The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Monday California Governor Jerry Brown and legislative leaders released a plan to extend through 2030 the state’s cap-and-trade program, which limits carbon emissions and requires polluters to buy allowances for greenhouse gas emissions—that is, permits to pollute. The deal updates how carbon emitters can use pollution allowances and offsets, empowers the California Air Resources Board to set a price cap on permits, and prevents local air districts from placing additional carbon emissions restrictions on polluters already regulated under the cap-and-trade program. A vote on Assembly Bill 398 and AB 617, a companion bill to increase local air pollution monitoring and pollution penalties, could come as early as today; the former will need approval of two-thirds of the Senate and Assembly.

The deal represents a difficult—and some say, imperfect—balancing of environmental and business interests.

The deal’s price cap provision is meant to guard against energy price spikes, but there are concerns it might undermine the purpose of limiting emissions. Thus far, permit prices have hovered near the program’s price floor and emissions have been within the state’s targets, but if demand spikes and prices hit the ceiling, emissions could rise. The proposal includes provisions to ensure that emissions goals are still met when the price ceiling is hit.

The offsets provision would decrease the amount of emissions reductions businesses can achieve through environmental projects in other sectors, and it would require that half of such projects be sited in California. Industry and environmental justice groups have sparred over the offsets, because although they can be a potentially cheaper alternative to achieving emissions reductions at regulated sources they are often without benefit to local air quality.

The two camps also do not see eye to eye on the number of free emissions allowances businesses should receive to keep them from being disadvantaged against out-of-state competitors not subject to the cap-and-trade program. In the deal announced Monday, companies will continue to receive free allowances, though the total number of allowances will shrink as the emissions cap is lowered to meet the state’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The deal prioritizes state programs that could receive allowance auction proceeds. First in line: efforts to control toxic air pollution from mobile or stationary sources, followed by low-carbon transportation projects and sustainable agriculture programs.

Nine northeastern states are contemplating the future of their own cap-and-trade program. Since inception of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in 2008, the states’ aggregate emissions have decreased 37 percent—spurred in part by the cheap cost of natural gas (subscription). But RGGI advocates say that the program hasn’t sent electric bills soaring; instead, electricity costs have fallen 3.4 percent, again with help from natural gas prices. The program is set to release a plan for reducing the region’s carbon cap later this year, and there are signs that New Jersey may rejoin the program and that Virginia may link up with it—an expansion with both symbolic and market significance.

G20 Meeting Highlights Rift with the United States Over Its Climate Change Stance

Last week’s G20 meeting in Hamburg concluded with leaders of 19 nations renewing their pledge to implement the Paris Agreement and German Chancellor Merkel reiterating those nations’ consensus that “the Paris agreement is irreversible.”

Negotiations over the wording of the final communiqué from Germany hit a snag when the United States insisted on a line that read, “USA will endeavor to work closely with other partners to help their access to and use of fossil fuels.” The final language reads, “The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally-determined contributions.”

The G20 declaration noted the U.S. withdrawal from the accord but said that the United States affirmed its “strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs.” The U.S. exit from the accord will become official in November 2020—the year of the next presidential election.

Regarding climate change mitigation, Inside Climate News laid out “six degrees of U.S. isolation” from the other G20 members: the need for increased ambition, the economic benefits of climate action, the coming energy transformation, the need for international finance, the need to end inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and the vestigial role for fossil fuels.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration appointed a renewable energy critic and former spokesman for a Koch Industries-funded campaign promoting fossil fuels to the post of senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Study Offers Bad News on Extreme Flooding, Good News on Planning for That Phenomenon

A new study published Tuesday in Nature Communications suggests that extreme flooding currently expected to occur on average once every 100 years could, by 2050, occur every decade or even every year along the world’s vulnerable coastlines. The good news? Use of newly available data and advanced models offers the promise of improving global predictions of extreme sea levels.

“Up to 310 million people residing in low elevation coastal zones are already directly or indirectly vulnerable to ESL”—or extreme sea levels—“and coastal storms are causing damages in the order of tens of billions of dollars per year,” said the researchers. “These numbers could increase dramatically with SLR”—or sea-level rise—“and other changes, leading to annual damages of up to almost 10% of the global gross domestic product in 2100 if no adaptation measures are taken.”

As the climate changes, according to the study, category I hurricanes could do the same amount of damage as category II or III hurricanes did when sea levels were lower. But extreme sea levels, which often arise from a combination of high tides and storm surges, are often underrepresented in high-profile climate change documents such as those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. To quantify the uncertainty of current extreme sea-level estimates, the study used newly released tide gauge data to conduct a meta-analysis of some 20 advanced climate models and found that predicted flood rates were underestimated for the West Coast of North and South America as well as for southern Europe and Australia.

