The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

As the nation prepares for the inauguration of its 45th president, environment-focused hearings for some of President-Elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees continue. They include hearings for Scott Pruitt, nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and former Oklahoma attorney general, as well as Ryan Zinke, nominee for secretary of the interior and a former Navy Seal. Rick Perry, nominee for energy secretary and former governor of Texas, will have a hearing today.

The picks appear to follow Trump’s campaign promises to roll back EPA regulations and increase drilling on public lands. At his Tuesday hearing, Zinke said he would consider expansion of energy drilling and mining on federal lands but would ensure sensitive areas remain protected. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests many Americans want the opposite. More than 60 percent of Americans would like to see the EPA’s powers preserved or strengthened and the drilling of oil on public lands to hold steady or drop.

Here is what Pruitt and Zinke had to say on top environmental topics:

On climate change:

Zinke: “First of all, the climate is changing, that’s undisputable,” Zinke said at his hearing, adding that he and his wife had seen evidence of glaciers retreating during a visit to Glacier National Park in Montana. “The second thing is man has had an influence. I think that’s undisputable as well. So, climate is changing, man is an influence. I think where there’s debate on it is what that influence is and what can we do about it.”

Pruitt: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be … I do not believe climate change is a hoax.”

On energy:

Pruitt: “First, we must reject the false paradigm that if you are pro-energy, you are anti-environment and if you are pro-environment, you are anti-energy. I utterly reject the narrative.”

He said he would support the U.S. renewable fuels program, which requires biofuels like ethanol to be blended into gasoline, but said the program needed some tweaks.

Zinke: “The war on coal, I believe, is real. All-of-the-above is the correct (energy) policy. Coal is a great part of that energy mix. I’m also a great believer that we should invest in research and development on coal—because we know we have the asset—to make it cleaner and better. We should lead the world in clean energy technology.”

On environmental regulation:

Pruitt: “Environmental regulations should not occur in an economic vacuum. We can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic growth,” he said, adding that he would seek to give states more authority to regulate their own environmental issues.

Zinke: “The president-elect has said we want to be energy independent. I can guarantee you it is better to produce energy domestically under reasonable regulation, than watch it be produced overseas with no regulation.”

Reports: Climate Change A Risk; Responsible for Record Warming

The issue of climate change is not one to ignore, according to recent reports on global risks by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and global temperature by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and the U.K.’s Met Office.

In the WEF’s annual report, which is based on an assessment of 30 global risks by 750 experts from business, academia and non-governmental organizations, climate change was labeled the third major global trend. Failing to adapt to or mitigate climate change and a host of other climate-connected risks, including water and food crises and involuntary migration, also rank in the top 10.
In its annual State of the Climate report, NOAA found that global temperatures are the highest since scientists started tracking them in 1880. NASA and the U.K.’s Met Office came to the same conclusion.

“The NOAA and NASA are two keepers of the world’s temperature data and independently produce a record of Earth’s surface temperatures, as well as changes based on historical observations over ocean and land,” NOAA officials said in a statement. “Consistency between the two independent analyses, as well as analyses produced by other countries, increases confidence in the accuracy of such data, the assessment of the data and resulting conclusions.” 

The NOAA report suggests that the average temperature in 2016 was 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, making it the second-warmest year on record. Temperature increases in 2016 had links to El Niño, which waned in the spring, as well as human-caused global warming, which has been leading to an array of climate shifts in the U.S.

“A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” said Deke Arndt, chief of global climate monitoring for NOAA. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”

National Academy of Sciences Recommends Social Cost of Carbon Makeover

A December memo prepared by Trump’s energy transition head Thomas Pyle suggested that the social cost of carbon—the U.S. government’s best estimate of how much society gains over the long term by cutting each ton of carbon dioxide emissions—will likely be a target for lowering. The estimate factors into justifications for various environmental policies, such as regulation of power plant emissions, and it has helped shape 79 regulations since 2010. A report released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine details a new framework to arrive at that estimate, one aimed at strengthening the estimate’s scientific basis and transparency.

“I think the report has laid out an important blueprint for how to update the most important number that you’ve never heard of,” said University of Chicago economist Michael Greenstone, who served as a reviewer. “Social and economic understanding of climate change has advanced greatly in the last six years, since the original social cost of carbon was released, and the report identifies important ways to take advantage of those improvements in our understanding.”

The report recommends that the federal government use a framework in which each step of the social cost of carbon calculation is developed as one of four separate but integrated “modules”: the socioeconomic module; the climate module, which translates emissions changes into temperature changes; the damages module, which estimates the net impact of temperature changes in dollar terms; and the discounting module. Instead of using a fixed discount rate—the exact rate to use is highly contentious—the discounting module would incorporate the relationship between economic growth and discounting for calculating discount rates, thereby accounting for uncertainty about them over long timeframes.

The recommendation to “unbundle” the mix of models currently used would make transparent the assumptions and uncertainties in each step of the calculation and, according to Myles R. Allen, one the report’s authors, clarify where data ends and choices begin.

“There are obviously political decisions which need to be made in any calculation like the social cost of carbon,” said Allen. “On the other hand, the way the climate system responds to greenhouse gas emission levels is not really up for political discussion.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

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