Climate Politics/Capitol Light (32)
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October 10, 2019
Trump’s Ego Is Getting in the Way of America’s Environmental Progress
Impeachment has been the big dog on the political porch this week. It promises to be there for quite some time--possibly through the end of the year. Stonewalling by the White House and the arrest of two colleagues of the president’s lawyer, Rudi Giuliani, suggests there’s a lot of information around that needs to be gathered and gone through.
Despite all the attention on the impeachment inquiry and Congress being in recess, energy and environment issues still managed to make headlines.
Trump issued two executive orders during the week that will make it easier for the administration to deregulate the environment.
The White House also came out with a plan raising the minimum amount of ethanol blended into fuel to 15 billion gallons. The proposal was hailed by corn farmers and condemned by the oil industry. Prior to the announcement, Trump had promised both groups they would come out winners in the deal.
Trump chose to side with the farmers. I believe the choice was well calculated in that the oil industry is unlikely to abandon Trump come November 2020—at least not solely for this decision. Oil interests can’t afford to have their loyalty questioned especially given that the administration has served them well by promising to freeze auto and light truck fuel efficiency standards at the 2020 level. Moreover, it is in the industry’s interest to keep the administration from supporting any extension of the electric vehicle tax credit.
Not all farmers benefit from the ethanol scheme, but those that do are in critical states in terms of Trump’s re-election. The proposed plan gives aid and comfort to Iowa and other corn-state farmers. It’s a sign that Trump isn’t entirely abandoning the agricultural industry.
Trump seems remarkably obtuse when it comes to hearing and understanding how his actions impact various industries. I can understand his not listening to the enviro community—he and we are never going to see eye-to-eye. Moreover, we don’t trust each other enough to give the other credit for doing something both sides might agree on.
What I don’t understand is why Trump persists in ignoring the advice of industry, which he regularly does. The auto industry, for example, has been trying to get him to comprehend that freezing the fuel efficiency standard is bad for business.
How bad? Let me recount some of the ways. The industry has invested a lot of money in technological advancements and can meet the stricter Obama standard, without much trou-ble. What the industry was looking for was flexibility on how and when to meet the standard, e.g., a phase-in over two years.
Trump’s backlash over the agreement Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW made with California to voluntarily follow its stricter standards is disturbing. The companies are looking to bring some stability to the situation. Between lifting California’s waiver and freezing the standard at the 2020 level the administration is just inviting lawsuits—which are already being filed. In the meantime, the companies need to make cars but to what standard?
Should Trump lose his re-election bid the auto companies would again be facing a higher standard. The handshake-agreement makes immense sense from the point of view of the auto-makers. Trump is angry enough over the affront that he’s willing to sic the Justice Depart-ment on the four companies and to threaten the rest of them if they follow suit.
The threat seems not to be working as Twenty-two large investors in General Motors Co. are urging the company to join an agreement with California to improve fuel efficiency.
In a letter to GM CEO Mary Barra, the investors demanded that the company take its commit-ment to fight climate change seriously by joining the voluntary deal.
Another Trump initiative that an industrial sector is not entirely happy with is the Affordable Clean Energy plan (ACE) that is meant to replace the Clean Power Plan. In some cases, power generators are in a similar position to automakers—market forces have made them “greener” than ACE and will continue to do so. The forces at work include state portfolio standards, the retirement of uneconomic coal plants, and the competitive price of solar and wind.
I’ll grant that industry opposition to ACE isn’t unanimous, but the plan is unnecessarily impotent. Why not wear the environmental mantle when it would rest easy on the industry’s shoulders?
Late last week, the Environmental Protection Agency sent the White House Office of Informa-tion and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) a final rule that would rescind the agency's past cost-benefit analysis of the Obama-era Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. The EPA expects to issue a final rule in November after an interagency review process lasting between 60 and 90 days. (S&P Global Platts)
The Trump administration's reconsideration of the regulation centers on how EPA accounts for public health co-benefits in its rulemakings. When EPA issued the MATS rule in 2012, the agency calculated that the annual cost of complying with the regulation would be between $7.4 billion and $9.6 billion, while the yearly benefits would total between $37 billion and $90 billion. However, all but between $4 million and $6 million of those benefits would be due to reductions in fine particulate matter, a pollutant regulated under a different section of the Clean Air Act. (S&P Global Platts)
In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would review a supplemental "appropriate and necessary" finding EPA issued a year earlier in response to a US Supreme Court ruling that held EPA failed to consider cost in the rulemaking.
