President Donald Trump’s announcement Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency will not protect the air quality in the U.S. from carbon dioxide and other harmful gases is a blow to efforts to combat climate change.
It also comes just days after the president announced the end of a policy allowing states to impose limits on methane emissions from oil and gas operations, as well as the end to the use of coal for electricity generation.
The move by Trump also comes amid an investigation by the Justice Department into whether the EPA overstepped its authority in enforcing pollution rules.
Trump’s move also came after months of public and political pressure from environmental groups, including a March 1 letter to Pruitt and a March 25 letter to the president.
“The EPA’s decisions on carbon dioxide emissions are being overturned with the stroke of a pen,” said Rachel Nichols, senior vice president for policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“This is a victory for all Americans, especially for communities across the country that have been left behind by the EPA’s failed policies.”
“President Trump’s administration is putting an end to decades of pollution and climate inaction that have driven climate change, and the president is giving us the clean, safe and sustainable air we deserve,” Nichols added.
Ahead of the announcement, the White House said it was not releasing the EPA final rules until the agency had been in compliance with federal law.
The president’s executive order signed Friday also allows states to exempt certain facilities, such as nursing homes and hospitals, from the Clean Air Act rules.
In addition, it allows states that have adopted CO2 reduction plans to use the money from the revenue to offset any costs of complying with the rules, including those incurred by states that do not have the money to pay for CO2 emissions reduction.
The EPA also said it will not require states to implement carbon dioxide reduction plans.
Instead, it will require states “to take action in the short- and medium-term” to reduce emissions from existing facilities, according to the executive order.
Environmentalists were particularly concerned that the move will allow oil and natural gas producers to keep operating under the same rules, since those activities emit CO2.
However, the Trump administration also said states could still use the revenue from the sales of the permits to offset the costs of compliance with the Clean Power Plan.
“In order to protect the environment and ensure the clean air and healthy air that is our nation’s hallmark, the president will continue to lead the fight to end the climate crisis,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
In a press briefing Friday, Nichols said she expected states to continue to comply with the regulations until the Clean Water Act was amended to allow states to enforce them.
On Friday, the EPA also released the list of locations in which it will have the authority to regulate emissions from power plants and factories, including plants that produce oil and chemical, gas and cement.
The EPA will also begin to revoke or suspend permits that require pollution controls at coal plants, as long as those emissions are not causing health or the environment harm.