After President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to reverse carbon emission regulations on coal-fired power plants enacted by former President Barack Obama, members of the University of Michigan community reacted, on the whole, with criticism.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said University leaders are working to understand the full implications of Trump's order, and are still working toward a 25 percent decrease in greenhouse emissions.
“As we work to understand the implications of the executive order, sustainability remains an important topic for our university community,” Fitzgerald said. “We've invested significantly in this area, and are in the process of implementing key efforts to increase progress toward our goal to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by the year 2025.”
Engineering Prof. Richard Rood teaches a class on climate change, and said he considers the regulation rollback to be harmful and will degrade progress made to reduce carbon emissions under Obama.
“Many climate scientists find it hurtful and also a very backward stepping political position,” Rood said.
Rood said he considers Trump’s actions to be a strong political statement to the coal industry, but said he ultimately believes the bringing back coal jobs — one of Trump’s campaign promises — will not happen because of the economy moving toward alternate forms of energy.
“From my point of view, its position that it will reinstate coal jobs is not something that’s going to happen, that’s driven more by economics,” Rood said. “In that regard, I think it (the executive order) is hollow.”
Ross also said he believes Obama’s executive orders accelerated the development of renewable energy sources, but the United States could now be at a disadvantage with Trump’s reversal of the order.
“I think what it does is it takes the federal government out of the important technological and economic benefits that we would realize from accelerating renewable energy as well as our participation in global markets,” Rood said. “Countries like China and Germany and other large economies will keep going on with technological innovation in addressing climate change, so it isolates us in that way.”
Conversely, LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, the chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans chair, said he favors Trump’s executive orders, and believes less regulation is key to the United States’s competitiveness in the global market.
“Global climate change is a universal issue; shouldering the burden of restrictive climate change regulations should not fall on countries like the U.S., while free-rider countries like India and China continue to increase their (carbon dioxide) emissions, and with it their GDP,” Zalamea said. “We need to become more competitive in the global market, and one way to get there is through less regulations from the EPA.”
In the long-term, Zalamea said, he wants to see the move to more efficient alternative energy sources and currently favors a plan proposed by conservatives that would roll back EPA regulations while also instituting a carbon dioxide emissions tax to slowly shift to cleaner energy.
“I do hope that one day we can transition into more affordable and efficient alternate energy sources such as solar power or nuclear energy,” Zalamea said. “One of the ways we can make this big transition is through the zero-sum carbon tax plan, proposed just a few months ago by a group of Republican congressmen.”
Contrary to Zalamea, LSA junior Rowan Conybeare, the chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said she believes Trump’s executive order is “backwards” and will have a negative impact on the climate and air quality.
“Trump's executive action to roll back climate regulations is incredibly dangerous; it will negatively impact the air quality in every state, including Michigan,” Conybeare said. “We, as a state, have some of the most precious natural resources in the world — our state, and the livelihood of millions of people, are in danger because of Trump's actions on climate.”
Conybeare also said she believes Trump’s order will not succeed in creating jobs since it does not focus on long-term renewable energy.
“Fortune reported earlier this year that renewable energy is creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy,” Conybeare said. “Trump's executive order isn't about boosting the economy — it's about denying the impact and existence of climate change in favor of appeasing large corporations and manufacturers.”