Market News

 March 31, 2017
President Trump Issues Executive Order on Climate Change

 On March 28, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that significantly rolls back climate change policy enacted under the Obama administration and requires review of agency actions that may negatively impact domestic energy industries---with particular emphasis on impacts to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources. According to the executive order, the aim is to "promote clean and safe development of our Nation's vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation."

In furtherance of this stated goal, the executive order requires:
  • Immediate review of all agency actions that potentially burden the safe, efficient development of domestic energy resources. Although renewable energy sources are mentioned, the executive order requires focus on impacts to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources. Any agency whose actions could potentially burden the development of domestic energy resources is instructed to identify specific recommendations that could alleviate or eliminate aspects of agency actions that burden domestic energy production. For this purpose, "burden" is defined as actions that unnecessarily obstruct, delay, curtail, or otherwise impose significant costs on the siting, permitting, production, utilization, transmission, or delivery of energy resources.
  • Immediate rescission of certain energy and climate-related presidential and regulatory actions enacted under President Obama. The rescinded actions were aimed at curbing climate change and regulating carbon emissions. This also requires agency heads to examine these rescinded actions and to revise agency actions accordingly.
  • Review of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) "Clean Power Plan" and related rules and agency actions. The administrator of the EPA is instructed to review a number of EPA rules, and to suspend, revise, or rescind the guidance, or publish for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding those rules in furtherance of the stated policy of the executive order.
  • Dissolution of the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases (IWG). In addition, numerous guidance documents issued by the IWG on the social cost of carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane for regulatory impact analysis are withdrawn as no longer representative of governmental policy and replaced with 2003 guidance (OMB Circular A-4 of September 17, 2003).
  • Withdrawal of the federal rule requiring agencies to examine potential greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts when assessing federal activities under the National Environmental Policy Act.
  • Rescission of the federal moratorium on coal leasing of federal lands and commencement of coal leasing activities.
  • Review of regulations related to U.S. oil and gas development. The Secretary of the Interior is instructed to review a number of rules relating to oil and gas development, including rules that limit certain oil and gas activities on federal and Native American lands, and to suspend, revise, or rescind the guidance, or publish for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding those rules in furtherance of the stated policy of the executive order.
The White House has stated that an additional aim of the executive order is to alleviate regulations on fossil fuel enterprises, in part by putting American jobs above addressing climate change. By all accounts, the executive order represents a sweeping change to previous U.S. climate change policy---putting a greater emphasis on conventional energy sources and economic growth, and eliminating many climate change protections (including promotion of renewable energy resources). Effectively, the executive order undermines the Clean Power Plan's or other previous efforts to require states to reduce emissions, and thereby increase the amount of renewable energy installed in the U.S.

The executive order could potentially create uncertainty in the renewable and other non-fossil-fuel energy industries, given that these industries have historically benefited from federal government support. That said, while the executive order may represent a sea change at the federal level, at least 29 states currently have renewable portfolio standards, and most (if not all) states have various state and local incentives for the development of renewable and clean energy. Moreover, a large portion of Fortune 500 companies have aggressive sustainability commitments that require purchases of renewable energy. None of these factors are impacted by federal policy, and as such, they will serve to combat any deleterious effect of the executive order on renewable and clean energy development. In addition, various environmental agencies and renewable energy industry members have already spoken out against the executive order. They have begun organizing opposition to the executive order and the resulting request from the Trump administration for the U.S. Court of Appeals to postpone ongoing lawsuits relating to restrictions created by the Obama administration's climate policy.

For further information, please contact Nicole Gambino (ngambino@wsgr.com, 415-947-2117); Todd Glass (tglass@wsgr.com, 206-883-2500); Michael Joyce (mjoyce@wsgr.com, 323-210-2915); Sean Moran (smoran@wsgr.com, 323-210-2916); Peter Mostow (pmostow@wsgr.com, 206-883-2541); Ira Palgon (ipalgon@wsgr.com, 212-497-7708); or any member of the energy and infrastructure practice at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Lauren Chase, Kathleen Kapla, and Caitlin Kelly-Garrick contributed to the preparation of this WSGR Alert.