With a legal challenge to that supplemental finding on hold, EPA in December 2018 proposed to rescind the finding because " proper consideration of costs" demonstrates that the total cost of compliance with MATS "dwarfs" the monetized benefits of the rule.
The proposal was issued over the objections of the electric utility industry, which asked the EPA not to jeopardize the billions of dollars in investments it made to comply with the rule that it is now recovering from ratepayers.
Meanwhile, EPA's Science Advisory Board informed the agency on September 25th that it expects to complete its own review of the proposal within the first quarter of FY-20. That review aims to ensure the "appropriate consideration of cost is incorporated into the agency's new assessment," according to a planning document prepared by the SAB's ten-member work-group.
Moving onto methane, the Democrats are not the only ones unhappy about the administration’s plan to roll back the Obama regulation. Maine Senator Susan Collins and Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz are the latest to speak out against the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to eliminate direct regulation of methane from the oil and gas sector.
Collins is considered one of the three most vulnerable Republican senators come the November 2020 elections. Gaetz is a supporter of Trump but is also something of a poster-boy for green conservative Republicans. Yes, there are some and it is a group likely to grow over time because concern for the climate is beginning to transcend the partisan divide.
The same goes for Republican congressmen Francis Rooney of Florida, and Garret Graves of Louisiana who have also publicly opposed the EPA’s methane move. Graves is the ranking minority member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. It's good to remember that methane is considered 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.
Rooney, like every Florida member of Congress can’t afford to be entirely anti-climate-concerned because of rising ocean levels and the return of the red tide off the Florida coast. Even Governor DeSantis and Senator Scott are now crouching up for the environment. They almost lost their 2016 election bids over their environmental records. Scott was dubbed Red Tide Rick in 2016 while serving as Florida's governor and running for the Senate seat.
EGO—is the answer to why Trump persists in trying to roll back every climate-related regul-ation and federal program despite some very easy wins and what it is doing to the industries whose members comprise a significant portion of his core support.
Throughout history and literature, the fatal flaw in every tragic leader is hubris. Trump suffers from a healthy dose of it. Will it bring him down in 2020 or before? Quite possibly. In the meantime, he’s blazing a trail of marketplace chaos and environmental destruction solely to serve his own ego.
An ACE up the Democrats sleeve. Senate Democrats are planning to force a vote on the Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) plan.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) said they will bring up a floor vote next week on the Affordable Clean Energy rule via the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a little-used law that allows Congress to strike down executive branch actions.
Holding the vote would be a symbolic victory for Democratic opponents of the ACE rule, which lets states pick technologies to make improvements at individual power plants, tossing out the systemwide approach of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan (CPP).
Those are my orders. U.S. President Donald Trump signed two executive orders on Wednesday, requiring federal agencies to go through a similar process of public input and explanation when they issue key “guidance documents” and pledged White House scrutiny.
Trump said his orders require agencies to seek public input on “the most important guidance and the whole process will be closely overseen by the White House.”
Trump’s orders say the public can ask agencies to withdraw guidance they believe is wrong. The White House said agencies must give the public “fair notice of any complaint against them and a chance to respond.”
Agencies must offer opinion letters to individuals and businesses who request them to help people comply with the law, Trump said, in a “tireless fight to curtail job-killing, soul-crushing regulations.”
Guidance documents can be issued far faster than regulations, which typically take years from start to finish. The White House says because such documents can have a practical effect similar to regulations, they should be subject to the same cost-benefit analysis and public input as formal rules. (Reuters)
She has a plan for that. Warren's plan calls for cleaning up pollution that disproportionately affects low-income communities, building wealth and improving access to health care for affected areas, and helping at-risk areas adapt to global warming. Her plan leans heavily on the Green New Deal, which calls for a rewiring of the U.S. economy as part of the effort to fight climate change.
Plan’s OK, what about the tariffs? The latest administration ethanol proposal earned high praise from corn and ethanol groups that spent months pressuring the White House for a more favorable policy. But farmers say they are still angry at Trump for destabilizing agriculture markets, a move that cost some farms hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The proposal from the EPA would require refineries, starting next year, to blend a minimum of 15 billion gallons of ethanol into fuel, one of the escalating targets laid out in current law that has never been met. (The Hill)
Surprised and not surprised. Global carmakers are among the leading opponents of action on the climate crisis, according to an exclusive analysis of the way major corporations frustrate or undermine initiatives to cut greenhouse gases.
