US President Donald Trump is poised to roll back a slew of environmental protections enacted by Barack Obama, in a move designed to untether the fossil fuel industry but which calls America's commitment to global climate accords into question.
In a maiden trip to the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump will sign a wide-ranging "Energy Independence Executive Order" to rollback Obama-era legislation, a White House official told AFP.
The new president will unveil a series of measures to review regulation curbing oil, gas and coal production and limiting carbon emissions.
The centerpiece is an effort to slow walk -- but not repeal -- Obama's Clean Power Plan, which restricts emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The package will "help keep energy and electricity affordable, reliable, and clean in order to boost economic growth and job creation," the White House said.
Some experts and environmental groups warned this could mean the United States missing its internationally agreed targets under the Paris Climate Accord.
Curbing emissions from coal-fired power plants was a pillar of America's commitment to cut carbon emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025.
"It will make it virtually impossible" for the US to meet its target said Bob Ward, a climate specialist at the London School of Economics.
But economists and even some former Obama administration officials say the move will do little to stop the coal industry's decline.
Natural gas, automation, and cheap renewable energy, have all made the sooty fuel an expensive prospect.
The Trump administration has not said whether it will pull out of the Paris deal.
"Whether we stay in or not is still under discussion," a senior administration official told AFP.
The United States is the world's second largest polluter. Around 37 percent of domestic carbon dioxide emissions come from electricity generation.
- Politics at play -
Trump could face a cool reception at the agency's imposing Washington headquarters.
Trump has repeatedly questioned humans' role in warming the planet, prompting critics to charge the fox is guarding the hen house.
Trump has done little to assuage those fears, vowing to slash EPA funding by a third, appointing anti-climate litigator Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA and Exxon's CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.
But Trump's climate skepticism has struck a chord with many Republican voters.
Some 68 percent of Americans believe climate change is caused by humans, but just 40 percent of Republicans say they worry about it, according to Gallup.
During the 2016 election campaign Trump donned a hardhat and embraced miners from Kentucky to West Virginia, promising to return jobs to long-ravaged communities.
He won both states by a landslide.
Since coming to office he has coupled his pro-miner rhetoric with support for the fossil fuel industry.
- 'War on coal' -
Some experts warn the economic payoff from abandoning the clean power plan will be limited.
"In my view, it will have virtually no impact," said professor James Van Nostrand of West Virginia University, who said the decline of coal had more to do with higher mining costs and cheaper natural gas and renewables.
"Defunding or dismantling the EPA and repealing its regulations is not going to bring the coal industry back."
"The constant narrative about the 'war on coal' and the alleged devastating impact of EPA's regulations on West Virginia’s coal industry will now be exposed for its inherent speciousness," he predicted.
Referring to the plan, the senior administration official told AFP: "It's going to take some time."
In 2008 there were 88,000 coal miners in the United States, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Today, the number of coal miners has fallen around 25 percent. More people work in Whole Foods, an upscale supermarket chain.