Should there be any doubt about the positive impact of the 2018 midterm elections on the willingness of politicians at least to discuss the realities of climate change and what the reactions of lawmakers should be, let me dispel them now.
It is being reported that the Trump campaign has put out a call for a list of climate change victories that can be attributed to Trump’s time in office. According to the McClatchy report, the call reflects a shift in strategy ahead of the 2020 election as polls show growing voter concern over global warming, two sources familiar with the campaign.
If true, the willingness of Trump to speak in terms of climate change victories marks a stunning turnaround from his usual references to climate change science as a huckster's hoax perpetrated by liberal university-types to frighten governments and foundations into giving them funds for fake research.
A few days ago, Trump was telling the audience at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner that he hoped Hill Republicans wouldn’t attack the Green New Deal so completely as to defeat the Democrat’s desire to do anything about climate change. Why? Because he intends to beat them up over their socialist notions on energy and the environment.
The Green New Deal, done by a young bartender, 29 years old. The first time I heard it, I said, 'That's the craziest thing.
If they beat me with the Green New Deal, I deserve to lose.
It was during this dinner speech that Trump said that the noise of windmills cause cancer.
Coming up with a credible list of climate “victories” may prove the most daunting challenge yet for the White House and re-election campaign. If the request is for accomplishments that will convince voters outside Trump’s core constituency, then claims like rolling back auto and light truck emission standards to a point even the auto industry considers unwise are unlikely to be seen as a climate victory.
Bloomberg’s Jennifer Dlouhy and Ari Natter have suggested three possibilities Trump might post under the heading of victories:
Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior EPA official in the Trump administration has a different take on what Trump’s bragging rights might be. Gunasekara is the founder of the Energy45 Fund (Energy 45) and credited with being the chief architect of the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. She sees no conflict between Trump’s moves to deregulate the environment and his claim that he—Donald—is “to a large extent, an environmentalist.”
According to the Energy45 website, it is a Jackson, Mississippi based 501(c)(4) non-profit educational organization dedicated to informing the public about the environmental and economic gains made under the Trump Administration. The organization writes under the heading “Promoting Positive Environmental Gains:”
President Trump’s commitment to creating an energy-dominate America has unleashed a wave of economic prosperity. Remarkably we have drilled our way to lower gas prices, lower unemployment, and lower emissions. Unshackling the energy industry from job-killing regulations not only achieved energy dominance for America but have freed our allies from dependence on energy-rich tyrants across the globe.
Like other Trump loyalists, Gunasekara attributes most of America’s environmental achieve-ments to private sector innovation leading to technological breakthroughs in energy extract-ion, development, and use. It is a pattern which she and others believe should be repeated going forward.
The problem—of course—is that none of the characterized “victories” are credible. Any reductions in US greenhouse gas emissions during Trump’s occupation of the Oval Office were the result of Obama’s presidency. Moreover, the reductions in 2017 were followed by increases in 2018.
It will require a pretzel master to twist what the Trump cabal has done over the course of the last 27 months into substantiated climate “victories.” How pulling the US out of Paris and disavowing the nation’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025; skewing the cost/benefit rules of mercury and fine particulate matter to expand the costs while reducing the benefits; opening America’s coastal and Arctic waters to oil and gas drilling and other of the many proposed regulatory rollbacks is a mystery to me.
The litany of Trump’s climate “defeats” is well-documented. Each day the list appears to get longer. Most recently it has become a concern even of some of his staunchest congressional allies.
Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is now Republicans who ignore or deny climate science—predicting that:
History will judge harshly my Republican colleagues who deny the science of climate change.
Gaetz is often characterized as the GOP’s Trumpiest Congressman. The man who once introduced a one-sentence bill to abolish EPA has just introduced a resolution to gain a sense of the willingness of House members to support expanding support of innovative research, including carbon capture and new non-emissive carbon technologies, modernization of the grid, establishment of tax incentives for energy efficiency upgrades to residences and commercial buildings and grants to universities for improving community resilience and adaptation.
The growing concern of Republican lawmakers—especially those facing re-election in 2020—over Trump’s climate-related policies and actions is reflected in the movement away from strong conservative organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has been a prominent and effective conservative climate-denialist organization.
ALEC’s support of deregulation and condemnation of mainstream climate science are acts that companies like BP, Royal Dutch Shell Group, Ford and Expedia no longer want their names affiliated with. Shell has even announced its plans to leave the company of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), which is the US’s refining lobby. The reason? AFPM’s position on the Paris agreement.
Oil companies, auto manufacturers, businesses and internet companies are not only leaving the ranks of denialists, they are joining climate change admitters and defenders in support of carbon taxes, carbon capture, sequestration, and utilization, expanded federal research budgets, the maintenance of some Obama era environmental regulations, e.g., mercury and methane emissions.
Any credible climate victories that Trump may take credit for are in front of him. The Administration, for example, is moving to finalize tighter emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks by 2020. Only days ago, in Michigan, Trump gave a campaign-style speech before core supporters and announced his support for cleaning up the Great Lakes:
I support the Great Lakes. Always have. They are beautiful. They are big, very deep, record deepness, right? And I’m going to get, in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Given that the White House just proposed to gut the $300 million restoration project to the tune of 90 percent, the announcement came as a surprise to Trump’s staff.
Although proactive climate-defense proposals like stricter heavy-duty truck emission stan-dards are to be preferred, Trump can shore up his climate defense bona fides by not doing some of the things his administration is in the process of doing, e.g., not replacing Obama’s Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy [P]lan. Another greenish action Trump could take include holding back on any new executive orders intended to clear the way for new oil and gas pipelines in possible contravention of federal and state laws.
In the end, the best thing Trump might do for the environment is to engage in his business-as-usual puffery about all the good he’s doing for the environment. In contrast to a growing number of Republicans like Gaetz, who recognize and are willing to respond to anthropogenic climate change, any claim of a climate-victory will only diminish the willingness of swing-voters in states like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin to cast their ballots for Trump a second-time.
Lead image: Photo by Justin McAfee on Unsplash
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Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.