The research for the Guardian reveals that while the automotive industry releases public statements that support climate initiatives, such as increased electrification, it has been pouring millions of dollars through industry bodies into lobbying efforts to challenge attempts to tackle global heating in the past four years.
The research revealed that since 2015, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Daimler, BMW, Toyota, and General Motors have been among the strongest opponents of regulations to help countries meet the 1.5C warming limit in the Paris agreement.
InfluenceMap identified 33 corporations as the toughest opponents of action to reduce clim-ate change. Six of them were car companies, and the rest primarily oil and gas companies as well as energy firms.
Fudging the numbers. Agencies under President Trump are cataloging climate impacts in the mandatory environmental reviews that precede major federal actions. They describe worsening damage to virtually every ecosystem, from entire forests down to the ocean's smallest life forms.
But officials use those same documents to minimize the connection between that damage and human-caused emissions, especially when the government is considering the impacts of fossil fuel projects, like drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The administration masks its contribution to that total damage by pointing to the small impact of individual oil wells and coal mines — a distraction, experts say, from its energy agenda's huge cumulative impact.
The Trump administration's own environmental reviews reveal a road map to the country's biggest climate vulnerabilities: Arctic birds could suffer "catastrophic" effects of warming. Arizona's ponderosa pine forests face a "clear threat" from changing conditions. Shifts in where ticks and mosquitoes can infect people with diseases like plague and Zika are "already occurring."
"This is a coordinated effort across agencies," said Rachel Cleetus, policy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' climate and energy program.
"The thread that's running through it all is that basically, first: Deny, deny, deny. Then, when you have to concede the science, because it's real and obvious and there's such overwhelming evidence, you go to exactly this place. ... 'There's nothing to be done about it, so let's just let the worst-case scenario unfold.'"
It’s better to be rich. Federal programs to help Americans move away from disaster-prone areas are skewed by the income levels of communities seeking help — rather than being based solely on the risk they face — new data shows, blunting an important tool for helping people cope with climate change.
Since 1989, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has bought and demolished more than 43,000 homes in flood-prone areas; a strategy meant to make communities less vulnerable to disasters. But which homes get selected for the buyouts depends as much on the wealth of the affected neighborhoods as on the actual level of danger that those areas are exposed to, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. (New York Times)
Get real America! We're clearly in a climate moment. It's possible that more marchers have walked more miles in the past month than in all of the previous decade; more words have been written, more pictures published, more speeches given, more promises made, more hope expressed, and anger declared. But, if the United States is going to act as it must in the years ahead, it needs to shed more than its current President.
It also must stop telling itself a persistent fable about its own conduct: namely, that it has made great progress already in cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions. It hasn’t. (The New Yorker)
Stop feeding America’s habit. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) are planning to introduce a bill that would block the construction of infrastructure used to export natural gas. Warren added that such projects “increase our reliance on fossil fuels while ignoring the concerns of households and consumers who would be affected the most. There's also a local angle: A subsidiary of pipeline company Enbridge has proposed building a comp-ressor station in Weymouth, Mass., that would facilitate moving gas to Canada. (Washington Post)
A little help from his friends. Representative Ocasio-Cortez sent a fundraising email calling for donations to support Markey as he’s set to face a primary challenge from Joe Kennedy III. In it, she cites a report that her 2018 primary opponent, former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), is fundraising for Kennedy. "While Ed Markey is fighting for the Green New Deal in the Senate, Joe Kennedy is getting campaign support from Crowley hosting a high dollar fundraiser on October 15," the email reads. (Washington Post)
Bad in any light. President Trump renewed his attack on energy-efficient lightbulbs, disparaging the way they make him look -- and holding them up as a prime example of his deregulatory agenda.
Trump ad-libbed praise of old-fashioned and energy-intensive incandescent bulbs as he announced a pair of executive orders on transparency in the guidance and enforcement of regulations.
The off-the-cuff commentary shows how the lightbulb has quickly become one of the pres-ident's go-to examples when it comes to explaining why his administration is rolling back so many Obama-era regulations. Last month, the Energy Department prolonged the lives of incan-descent lightbulbs by reversing energy-efficiency standards put in place on President Obama's last day in office. (Washington Post)
We’ll know who’s being naughty and nice. The Sunrise Movement plans to score the top three candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination based not only on how aggressively they say they want to tackle climate change but also on how much they talk about the issue on Twitter.
