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The Call-In: Answering Your Questions About Trump And Climate Change


This is The Call-In. Today we're talking about climate change. President Trump signed an executive order this past week designed to unwind many of the Obama administration's climate change policies. We asked you to send us your questions about environmental regulations.



DEBORAH ARNESEN: This is Deborah Arnesen (ph). I'm from New Harmony, Utah.

DALE KLINGBEIL: I'm a college student at the University of Iowa.

GLENN HOOKS: Calling about the Environmental Protection Agency...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: What is causing climate change?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I'd like to know how the administration...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: To regulate greenhouse gas pollution

HOOKS: Why is he fighting against the booming renewable energy industry?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Thanks so much.

HOOKS: Thank you.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: We asked NPR's Nathan Rott to help answer your questions and walk us through the executive order and its effect.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Obviously, the big-picture item that Trump has ordered review of was the Clean Power Plan. That was the Obama administration's biggest effort to combat global climate change. And what it did is it was going to try to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants across the country.

Trump has said that he doesn't want that - he said it during the campaign even. Getting rid of it is going to be a really difficult thing to do (laughter). You're going to have to go through basically the same rule-making process that you went through to put that rule in place, which, you know - we're talking public comment periods. We're talking scientific reviews. If they try to cut any corners in that process, they're going to get sued by environmental groups, by states. It could be...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So he can't just do it with a pen. He can't just basically sign...



ROTT: Cannot wave a wand to make this thing go away. It's going to take a while.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Here's a question from Erin Heath more generally about the Trump administration's proposal to cut the EPA budget. This is something we've heard a lot about.

ERIN HEATH: Are we going to need 50 little EPAs? Are we going to find alternative means of enforcing these regulations?

ROTT: There are 50 little EPAs - I like that (laughter). So here's the thing. There's still going to be a federal EPA. There's still going to be federal law. There's still going to be federal regulations. Those laws like, let's say, the Clean Air Act for example, the Clean Water Act - those basically set the floor. They put in place national standards that states have to be in compliance with under federal law. States can exceed those federal standards, but they can't go under them.

One other thing that I think is a little important to note here is that there have been state environmental agencies before there was an EPA. Right? They've been around for a long time. But the reason the EPA was made is because environmental issues don't respect state boundaries. If somebody is polluting in the Mississippi River in Minnesota, that pollution is going to go and affect every state it passes through, regardless of their environmental programs, until it hits the Gulf Coast.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Jeff Potent called in from New York City. He's actually a former EPA official, and he had this question.

JEFF POTENT: How are they going to oversee state environmental programs? My experience has been that there's a tremendous amount of inconsistency across states. And some states, quite frankly, don't have the capacity.

ROTT: There is a lot of variance in state agencies. You know, you have some states that have very robust environmental programs. You have some that are really, really thin - that are right at those federal standards. So if these budget cuts that Trump is proposing go through - and again, that's a big if - states are going to have to tighten their belts even more.

A study by the Environmental Council of the States - it's a nonpartisan group, which is important in this issue (laughter) - found that about a third of all state funding for environmental regulations comes from the EPA. And we've been hearing about this - state environmental programs not having the bodies to go do things as is. They were hit by the recession. They've been hit by state budget cuts. So if states aren't meeting these standards, I think it's an open question to whether the Trump administration will aggressively come in and hold them accountable.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's look at a state that already has some really strict environmental controls. Take a listen.

ILA VASSALO: Hi. My name is Ila Vassalo. I'm from Marlton, N.J. And my question is - what chance does California have in upholding its ability to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from the tailpipes of cars? And what other states may lead the way regarding climate change?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So will states that have tough environmental protections and regulations be impacted by the Trump administration's proposals and actions so far?

ROTT: We'll have to see. I love that she's asking a question about California from New Jersey.


ROTT: I am out in California, so I'll speak about that specifically. For those of you that don't know what she's talking about there, California has stricter emissions standards for cars than the feds actually require. They have that because of a longstanding waiver under the Clean Air Act. And essentially, it means if you have an older car here, like I do, you have to go get it smog tested to make sure it meets those standards, the California standards.

Thirteen other states use California standard as their own, and that's stricter than the feds. Now, automakers don't like this. They want there to be a national standard so they're not having to build cars that meet different requirements in different places. Trump has said that he wants to loosen national regulations to help stimulate growth in the auto industry. If they did try to come in and revoke some of these state waivers, I think you would see a lot of lawsuits from consumer advocacy groups, from environmental groups, even from the state.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what I'm hearing from you is that basically we're looking at a lot of litigation in the months to come - potentially.

ROTT: I think that if you are an environmental lawyer, you are going to have a lot of work ahead of you (laughter) in the next four years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Nate, thanks so much for joining us.

ROTT: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now we want to bring in NPR's Jeff Brady, who covers energy. Hi, Jeff.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we've got a question from Glenn Hooks of North Little Rock, Ark.


HOOKS: President Trump campaigned largely on job creation and economic growth. But he's planning to roll back efforts like the Clean Power Plan that will create millions jobs and spur innovation. Why is he fighting against the booming renewable energy industry in our nation?

BRADY: One thing sticks out there a little bit for me. I haven't seen any credible estimates that the Clean Power Plan will create millions of jobs. Even groups supporting the Clean Power Plan put that number closer to around 300,000 jobs over the next couple of decades. Glenn may be thinking about recent reports that there are now almost four times as many people working in the solar power business than in the coal business.

And I think to answer Glenn's question of why President Trump may favor coal over solar, look at where those jobs are located. Coal jobs are more likely to be in states that voted for President Trump - you know, like Wyoming and West Virginia, Kentucky. And solar jobs - they're more likely to be in states with renewable energy incentives. And those are primarily Democratic states that voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So quick question, though - can President Trump's executive order and his stance curtail some of the growth that we've seen in the renewable energy industries?

BRADY: I would say that if you talk with a lot of people across the renewable energy business, they would say no. And the big reason is because a lot of the growth in this industry is coming from the states. A lot of states have passed what are called renewable portfolio standards (laughter), which is a technical term for saying a certain percentage of our electricity is going to come from renewable energy. And it's those requirements that are really driving a lot of the growth in the renewable energy business.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was NPR's Jeff Brady and Nathan Rott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.