According to researchers, including extreme sea levels in coastal impact studies is vital to helping vulnerable areas to protect themselves.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last week, Republican lawmakers revived a bill aimed at stopping use of the social cost of carbon (or the social cost of any greenhouse gas) in federal rulemaking (subscription). The bill would bar the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from applying the metric in any action, going further than President Trump’s executive order, signed in March, to revoke existing guidance and disband the interagency working group that sets guidance for the metric’s use. The bill’s reintroduction comes on the heels of a new study in the journal Science that makes a major advance in calculation of the cumulative economic impacts of climate change.

The study estimates that the United States could incur damages worth 1.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for every 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperature. Those damages include worsening economic inequality, heat-related deaths, agricultural declines, and even increased crime. The hard-hit counties—mainly in the South—could see losses higher than 20 percent of GDP. In the worst-hit county, Florida’s Union County, losses could near 28 percent, the kind of disparity that could contribute to political instability and drive mass migration.

According to lead researcher Solomon Hsiang, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, the most striking “takeaway message” is that “the effects of climate change on the U.S. are not the same everywhere. Where you are in the country really matters.” By which he means that climate change will move wealth away from the south and toward the north and west of the country, although he acknowledges that exact costs and their redistribution are hard to nail down because a changing climate makes the future world hard to predict.

Nonetheless, “Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States,” said Hsiang. “If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.”

The main takeaway of the study for Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions faculty fellow Billy Pizer, who wrote a perspective accompanying the study, is that it has produced “the first comprehensive estimate of climate change damages driven by state-of-the-art empirical studies of climate change impacts.”

The study team—a group of economists and climate scientists—used state-of-the-art statistical methods and 116 climate projections to price those impacts the way insurers or investors would. Specifically, they computed the real-world costs and benefits of increased temperatures, changing rainfall, rising seas and intensifying storms on agriculture, crime, health, energy demand, labor and coastal communities. In total, they computed the possible effects of 15 types of impacts for each U.S. county in 29,000 simulations.

The study appears to represent a significant improvement over earlier financial forecasts of climate change, which approximated damages for the entire country at once. The new study built its model from microeconomic studies of how variation in climate affects well-measured, and well-valued, county-level outcomes like crop yields, mortality, and energy consumption. But because the model’s algorithms emerge from observed relationships in real-world data, estimates omit many serious climate change risks, such as biodiversity loss, for which economic cost data were considered insufficient.

According to the researchers, their model is designed to continually integrate new findings and new climate model predictions, producing actionable science (subscription).

Red Team, Blue Team: Pruitt Calls for Debate of Climate Science

On Monday, a federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot freeze implementation of a rule requiring oil and gas companies to fix leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas, while it reconsiders that rule. The court ruling could hint at trouble for the Trump administration’s efforts to unilaterally delay regulations such as those aimed at curbing greenhouse gases. But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may have found a new context in which to question the need for such regulations.

Pruitt is leading a formal initiative to assess climate science using a “back-and-forth critique” by government-recruited experts. The idea is to stage “red team, blue team” exercises used by the military to identify vulnerabilities in field operations to conduct an “at-length evaluation of US climate science,” an official told ClimateWire. Other Trump administration officials are said to be discussing whether the initiative would stretch across many federal agencies that rely on such science.

“Climate science like other fields of science is constantly changing,” said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman. “A new, fresh, and transparent evaluation is something everyone should support doing.”

But scientists and former EPA officials worry that the debate will give a disproportionately large voice to the limited number of skeptical voices within the scientific community. And, as was pointed out by PBS, science does not operate not by debate but by peer-reviewed studies.

Energy industry executives said the approach to scientific review that Pruitt is instituting could allow a challenge to the 2009 scientifically based environmental endangerment finding that established the EPA’s legal foundation for restricting greenhouse gas emissions from mobile and stationary sources. But lawyers say successfully making that challenge could be extremely difficult.

President Outlines Energy Dominance Proposals

President Trump last week outlined a multipronged plan to increase production of and export fossil fuels, including what he described as “clean, beautiful coal.” Speaking at the Department of Energy’s Washington headquarters, he called the need for regulations “a myth” and said his new policies would reap “millions and millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in wealth.” Although he did not reference renewable energy, climate change or reducing emissions, he touted his decision to exit the Paris climate agreement and to approve the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines.

To usher in what he dubbed “the golden era of American energy,” Trump outlined six initiatives:

  • Expanding nuclear energy
  • Lowering barriers to financing of overseas coal energy plants
  • Constructing a petroleum pipeline to Mexico
  • Increasing sales of natural gas to South Korea
  • Exporting additional natural gas from the Lake Charles liquid natural gas terminal in Louisiana
  • Opening a new offshore oil and gas leasing program.