The increasingly influential environmental group, founded in 2017, has spent most of the past year pushing the idea of a Green New Deal into the lexicon on Capitol Hill and the 2020 campaign trail.
Now they're going to rank how the top-polling three candidates stack up: The forthcoming rankings will determine how their energy, transportation, agricultural, and environmental policies fit into the group’s vision of a Green New Deal, which broadly calls for a 10-year plan to slash U.S. carbon emissions.
But in a move that underscores the new era of climate politics, 15 percent of each candidates’ score will be determined by how frequently they posted on Twitter about terms such as "climate crisis” and the “#greennewdeal” over the past three months. (Washington Post)
Congressman asks, what are we waiting for? Today, we can cut the rate of global warming in half–and not just by curbing fossil fuel consumption.
It doesn’t require the invention of new technology. We already have some of the technology we need in place.
The Super Pollutants Act of 2019 would reduce three of the most potent types of short-lived climate pollutants in the U.S. and abroad-methane, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs-by supporting proven technology, mitigation activities, and emission reduction strate-gies.
Methane, which accounts for 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is often released into the atmosphere as waste in gas production or distribution. Fluorocarbons are most commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners, and fine particles like black carbon soot are a product of smokestacks and chimneys.
The reason these chemicals are called “super pollutants” is that one molecule of these substances can add several thousand times more heat to the atmosphere than a molecule of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas being added by human activity. (The Hill)
What do we know? State-owned companies with rights over the exploitation of national fossil fuel reserves now account for a majority of oil and gas produced around the world, overtaking publicly listed companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell.
Not so fast there, big guy. The Trump administration’s effort to cut red tape and speed up major energy projects has backfired in the case of the three biggest U.S. pipelines now planned or under construction.
The delays have caused the two giant gas pipelines - Dominion Energy Inc's Atlantic Coast and EQM Midstream Partners LP's Mountain Valley - to increase their cost estimates by hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the companies. The Atlantic Coast pipeline may never be com-pleted unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns a lower-court decision blocking its planned route, analysts said.
Biden their time. A new poll made public Tuesday indicated that Mr. Biden remained the front-runner among Democrats and those who count themselves as "climate voters." But other candidates, like Elizabeth Warren, are closing fast. Meantime, the former vice president keeps being accosted on live television and at campaign events by young activists challenging his commitment and his perceived coziness with fossil fuel interests. (New York Times)
I’m back. Scientists say the toxic red tide is back in the waters off the Florida southwest coast after fading away earlier this year following a 15-month bloom.
Biologists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute said that samples taken from the waters off the shore of Collier County found high concentrations of the toxic algae where they also received reports of dead fish and cases of respiratory irritation. (E&E News)
Uncooperative crusty bull. Protesters doused New York City's famous charging bull statue with fake blood as part of a protest against climate change.
The group Extinction Rebellion staged the protest at the bull statue near Wall Street, at the foot of Broadway. One protester waving a green flag climbed on top of the bull.
The group is holding disruptive peaceful civil disobedience protests in cities around the world to pressure governments to do more about climate change.
Hundreds of climate change activists camped out in central London during a second day of protests. Determined activists glued themselves to the British government's Department of Transport building.
Cities in Australia, elsewhere in Europe and other parts of the world, also had climate change protests for a second day. (E&E News)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed to the protesters to stop blocking London's streets. He called the activists "uncooperative crusties" who should abandon their "hemp-smel-ling bivouacs." (Associated Press)
Agency or incendiary device? Democrats are slamming Wheeler for 'weaponizing' agency. Forty-five House Democrats are urging EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to work "collaboratively" with the state of California following a "series of politically-motivated attacks."
The letter follows actions EPA has taken over the last month directed at California. Most recently, EPA issued a notice of violation against San Francisco for problems with its sewage collection system.
The Democrats’ letter followed Wheeler’s letter to Governor Gavin Newsom (D) telling him the state needed to improve its enforcement of drinking water and sewage regulations and particularly homed in on alleged violations caused by homeless people in Los Angeles and San Francisco. (E&E News)
Out of step with the world, again. The CEOs of more than 30 major appliance makers and chemical producers are turning up the heat on lawmakers, urging them to push forward bipartisan legislation reducing potent greenhouse gas refrigerants.
U.S. inaction could allow foreign companies to step in and displace American companies in a global refrigerant market “expected to reach $1 trillion in size,” the CEOs wrote in a letter sent to the top lawmakers on the Senate environment committee and the House energy committee. The list of companies includes Carrier, Daikin, Honeywell, and Chemours.
