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SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump signed the Energy Independence Executive Order Tuesday, rolling back the controversial Clean Power Plan and killing a three-year moratorium on federal coal leases.
The move continues the president's efforts to dismantle a slew of Obama-era regulations under fire from energy rich states like Utah that produce coal and are home to oil and gas fields.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called the executive order a step in the right direction.
"Utah and many public land and energy producing states think that the Clean Power Plan was a significant overreach. It was really designed to kill off carbon-based fuels, and particularly coal," he said. "The standards that they were trying to put in place, there is not even technology that allows you to meet those standards."
Utah was among multiple states across the country that sued the federal government over the landmark rule designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's existing power plants. The plan would have impacted 11 power plants in Utah, including five coal-fired power plants.
Because an executive order can't directly overturn a regulation, Trump directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan and other emissions regulations. The plan has been on hold pending a federal court's review of challenges brought by Utah and other coal-friendly states.
Herbert was also among Western states leaders who met with Trump Monday and witnessed the repeal of the Bureau of Land Management's Planning 2.0 rule, another regulation under fire from multiple states in the West.
"Some of these (environmental rules) take five, six, seven years," Herbert said. 'Why does it take so long? Why is the federal government so slow?"
Herbert said permits for oil and gas development on private land take a few months, while states with public lands are put at a disadvantage because of the long review process.
"States like Utah or Wyoming can't compete with the North Dakotas of the world," he said.
Local activists and national conservation and environmental organizations said Trump's "anti-environment" agenda puts people and the planet in jeopardy.
"Each section of this executive order threatens human health, wastes taxpayer dollars and undermines critical protections for our nation’s clean air and water," said Christy Goldfuss, vice president of energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress.
Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah, said the new executive order will do little to help save coal jobs because the marketplace favors cleaner sources of energy.
"President Trump and his allies have to choose between pretending they can bring coal back — or getting to the hard work of actually figuring out how to help rural communities suffering from major economic shifts,” Pacenza said.
“Axing the Clean Power Plan won’t lead to more coal jobs, but sadly it might raise the hopes of workers who policymakers show little interest in except for when they want to score cheap political points,” he added.
But Herbert pointed to the state's own 10-year energy plan which is built around the robust platform of an "all of the above" energy strategy that keeps options diverse, sustainable and affordable.
That plan includes a mix of coal, natural gas, wind, solar and geothermal.
"We can come together and find ways to be rational and reasonable stewards of our public lands," he said. "We ought to be responsible developers of energy on our public lands, and we can do that."
David Smaldone, president of Friends of Coal West, said the public may believe the executive order constitutes a free for all for the coal industry, but he stressed Trump's actions do nothing to alter existing regulations on coal mines.
"All the existing coal regulations remain in place," he said.
Mark Compton, president of the Utah Mining Association, added his applause to Trump's repeal of the moratorium.
"One of the stated reasons for the moratorium was to make sure the public receives a fair return for the coal resources developed on federal lands. However, the policies under consideration by the previous administration were, in fact, designed to simply keep coal in the ground."
The Sierra Club — a staunch critic of coal and other fossil fuels — said Trump's executive order is contrary to the clean energy momentum playing out in multiple areas of Utah.
The organization pointed out that Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab have all committed to being powered by 100 percent clean energy by 2032.