Trump's executive order to undo climate rules won't save coal jobs

President Donald Trump is widely expected to sign an executive order Tuesday reversing the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule intended to reduce the energy sector's contributions to climate change by 2030.

Such an order would attempt to fulfill a campaign promise to undo the previous administration's environmental regulations in the name of economic development, especially for the coal industry in Appalachia. But those outside the Trump administration remain skeptical that the Clean Power Plan is really what's driving the decline of coal country, and whether the executive order can actually undo the regulation unilaterally.

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Coal mining in West Virginia and Appalachia
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Coal mining in West Virginia and Appalachia
The rocky landscape shows some of the last sections to be mined for coal at the Hobet site in Boone County, West Virginia, U.S. May 12, 2016. To match Special Report USA-COAL/HOBET REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A Caterpillar Inc. front loader scoops coal from a mound at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal waits to be among the last shipments to be loaded on train cars to depart the Hobet mine in Boone County, West Virginia, U.S. May 12, 2016. Picture taken May 12, 2016. To match Special Report USA-COAL/HOBET REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Ice patches sit on a mound of coal at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal spills out from a tower into a large pile at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Radio channel signs are posted beside a large mound of coal at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A mound of coal sits outside an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Views of a radically altered natural environment in southern West Virginia due to extensive mountain top removal coal mining and logging. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Views of a radically altered natural environment in southern West Virginia due to extensive mountain top removal coal mining and logging. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
WISE COUNTY, VA - APRIL 16: A & G Coal Corporation surface mining operations continue in the Appalachian Mountains on April 16, 2012 in Wise County, Virginia. Critics refer to this type of mining as 'mountaintop removal mining' which has destroyed 500 mountain peaks and at least 1,200 miles of streams while leading to increased flooding. The Appalachians are some of the oldest mountains on Earth. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WISE COUNTY, VA - APRIL 16: A & G Coal Corporation surface mining operations are seen in the Appalachian Mountains on April 16, 2012 in Wise County, Virginia. Critics refer to this type of mining as 'mountaintop removal mining' which has destroyed 500 mountain peaks and at least 1,200 miles of streams while leading to increased flooding. The Appalachians are some of the oldest mountains on Earth. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 16 : West Virginia Patriot mining operations at the Guston strip mine just outside of Starcity West Virginia on August 16, 2010. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 16 : West Virginia Patriot mining operations at the Guston strip mine just outside of Starcity West Virginia on August 16, 2010. Seen here is an example of land that has been reclamed and land that is still being mined. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty Images)
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As laid out by President Barack Obama in 2015, the Clean Power Plan calls for power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030. While the plan gives individual states some flexibility in how they pursue those goals, the fact that any future power plant must produce about half the emissions of current plants makes the construction of any new coal-burning plants highly unlikely. But this regulatory proviso may just reflect a more basic economic reality, according to both the plan's chief architect and one of its foremost critics.

