Trump dramatically changes US approach to climate change
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Donald Trump signed a sweeping executive order Tuesday at the Environmental Protection Agency, which officials said looks to curb the federal government's enforcement of climate regulations by putting American jobs above addressing climate change.
The order represents a clear difference between how Trump and former President Barack Obama view the role the United States plays in combating climate change, and dramatically alters the government's approach to rising sea levels and temperatures -- two impacts of climate change.
Trump said during the signing that the order will "eliminate federal overreach" and "start a new era of production and job creation."
"My action today is latest in steps to grow American jobs," Trump added, saying his order is "ending the theft of prosperity."
A White House official briefed on the plan said Monday the administration believes the government can both "serve the environment and increase energy independence at the same time" by urging the EPA for focus on what the administration believes is its core mission: Clean air and clean water.
More important than regulating climate change, the official said, is protecting American jobs.
"It is an issue that deserves attention," the official said of climate change. "But I think the President has been very clear that he is not going to pursue climate change policies that put the US economy at risk. It is very simple."
Tuesday's order initiates a review of the Clean Power Plan, rescinds the moratorium on coal mining on US federal lands and urges federal agencies to "identify all regulations, all rules, all policies ... that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence," the official said.
Specifically, the order rescinds at least six Obama-era executive orders aimed at curbing climate change and regulating carbon emissions, including Obama's November 2013 executive order instructing the federal government to prepare for the impact of climate change and the September 2016 presidential memorandum that outlined the "growing threat to national security" that climate change poses.
"The previous administration devalued workers by their policies," the official said. "We are saying we can do both. We can protect the environment and provide people with work."
The White House official went on to argue that the best way to protect the environment is to have a strong economy, noting that countries like India and China do less to protect the environment.
"To the extent that the economy is strong and growing and you have prosperity, that is the best way to protect the environment," the official said.
The executive order also represents the greatest fears climate change advocates had when Trump was elected in November 2016.
"These actions are an assault on American values and they endanger the health, safety and prosperity of every American," Tom Steyer, the president of NexGen Climate, said in a statement. "Trump is deliberately destroying programs that create jobs and safeguards that protect our air and water, all for the sake of allowing corporate polluters to profit at our expense."
Andrew Steer, CEO of the World Resources Institute, said that the executive order shows Trump is "failing a test of leadership to protect Americans' health, the environment and economy."
Some environmental advocates have already said they plan to take legal action against the Trump administration.
But as much as Democrats and climate advocates will decry it, Trump's executive order follows the President's past comments about climate change. Though Trump told The New York Times during the election that he has an "open mind" about confronting climate change, he also once called it a hoax.
"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," Trump tweeted in November 2012.
"I will also cancel all wasteful climate change spending from Obama/Clinton," Trump said in October 2016.
On Tuesday, ahead of the signing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to say whether Trump still believes climate change is a hoax.
"He does not believe ... that there is a binary choice between job creation, economic growth and caring about the environment," Spicer said. "That's what we should be focusing on."
The changes, the official said, do not mean the Trump administration will not look to protect the environment any longer, the official said, but when pressed about the human impact on climate change and Trump's beliefs, the official was reluctant to say whether all government officials in the Trump White House believe humans cause climate change.
"I think there are plenty of rules on the books already. We will continue to enforce that provide for clean air and clean water. And that is what we are going to do," the official said. "The President has been very clear that he wants the EPA to stick to that basic core mission that Congress set out for it."
The changes also reflect the view of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who routinely sued the organization he now leads during his time as the Attorney General of Oklahoma. In an interview with CNBC earlier this month, Pruitt argued incorrectly that carbon dioxide isn't the "primary contributor" to climate change, a comment that goes against most scientific research.
This executive order is also an attempt by the Trump administration to make good on its promise to bring more coal jobs back. The official said that Obama's regulations "were not helpful" to the coal industry and these reversals are the President honoring "a pledge he made to the coal industry."
"We are going to put our coal miners back to work," Trump said at a March 2017 event in Kentucky. "They have not been treated well, but they're going to be treated well now."
He added: "The miners are coming back."
On Tuesday at the EPA, Trump welcomed a group of miners that attended the signing and said the order was "putting an end to the war on coal."
It is unclear whether Trump's order will actually bring back coal jobs, in part, because of market forces like the rise of clean energy that are already putting pressure on the coal industry.
Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, told CNN in January that coal employment "can't be brought back to where it was before the election of Barack Obama" because of market pressure.
This story has been updated.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.
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