stringent.”

California has been relying on federal waivers from the Clean Air Act to set its own, stricter, clean air standards, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could theoretically rescind those waivers or refuse to renew them.

SB50 establishes a new state policy to discourage transfers of federal lands to private developers for resource extraction and directs the State Lands Commission, which oversees many of the federal lands in California, to give the state right of first refusal of any federal lands proposed for transfers to other parties. The state would review any transactions involving federal lands in California to ensure those lands are protected, by state action if necessary.

SB51 would extend whistle-blower protections to federal lawyers, engineers and scientists who are working in California and would direct state environmental and public health agencies to preserve data, even if federal authorities order it to be censored or destroyed.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.