KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
President Trump today signed a sweeping executive order designed to undo many of the Obama administration's efforts to combat climate change.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This took place at the Environmental Protection Agency's headquarters. As a sign of how key this issue is to the administration, Trump was joined by his vice president and the EPA administrator, the Energy secretary and the Interior secretary. Also in the room were about a dozen coal miners.
MCEVERS: Trump said by signing this order, he was keeping a campaign pledge he had made to them.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The miners told me about the attacks on their jobs and their livelihoods. They told me about the efforts to shut down their mines, their communities and their very way of life. I made them this promise. We will put our miners back to work.
MCEVERS: That might not be as easy as it sounds. NPR's Nathan Rott reports.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Trump's executive order is broad, but the main target is the centerpiece of Obama's climate change policy, the Clean Power Plan which sought to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. His action also rolls back a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands and a policy that required federal agencies to consider climate change when making new rules. Trump bills all of this as a way to unshackle America's overregulated energy industry to bring jobs back to coal country.
MARK BARTEAU: The jobs he's going to create are for lawyers.
ROTT: This is Mark Barteau, the director of the Energy Institute at the University of Michigan.
BARTEAU: I think you can expect pretty much unending litigation over these things.
ROTT: Here's why. The federal government is legally obligated to regulate carbon dioxide. The Supreme Court says so. Another reason - it took a long rulemaking process to create the Clean Power Plan. It will take an equally long one to get rid of it, and any missteps in that process could lead to legal challenges, and environmental groups are lining up to carry out that litigation.
JIM MATHESON: There is a long process ahead. There's no question about it.
ROTT: Jim Matheson sued to stop the Clean Power Plan. He's the CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and was at the EPA earlier today with Trump when he signed the executive order. And he says he appreciates the president's efforts.
MATHESON: Some of our members are in a situation where they've got very expensive coal plants that had some investments made just recently for pollution control, and having the capacity to or the flexibility to run those and pay those down is really important to them and their particular consumers.
ROTT: The Clean Power Plan doesn't allow for that flexibility, Matheson says. It would force some of those coal-fired plants to close prematurely, hurting jobs and ratepayers. But when asked about the future of coal, Matheson says there's no question that there are bigger things at play than federal policy.
MATHESON: And in terms of new power generation that's on the books or projected for the future, coal is really not that high on the list, if you will.
ROTT: Renewable energy is surging. Natural gas is cheaper. The market forces just don't play in coal's favor. That's why many analysts say it's unlikely that coal jobs are going to come roaring back despite Trump's promises. As for his claims that his executive order will increase America's energy independence, Mark Barteau says that's just political rhetoric.
BARTEAU: Energy independence has been touted by every president since Richard Nixon. The fact is, we are more energy independent today than we have ever been.
ROTT: What the executive order is likely to do is make the U.S.'s carbon footprint bigger than it would have been with the Clean Power Plan. Frances Moore, an environmental economist at the University of California, Davis, says that sends a message to the world that the U.S. is not serious about taking action on climate change. And she knows all these policies may sound wonky, but...
FRANCES MOORE: What we're talking about here - right? - we're talking about values. We're talking about how much - literally how much we value the fact that we're causing harm to other people and to people in the future.
ROTT: That may be, but for those in the coal industry, today's actions may give them hope for their immediate future. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.