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US Coal Mines
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US Coal Mines
A Caterpillar Inc. front loader scoops coal from a mound at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coaling towers stand at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A truck waits to be loaded with coal at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal spills out from a tower into a large pile at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal spills out from a tower into a large pile at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal sits in a pile at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Signage stands outside an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PRINTER, KY - JUNE 3: CSX Transportation coal trains sit in a rail yard on June 3, 2014 in Printer, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
CATTLETSBURG, KY - JUNE 3: Caterpillar front-loading machinery operates on mounds of coal at Arch Coal Terminals June 3, 2014 in Cattletsburg, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
SHELBIANA, KY - JUNE 3: A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound at the CCI Energy Slones Branch Terminal June 3, 2014 in Shelbiana, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
CATTLETSBURG, KY - JUNE 3: A tractor trailer drives by a mound of coal after delivering a truckload of coal to Arch Coal Terminals June 3, 2014 in Cattletsburg, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
PRINTER, KY - JUNE 3: A road leads past a coal train sitting alongside the Blackhawk Mining, LLC Spurlock Prep Plant on June 3, 2014 in Printer, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
Coal is dropped from a conveyer belt into a pile at the Wildcat Coal Load-Out Terminal, owned by Intermountain Power Agency outside Price, Utah Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The facility receives coal via trucks from the local mines and transfers it to call cars on trains for transport to power generation facilities. Photographer:George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images News
Coal is transported by rail after being loaded at the Wildcat Coal Load-Out Terminal, owned by Intermountain Power Agency, outside Price, Utah, U.S., on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The facility receives coal via trucks from the local mines and transfers it to railcars for transport to power generation facilities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Caterpillar earth mover moves piles of coal at the Wildcat Coal Load-Out Terminal, owned by Intermountain Power Agency, outside Price, Utah, U.S., on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The facility receives coal via trucks from the local mines and transfers it to railcars for transport to power generation facilities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Caterpillar earth mover moves piles of coal at the Wildcat Coal Load-Out Terminal, owned by Intermountain Power Agency, outside Price, Utah, U.S., on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The facility receives coal via trucks from the local mines and transfers it to railcars for transport to power generation facilities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Loaded Norfolk Southern coal trains sit before being unloaded at Lambert's Point Coal Terminal in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013. In 2011, coal was used to generate 30.3 percent of the world's primary energy, the highest level since 1969, according to the World Coal Association, an industry trade group. That share slipped only to 29.9 percent last year. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Kentucky Mine Supply Company building stands in Harlan, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. In 2011, coal was used to generate 30.3 percent of the world's primary energy, the highest level since 1969, according to the World Coal Association, an industry trade group. That share slipped only to 29.9 percent last year. Photographer: Luke Sharett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A CSX Corp. coal hopper car sits beside a Harlan County coal tipple in Totz, Kentucky, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. In 2011, coal was used to generate 30.3 percent of the world's primary energy, the highest level since 1969, according to the World Coal Association, an industry trade group. That share slipped only to 29.9 percent last year. Photographer: Luke Sharett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Deckhands aboard the Consol Energy Champion Coal tow boat walk along the center of the barges on the Monongahela River, during transport outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal sits inside a barge during transport down the Monongahela River by the Consol Energy Champion Coal tow boat outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S, on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A coal miner shines his head lamp on coal transported on a conveyor belt after being sheared off the wall during longwall mining operations at the Consol Energy Bailey Mine in Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal miners walk through a tunnel at the Consol Energy Bailey Mine in Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A coal miner stands in a crevice to avoid a transport car at the Consol Energy Bailey Mine in Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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"I can certainly understand there's difficulties in West Virginia, but you don't blind yourself to the fact that it's the market itself which is the challenge for coal country," former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in an interview Sunday with WBUR. "Natural gas being inexpensive is what has knocked coal out of the marketplace in most places."

McCarthy said that solar energy jobs are growing at a pace 12 times that of the overall economy, reflecting a market-driven shift away from coal and toward clean energy sources. The plan, she said, was not designed to close coal plants or prevent the construction of new ones that would otherwise be just fine, but rather reflect the fact that coal was already on the way out as a major part of the energy sector.

Robert Murray, whose Murray Energy is one of the largest independent coal-mining operations in the United States, called the Clean Power Plan "fraudulent" and the Obama administration "the greatest destroyers the United States of America has ever seen in its history" in an interview with The Guardian. Yet as much as he welcomed Trump's executive order, he said the president should not assume the move will accomplish the stated goal of bringing jobs back to coal country.

"I suggested that he temper his expectations," Murray told The Guardian. "Those are my exact words. He can't bring them back."

The executive order formalizes the White House's already stated opposition to the Clean Power Plan. In the near term, that likely means the EPA will no longer defend the regulation in court, where it faces challenges from 28 states. Trump's recently released budget blueprint also calls for the complete defunding of the plan. Even so, McCarthy challenged the idea that the president can dismantle the plan by fiat, arguing that the Trump administration would ultimately need to present its own evidence-based rule to replace the plan.

"You can't undo it with a piece of paper like an executive order," she told WBUR. "It's a large hurdle to get from issuing an executive order to actually creating a new record on science and fact to base a differing rule."

McCarthy, who is now at Harvard University's Kennedy School, remains optimistic that the power sector was inevitably moving toward clean and renewable energy sources, as economic realities just dictate those make more sense that propping up industries like coal that made sense 40 or 50 years ago. What Trump's executive order represent, then, are statements of the country's official priorities, with the Clean Power Plan providing a long-term signal to industry that they should continue investing and building up the renewable sector. The loss of that official signal, both to industry and to the world at large, is what McCarthy criticized most about the executive order.

"What it is frankly is it's kind of embarrassing," she said. "Because we're not just taking away rules, we have a president who is denying climate science, which virtually every other country in the world understands and is acting on. They expect the US to be a leader. They want us there. We are one of the two biggest polluters in the world in terms of carbon pollution. We're supposed to not just be doing the clean power plan but doing our fair share."