The legislation would help the companies comply with a 2016 global deal to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. HFCs warm the atmosphere hundreds of times faster than carbon dioxide. U.S. appliance and chemical companies helped negotiate the international agreement, known as the Kigali Amendment, during the Obama administration.
The Kigali deal is a rarity in Washington: It’s supported strongly by both industry and environmentalists, and by lawmakers in both parties. More than a dozen Republican senators have been on record urging Trump to back the deal.
The White House still hasn’t taken a position on the deal, despite a steady stream of lobbying by industry. (Washington Examiner)
Trump’s oily legacy. The Trump administration is moving forward with more auctions for oil and natural gas drilling rights across the country.
In California: The administration issued a final decision to open 725,000 acres of California land to oil and gas drilling — land that has been off-limits since 2013. The move, which the Bureau of Land Management says will still require additional approval, would allow plots of land to be leased that are mostly in the state’s Central Valley, the Associated Press reports. In a statement, Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the move a “toxic convergence of Trump’s climate denial, loyalty to the oil industry and grudge against California."
And in the Gulf of Mexico: The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it plans to hold its next oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf on March 18. “Lease Sale 254 will offer 78 million acres and 14,585 blocks, or nearly all available Gulf of Mexico waters not currently facing a drilling prohibition, such as much of the eastern Gulf, which remains under a congressional moratorium.” (S&P Global Platts)
Game on! Federal judges won't pause a high-stakes climate liability case that Rhode Island is pursuing against the oil industry-a decision likely to send industry lawyers to the Supreme Court. (Morning Consult)
There’s no vroom. Harley struggles to fire up a new generation of riders with electric bike debut.
Although Harley has shipped its first "LiveWire" bikes - priced at $29,799 - to dealers, there is little evidence the 116-year-old brand is catching on with new young customers. (Reuters)
The talk of his demise. Secretary Perry has denied he would be stepping down within the next month or two. The story was reported in the Washington Post.
Whenever Perry does resign, he will leave behind a Department that is larger than when he started.
DOE's annual budget for fiscal 2020 could approach $40 billion - a nearly 25 percent increase from when Perry took the helm in fiscal 2017. (E&E News)
Gotcha’ ya. The U.S. Trade Representative announced the elimination of a tariff exemption that had allowed imported bifacial solar panels to skirt 25 percent duties, a setback for the U.S. solar industry. The exemption's conclusion, effective Oct. 28, avoids "significant increases in imports of bifacial solar panels" that would have competed against domestic panels, USTR said. (Bloomberg)
Other endangered species. In separate letters sent to the White House and Commerce Department on Thursday, Representative Josh Harder (D-CA) and a group of scientists and academics asked the Trump administration to reconsider eliminating the National Invasive Species Council and the Marine Protected Areas Advisory Committee, respectively. (The Hill)
Getting away with it. Thousands of auto buyers may have improperly claimed more than $70 million in tax credits for purchases of new plug-in electric vehicles using ineligible cars and trucks, a U.S. Treasury Department watchdog said Thursday. (Bloomberg)
NIMBY. Ms. Ralston — a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and aide to Karl Rove — has for much of this year turned her attention away from national politics to focus on one thing: fighting a mega-solar project in Virginia across the street from her family farm.
Ralston's group is one of many anti-solar organizations emerging to oppose what they say are mammoth projects that do not fit the character of their communities. They claim not to oppose solar energy but argue that large-scale projects should be confined to industrial zoned land, not land for agriculture. (E&E News)
End around. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced plans to join a regional effort to cut carbon emissions from power plants.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) requires polluters to pay for their emissions. Since 2009, the initiative has run a cap-and-trade program that has cut the annual average CO2 emissions from electric generation in nine participating states.
Rather than getting into an extended debate about RGGI membership with the Republican controlled General Assembly, Governor Wolf is issuing an executive order to accomplish his goal. He claims the authority to do so through the Clean Air Act. (NPR)
Worth reading. The Investment of RGGI Proceeds in 2017: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) have powered a signif-icant investment in the energy future of the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. This report reviews the benefits of programs funded in 2017 by $315.6 million in RGGI investments, which have reduced harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution while spurring local economic growth. The lifetime effects of these RGGI investments are projected to save 22.6 million MMBtu of fossil fuel energy and 13.9 million MWh of electricity, avoiding the release of 8.3 million short tons of carbon pollution. (RGGI)
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Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.