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How Environmental Policies Fared In Trump's Cross Hairs In 2018


Cutting federal environmental regulations is a priority for President Trump, including dismantling Obama administration policies aimed at fighting climate change. This week, the Trump administration moved to weaken rules intended to curb mercury emissions from coal plants. How is Trump's strategy working? Let's put that now to Jennifer Dlouhy. She's a reporter for Bloomberg who covers energy and the environment. Hi. Thanks for being with us.


ELLIOTT: Are any of the changes that we've seen this year different from how the administration first started when they took office in 2017?

DLOUHY: What we're seeing is the Trump administration becoming much more strategic in how it goes about these rollbacks. So in the early days of the Trump administration, the EPA and the Interior Department and other agencies were kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall in seeing what could stick in terms of how they went about these rollbacks. They proposed halting some rules and repealing some rules without significant justification for those decisions. And many of those early steps were rebuked by federal courts. In the meantime, however, those agencies kept working on more deliberate rollbacks. And what we're seeing this year is those things come to pass. We're seeing the EPA put a lot of weight and justification into some of these proposals to repeal limits on methane from oil wells or emission requirements on cars, for instance, in hopes that they will endure the court scrutiny and the litigation that is sure to come.

ELLIOTT: Now, the administration is also taking action to accelerate oil and gas exploration, fossil fuel extraction both offshore and on land.

DLOUHY: Absolutely. We've seen the EPA and Interior Department take steps to make it easier and cheaper to extract coal, even as they lift regulations that discourage power companies from using it. And over at the Interior Department, we're seeing the agency take steps to sell oil drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge next year. They're considering opening the door to selling drilling rights on some 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters. So you've got in tandem this move to step back from the fight against climate change. And at the same time, accelerate development of the fossil fuels that contribute to that phenomenon.

ELLIOTT: Now, what about the market's role in all of this? You know, we've seen gas prices go down which makes exploration a little less attractive. The coal market has not been great. What effect do those market forces have on the strategy here?

DLOUHY: What we see in the market is the endurance and the power of market forces over a Trump administration regulatory agenda. You know, President Donald Trump on the campaign trail was - repeatedly insisted he was going to revive coal. He was going to bring that coal jobs. And once in office, his agencies have set out to do what they can to make coal cheaper to extract, to entice power companies to burn it. But the reality is, for power utilities, natural gas is generally a cheaper source of electricity. And of course, it's a cleaner source of electricity. So we're seeing utilities shift already away from coal. And that's a change that the Trump administration has little power to really alter.

ELLIOTT: Has the Trump administration's stance on environmental regulations had more effect in the United States or globally?

DLOUHY: Well, directly, it's had effect on the emissions in the United States. But interestingly, it's sending an important signal to world leaders around the globe. Just recently during United Nations climate talks in Poland, instead of cheerleading further reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, the Trump administration was there with an event touting the importance of coal and nuclear power and natural gas. And that has important signaling value for other countries. It tells the other countries that the U.S. is no longer going to be a strong fighter in this crusade and perhaps encourages them to relax their own stances, as well.

ELLIOTT: Jennifer Dlouhy is a reporter for Bloomberg who covers energy and the environment. Thank you so much.

DLOUHY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "LUSH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.