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Unemployed in rural America
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Unemployed in rural America
SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, PA - AUGUST 14: Kim Foss, 28, passes by a Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump sign as she packs up her car on August 14, 2016 in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania. This Northeastern Pennsylvania city has a median household income of 32,442. Trump has been holding rallies in the state frequently as he targets Pennsylvania's 20 delegates, the 5th largest total nationwide. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
SHENANDOAH, PA - AUGUST 14: From left, Jessica Soto, 24, and Tanazane Montesdeoca, 28, vacuum their car in front of an arson attack on row houses behind them on August 14, 2016 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The small Northeastern Pennsylvania town of 5,000 residents has a rich coal mining history. The majority of nearby coal mines have closed and 20.1% of the population now exists below the poverty line, with a median household income of $18,714. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been holding rallies in the state frequently, as he targets Pennsylvania's 20 delegates, the 5th largest total nationwide. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
FRACKVILLE, PA - AUGUST 14: An effigy of Uncle Sam is displayed in a shop window on August 14, 2016 in Frackville, Pennsylvania. The small Northeastern Pennsylvania coal mining town of under 5,000 residents has a rich coal mining history. The majority of nearby coal mines have closed and the a median household income is $32,071. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been holding rallies in the state frequently, as he targets Pennsylvania's 20 delegates, the 5th largest total nationwide. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
MINERSVILLE, PA - AUGUST 14: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains profanity.) Troy Dando, 46, a Donald Trump supporter, owns Custom Gun Finishes poses in his store on August 14, 2016 in Minersville, Pennsylvania. 'I feel hopeful that Trump will clear out unnecessary bureaucracy. That's my hope. He will accomplish them by firing them. Let's start anew. Straighten this country out. I'm hoping to send the country in the proper direction. This country is in dire straits,' said Dando. Northeastern Pennsylvania has a rich coal mining history, but the majority of nearby coal mines have closed and 15% of the town's population now exists below the poverty line, with a median household income of $28,373. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been holding rallies in the state frequently, as he targets Pennsylvania's 20 delegates, the 5th largest total nationwide. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
MINERSVILLE, PA - AUGUST 14: From left, Troy Dando, 46, and John Theisen, 71, share a laugh in Custom Gun Finishes on August 14, 2016 in Minersville, Pennsylvania. Northeastern Pennsylvania has a rich coal mining history, but the majority of nearby coal mines have closed and 15% of the town's population now exists below the poverty line, with a median household income of $28,373. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been holding rallies in the state frequently, as he targets Pennsylvania's 20 delegates, the 5th largest total nationwide. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
ASHLAND, PA - AUGUST 14: A soiled flag hangs from a crooked pole on August 14, 2016 in Ashland, Pennsylvania. Northeastern Pennsylvania has a rich coal mining history, but the majority of nearby coal mines have closed and 12.8% of the town's population now exists below the poverty line, with a median household income of $27,234. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been holding rallies in the state frequently, as he targets Pennsylvania's 20 delegates, the 5th largest total nationwide. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
COLVER, PA - AUGUST 13: A girl plays a video game at Our Place Bar in Colver, Pennsylvania. The tiny Western Pennsylvania coal mining town of just over 1,000 residents has a rich coal mining history. The majority of nearby coal mines have closed and 17.1% of the population now exists below the poverty line, with a median household income of $23,388. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been holding rallies in the state frequently, as he targets Pennsylvania's 20 delegates, the 5th largest total nationwide. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
JOHNSTOWN, PA - AUGUST 13: From left, Tabitha Palmer, 45, and Anthony Palmer, 59, who support Donald Trump, pose for a portrait on August 13, 2016 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. 'Trump is going to take care of business, doing the things that need to be done. Hopefully he gets in there and wipes them out of there. Obama just isn't doing nothing as far as I can see. Trump will make the US safer and better, to bring jobs back to these people. They closed the factories. All these people lost their jobs and homes. It used to be a nice town and now it's a ghost town. I call it a dead town,' said Palmer. The Cambria Iron Company steelworks closed in 1992, and this Western Pennsylvania city is the poorest in the Keystone State, as 26.8% of the population is below the poverty line, with a median household income of $25,542, according to Wall St. 24/7. Trump has been holding rallies in the state frequently as he targets Pennsylvania's 20 delegates, the 5th largest total nationwide. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
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The post Trump's Executive Order To Undo Climate Rules Won't Save Coal Jobs appeared first on Vocativ.

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