When President Obama was faced with a Congress unwilling to work with him on virtually anything, he reminded the country that the chief executive has other ways of affecting the way the nation does business. Specifically, he said, he had a “phone and a pen” and proceeded, much to Republicans’ fury, to overhaul much of the way the federal government does business through executive orders.
Now his predecessor, faced with a humiliating legislative defeat in his first major effort to enact a new law, is following the same path, though arguably in reverse. Donald Trump on Tuesday is expected to sign an executive order that will roll back a vast array of Obama-era requirements meant to protect the climate from global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the country’s investment in renewable energy.
That order follows close on the heels of a second, less-noticed, one that revoked rules put in place by Obama to ensure that companies winning large federal contracts do not have a history of violating labor laws and workplace safety requirements.
The two back-to-back orders are just the latest in a flurry of activity from the new administration, which has used executive orders to push its policy agenda forward in areas as diverse as immigration, regulatory reform, and enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance coverage mandates.
The order expected Tuesday will have sweeping consequences for the way the Environmental Protection Agency enforces federal laws related to carbon emissions and will absolve federal agencies of a requirement that they consider the environmental impact of their actions when making regulatory decisions.
The rule will undo a ban on the leasing of federal land for coal mining, an effort taken by the Obama administration as part of a push to move the country away from carbon-intensive fuels that create significant pollution and toward more renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.
An anonymous administration official told The Washington Post the new policy was meant to make the country “energy independent” and denied that the move represents an abandonment of efforts to combat climate change. “When it comes to climate change, we want to take our course and do it in our own form and fashion,” the official said.
The order is not the first one Trump has signed paring back environment-related regulations, but it is the most sweeping. He previously signed a rule that removed restrictions preventing coal mines from polluting streams and other waterways and recalculated the royalties that private companies pay for mining on federal lands.
Much of the new rule focuses on undoing restrictions the Obama administration placed on coal-burning power plants. The new president has made the reviving the coal mining industry a focal point of his new administration. This despite the fact that coal mining represents a tiny fraction of overall employment in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and that even top executives in the coal industry believe the effort to bring jobs back is doomed.
The order signed Monday, though less broad in scope, was also aimed at undoing efforts by the previous president that had frustrated conservatives. The main target of the action was President Obama’s July 2014 Executive Order 13673, entitled “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces.” The Obama order, among other things, imposed strict transparency requirements on federal contractors with regard to information they were required to share with employees about their compensation.
Congress had already taken steps to undo the Obama-era rule, which detractors said created a “blacklist” of companies that would be barred from receiving federal contracts.
While Republicans, by and large, cheered Trump’s latest efforts to undo the Obama legacy, Democrats were dismayed -- particularly by the move to slash environmental rules.
Delaware Sen. Chris Coons told Politico that the GOP had reached “peak climate science denial,” adding, “"They’re going to extraordinary lengths to deny this meteor that is global warming catapulting toward the Earth. I’m scared stiff. My kids won’t be able to solve this problem if we don’t tackle it right now because it will be too late in 20 years."