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Texas GOP welcomes Trump order repealing climate regulations

Texas Republicans and fossil fuel champions are celebrating an executive order signed by President Trump on Tuesday aimed at curtailing Obama-era climate regulations, calling it a win for utility customers and the state economy.

Steam rises from the stacks at the Martin Lake coal-fired power plant in Tatum, Texas.

Texas Republicans and fossil fuel champions cheered an executive order signed by President Trump on Tuesday aimed at curtailing several major Obama-era climate regulations, calling it a major win for utility ratepayers and the state economy.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, warned that the state — ravaged in recent years by droughts, extreme heat, floods and fires — is particularly vulnerable to global warming. They also noted that Texas, as the nation’s No. 1 producer of wind energy and natural gas, stood to benefit from regulations enacted under President Obama requiring states to switch to cleaner fuel sources.

“Calling climate change a ‘hoax’ won’t stop temperatures or sea level from rising,” Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger said in a statement Tuesday, referring to a 2012 Trump tweet.

Last year “was the hottest year on record, beating 2015, which was the hottest year before that,” he added, citing recently released data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The highest-profile target of Trump’s directive is the Clean Power Plan — Obama’s most ambitious effort to combat climate change. Texas and West Virginia led a coalition of two dozen states that sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the plan, which would’ve required states to slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants however they saw fit. The U.S. Supreme Court halted implementation of the plan last year while the legal challenge wound through the courts.

Critics in Texas, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, said the plan would inflate electricity costs and imperil the state's power grid, while proponents said that market forces and existing policies alone would push Texas most of the way toward its emissions-cutting target.

“President Trump’s executive order is a significant step toward sparing all of us from a potentially disastrous change to the nation’s energy policy that was orchestrated during the Obama era in violation of federal law,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “The so-called Clean Power Plan would have subjected Americans to higher electricity costs and could have weakened the nation’s power grid.”

Trump’s executive order directs the EPA to withdraw and rewrite the plan. (Scott Pruitt, who sued over the plan as Oklahoma attorney general, now leads the agency.) It also lifts a ban on new coal mining leases on federal land and repeals rules regulating the safety of hydraulic fracturing and oilfield methane pollution.

Throughout his campaign, Trump described such rules as “job killing,” and components of a “war on coal.” He has implied that repealing them will bring back coal jobs and move the country further toward long-sought-after “energy independence" — the title of his executive order.

Energy experts have said that Texas won't benefit from lifting bans on mining and drilling on federal lands because the state hardly has any; in fact, it could harm the state's fossil fuel industry if other states begin producing more. Any policies that favor coal over natural gas also could hurt the state since it produces far more of the latter. 

As far as Trump's promise to breathe new life into the coal industry, they say that market forces turned against coal years ago when natural gas prices plummeted amid the shale boom. Whatever Trump does likely won’t do much to change that.

John Hall, Texas director for the Environmental Defense Fund's clean energy program, said regulations like the Clean Power Plan would have spurred job growth in a sector already favored by market forces: clean energy.

“Economic factors are driving the shift to the clean energy economy more so than environmental regulations,” he said.

A 2015 defense fund analysis showed that most states were on track to meet emission reduction goals under the Clean Power Plan, but that Texas was far ahead of the pack because of its rapidly expanding renewable portfolio. If the Clean Power Plan remains in place — and Hall said he thinks the courts will ultimately uphold it — Hall said Texas would have been able to make money by selling “excess emissions reduction credits” to other states.

“We stood to gain significantly,” he said. “We would have had a commodity that we could’ve been making money on.”

Still, others cheered Trump’s directive as an economic boon.

"Genuine environmental protection, economic growth, and job creation are interdependent,” said Kathleen Hartnett-White, a fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, who Trump had considered to lead the EPA.

“After decades of environmental improvements, the U.S. is now equipped to take full advantage of our energy bounty with environmental sensitivity,” she said.

Read more of the Tribune's related coverage:

  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is helping to lead a 28-state effort to strike down the Clean Power Plan, President Obama's landmark effort to to fight climate change.
  • President-elect Donald Trump may be seen as a boon for fossil fuels and a burden for renewables. But energy experts and clean energy groups say his victory may not be a win for Texas oil and gas — or a totally bad thing for wind and solar.  

Disclosure: The Environmental Defense Fund and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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