President Donald Trump’s executive order pumping up coal production and undermining climate change regulations is being roundly criticized in Hawaii.
Politicians, environmentalists and advocates for clean energy denounced the order as a step backward at a time when our planet can’t afford it.
“It is just maddening,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation. “Nationwide there are 10 times as many jobs in clean energy than there is in coal. If we’re serious about job growth, we need to double down on clean energy.”
In signing his Energy Independence Executive Order on Tuesday, Trump said it would put an end to America’s “war on coal,” reverse “job-killing regulations” and generate jobs for unemployed coal workers while it suspends various measures enacted by former President Barack Obama.
Among other things, the order rescinds the moratorium on coal mining on federal land, and initiates a review of Obama’s Clean Power Plan initiative.
While the order appears to have no direct impact on Hawaii, officials here say it threatens progress on climate change, an issue for which island communities are said to be more vulnerable.
“The president continues to promote alternative facts over empirical scientific evidence of climate change and unravel the clean and renewable energy progress that we have made over the past eight years,” U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said in a statement.
“While the president can afford to live in this alternate universe, Hawaii and other island communities are forced to grapple with the reality of climate change. Our coral reefs are dying because of historically high ocean temperatures. By 2100, Hawaii’s sea levels will rise by more than three feet. We owe it to our keiki to listen to our climate scientists, and build upon, not erase, the progress we’ve made,” Hirono said.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said Trump’s order reverses the progress made on climate in favor of short-term gains that will go straight into the pockets of oil, gas and coal companies.
“This is another attempt by this administration to weaken environmental protections and America’s leadership and economic dominance in clean energy. Now is not the time to turn our back on the growing clean energy economy, and that’s exactly what this executive order will do,” said Schatz, who is co-chairman of the Senate Climate Action Task Force.
The Clean Power Plan, signed into law by Obama in 2015, set a target of a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gases emitted by power plants from 2005 levels by 2030.
The law was aimed at helping meet U.S. commitments under the Paris accord. But the law has been stalled in court, and on the campaign trail Trump vowed to pull out of the Paris accord.
State Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, said the president’s action is the opposite of what’s best for the country and Hawaii.
“The assumption the president and his advisers are making is absolutely contrary to the facts and truth we are seeing here in Hawaii every single day,” the Kailua Democrat said. “If the U.S. doesn’t transition away from fossil fuels, Hawaii will face the most significant consequences: sea level rise, an increase in hurricanes and all the other things that will start to impact us in the islands.”
Sierra Club of Hawaii director Marti Townsend said she was disappointed in Trump’s action Tuesday but not surprised.
“Fossil fuel energy is a dying industry. He should allow its death with dignity and let it go,” she said.
Matthias Fripp, assistant professor in the University of Hawaii Department of Electrical Engineering, specializing in renewable energy, said job losses have been acutely painful for coal-mining families and communities.
“But they weren’t caused by Obama’s policies and they won’t be fixed by reversing those policies,” he said in an email. “Coal power is now more expensive than wind, solar or natural gas. Like other industries, coal has been increasingly automated, so there would be fewer jobs even if the industry weren’t shrinking. Coal can’t compete anymore and even if it could, it wouldn’t provide as many jobs as it used to. Trump’s executive order won’t change that.”
On the other hand, he said, renewable power is creating many more jobs and way more than coal.
“What’s really needed are training programs, funding and opportunities so that coal workers — and anyone else thrown out of work by technological change — can switch to new, better jobs,” Fripp said.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard issued the following statement: “In spite of this action (Tuesday), I have no doubt that Hawaii will continue to lead the nation in renewable energy production. We must continue investing in renewable energy, moving away from foreign oil and fossil fuels, and moving toward our goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045.”
Tuesday’s order isn’t the only disturbing environmental action taken by the president, Gabbard added. She pointed to Trump’s previous order paving the way for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and his proposal to slash Environmental Protection Agency funding by nearly one-third.
Mikulina said he’s also alarmed by Trump’s announcement in Detroit that his administration would review the fuel economy standards for new cars. He said that if Trump rolls back the aggressive fuel efficiency targets established by Obama, it will affect the types of vehicles available for purchase in Hawaii.
With all these actions coming down, “It will be a giant leap backwards for progress on climate protection, and it hits home in Hawaii,” Mikulina said.