Trump May Be in a Legislative Slump, but His Energy Agenda Is Getting Lots of Hits
Policy + Politics

Trump May Be in a Legislative Slump, but His Energy Agenda Is Getting Lots of Hits


President Donald Trump may be fuming over Republicans' failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, but he can certainly take solace in the GOP's swift overhaul of the Obama administration's energy and environmental agenda.

In just half a year, Trump and his appointees have dismantled many of President Barack Obama's policies to combat climate change and reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels. For an administration often accused of operating in a state of chaos, it has shown remarkable focus in executing its "America First Energy Plan."

Related: How Much Energy Would Trump's Solar Border Wall Actually Produce?

While GOP infighting over health care has stalled tax reform, Trump and Republican lawmakers have forged ahead with more than a dozen major energy actions. As Trump's trillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan remains stuck in first gear, he has transitioned from undoing Obama's legacy through executive order to pitching U.S. coal and natural gas exports around the world in a bid to make America "energy dominant."

Still, Trump is a long way from complete victory. Many of the administration's actions are now snarled in legal challenges that threaten to derail or dilute Trump's goals.

It will be years before some of these issues are resolved. That means Trump could find himself staring down the same dilemma in 2020 that Obama faced in 2016: He'll be trying to lock in his touchstone energy policies at the end of a four-year term, with a political rival eager to overturn them.

From advancing controversial pipeline projects to abandoning the Paris climate agreement, here is a list of Trump's biggest power plays — and where they stand now.

Related: EPA Chief’s Magical Thinking: Push Energy Production and Protect the Planet

Approving Dakota Access Pipeline

Jan. 24

Trump ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to grant permission to complete the pipeline in January, cutting short a review started under Obama. Oil began flowing through the $3.8 billion pipeline in June, and it continues to operate despite an ongoing legal challenge by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the chief opponents of the project. A judge ruled in June that the Corps' permitting process violated the law in some respects. The court is now deliberating over whether the line should be temporarily shut down.

Approving Keystone XL Pipeline

Jan. 24

Trump also invited TransCanada to resubmit its application to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, but the future of the project is uncertain. Former Secretary of State John Kerry rejected the application in 2015 due to its environmental impact. The business case for moving Canadian crude to the United States through the line has dimmed since then, and TransCanada is reportedly having trouble lining up customers.

Made-in-America requirement for pipelines

Jan. 24

Trump ordered Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to develop a plan to require pipelines built within U.S. borders to use American-made pipes and raw materials. U.S. trade partners and energy firms have warned Commerce that the plan would violate free-trade deals, disrupt supply chains, raise prices and potentially cause layoffs. Commerce delivered the plan in July, but it could be weeks or months until the White House announces how it will proceed. The Trump administration has already said Dakota Access and Keystone will be exempt.

Related: Why Trump Can’t Turn Back the Clock on Clean Energy Transition

Killing an energy anti-corruption rule

Feb. 14

Trump and congressional Republicans repealed a rule that requires oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments in order to prevent corruption in oil-producing nations. The underlying law that orders the Securities and Exchange Commission to write the rule still stands, so the SEC must rewrite it.

Delaying U.S. compliance with international anti-corruption effort


The Department of the Interior halted work on a related effort to make sure U.S. transparency rules for the energy industry comply with an international anti-corruption initiative. The committee handling the energy anti-corruption effort is in limbo following the Interior Department's decision to freeze the work of more than 200 advisory boards while it reviews their missions.

Repealing the Stream Protection Rule

Feb. 16

Trump and GOP lawmakers overturned the Stream Protection Rule, which would have prohibited surface mining within 100 feet of streams and tightened requirements for conducting environmental studies and cleaning up mines.

Related: Trump Revives a Radioactive Plan for Storing Nuclear Waste

Storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain

March 16

The Trump administration set aside $120 million in its budget to restart the licensing process for a facility in Nevada's Yucca Mountain that would store the nation's nuclear waste, which is currently kept at facilities across the country. The House spending bill for 2018 so far preserves funds for that purpose, but the Senate bill does not. A House-Senate conference committee must resolve differences in the budgets.

Reducing fuel efficiency goals for vehicles

March 16

Trump ordered a review of federal fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles, which Obama finalized in January, well ahead of schedule. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told CNBC it would review the standards for model year vehicles 2022-2025. One option is to leave the model year 2021 level — 41 miles per gallon — in place indefinitely. Analysts told CNBC in March that is a risky move that would likely draw legal challenges.

Revoking the Clean Power Plan

March 28

Trump ordered the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan, Obama's signature attempt to regulate planet-warming carbon emissions from power plants. The D.C. Circuit Court put a legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan on hold in April. The EPA is reportedly drafting a far less ambitious rule that would focus on improving efficiency at coal plants. The rule-making process will take at least a year and is certain to draw legal challenges, analysts told CNBC.

Related: Trump Pulls Out of the Paris Climate Deal: How Much Damage Could It Do?

Rewriting rules to stop methane leaks from oil and gas industry

March 28

Trump has attempted to roll back rules to prevent methane leaks from oil and gas operations, but the effort has faced challenges. Three Republicans sided with Democrats in May to kill a GOP-led effort to strike down a Bureau of Land Management rule. On Monday, a federal court ordered the EPA to implement a similar rule, after an earlier ruling that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unlawfully paused implementation. Both BLM and EPA must go through the full process to rewrite the rules.

Ending Obama's temporary ban on federal coal leasing

March 29

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke overturned a moratorium on issuing new coal mining leases on federal land and ended a comprehensive review of the government's coal leasing program. The Obama administration launched the review in 2016 to identify possible reforms. A coalition of environment groups sued in May over the action, asking a U.S. court to stop Interior from issuing coal leases until it completes the analysis.

Overturning Obama's Arctic drilling ban

April 28

Trump issued an executive order overturning an indefinite ban on drilling in much of the U.S. Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic. The Obama administration used a novel interpretation of the law that governs drilling in government waters. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit a week after Trump signed the order, asking a U.S. District Court in Alaska to prevent the Trump administration from executing the order.

Expanding offshore drilling

April 28

In the same executive order, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to create a new five-year schedule for leasing blocks of the U.S. outer continental shelf for oil and gas exploration. The Interior Department started that process, which typically takes about two years, at the end of June.

Pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement

June 1

Trump announced he would pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, an international effort to combat global warming, in June. The United States cannot technically start the exit process until November 2019, and the withdrawal will take a year. Trump floated the idea of renegotiating the deal or creating a new accord, but European leaders say they're not interested. A coalition of U.S. cities, states, businesses and universities has vowed to meet U.S. commitments to the Paris Agreement.

Reviewing commitment to clean energy research and development

June 1

The United States committed along with 21 other nations and the European Union to double research and development spending on clean energy technology. The United States declined to reaffirm its commitment made during the Obama administration to hike that funding to $6.4 billion by 2021. The Energy Department said its activities under the Mission Innovation program are under review.

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