The last initiative calls for an Interior Department rewrite of a five-year Obama-era drilling plan that had closed areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to drilling. The Washington Post pointed out that the surge of onshore oil and natural gas production due to horizontal drilling has helped to lower the price of petroleum, diminishing interest in offshore drilling.

In a New York Times op-ed, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head (and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Advisory Board chairman) William Reilly noted that drilling in those areas could come at an economic cost. “A spill in any of those waters could threaten multibillion-dollar regional economies that depend on clean oceans and coastlines,” said Reilly, who pointed out that Trump has called for reconsideration of the well control rule, which tightened controls on blowout preventers, which are designed to stop undersea oil and gas well explosions. That rule was based in part on findings of the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which Reilly co-chaired.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Democrats and Republicans are sharply divided on climate change in Congress but perhaps not so much at the municipal level. In a show of bipartisan support for the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan at the conclusion of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach on Monday, leaders from more than 250 cities voted on symbolic resolutions calling for the Trump Administration to rejoin the global climate accord and embracing the goal of running their jurisdictions entirely on renewable energy by 2035. Another resolution called for President Trump and Congress to “develop a comprehensive risk management program to address future flood risks from sea level rise.”

“I think most mayors in America don’t think we have to wait for a president” whose beliefs on climate change are not supported by science, said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “There’s near unanimity in this conference that climate change is real and that humans contribute to it,” he said, adding “If the federal government refuses to act or is just paralyzed, the cities themselves, through their mayors, are going to create a new national policy by the accumulation of our individual efforts.”

The mayors showcased climate change with panels on climate resiliency and a neighborhood tour by Miami Mayor Philip Levine highlighting municipal efforts to cope with sea-level rise. Miami Beach is one of the U.S. cities most vulnerable to climate change.

Preliminary results of a survey jointly conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions were released at the conference on Saturday. According to USCM, the survey of 66 municipalities, ranging from 21,000 to 8.5 million residents across 30 states, found “overwhelming interest by cities in collaborating with the private sector to accelerate climate efforts.”

On Tuesday at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt suggested that the Clean Air Act may not have given his agency the tools for those efforts, telling committee members that the EPA’s endangerment finding, which established that greenhouse gas emissions were harmful to human health, did not settle the question of how the agency should regulate those emissions.

Massachusetts v. EPA simply said to the EPA that it had to make a decision on whether it had to regulate, whether it posed a risk to health, and there was an endangerment finding that followed that in 2009. It did not address whether the tools were in the toolbox,” Pruitt said. He added, “I think what’s important is that we are responding to the CO2 issue through the regulation of mobile sources, we’re also evaluating the steps or the tools we have in the toolbox with respect to stationary sources, and that’s our focus,” he said.

Challenging Pruitt’s assertion that the Clean Air Act gave the EPA no clear authority to regulate carbon emissions, John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, pointed to two Supreme Court cases—American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA—affirming that authority, specifically with regard to emissions from stationary sources.

Global Sea-Level Rise Accelerates

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, adds to recent literature confirming an acceleration in sea-level rise during the past few decades. That literature, which includes a study published in early June that found a tripling of the rate of sea-level increase between 1990 and 2012, is significant in part because of earlier uncertainty about whether global waters were indeed rising—uncertainty cited by climate change deniers. Specifically, the new study reveals the close match between what scientists know about contributors to sea-level rise and measured rates from satellites, and it nails down the sea-level rise acceleration.

The study led by Xianyao Chen of the Ocean University of China and Qingdao National Laboratory of Marine Science and Technology showed that the main contributor to recent sea-level rise is the thawing of Greenland’s ice sheet. The study found that the annual rate of sea-level rise had reached 0.13 inches in 2014. But ocean levels rose 50 percent faster in 2014 than in 1993, with meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet making up 25 percent of total sea level increase compared with 5 percent 20 years earlier. That finding suggests that the rate will continue to accelerate, and scientists say oceans are likely to rise about three feet by century’s end.

The study co-authors said the rate’s acceleration “highlights the importance and urgency of mitigating climate change and formulating coastal adaptation plans to mitigate the impacts of ongoing sea level rise.”

Climate Change-Related Fires Increase in the Arctic

Recent massive fire years in Alaska and Canada have been driven by extreme lightning storms that are likely to move north with climate warming, according to findings in Nature Climate Change by researchers from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of California, Irvine. The scientists found that as fires creep northward, near the transition from boreal forests to Arctic tundra, large amounts of carbon currently locked in permafrost could be released. In addition, trees could begin growing in the tundra, darkening surfaces previously covered with snow, which prevents the reflection of sunlight away from Earth and contributes to global warming.

Using satellite and ground-based data, the researchers discovered that lightning-caused fires have risen 2 to 5 percent a year for the last four decades. The reason? Warmer temperatures increase thunderstorms, which in turn increase lightning and fire risk. These changes are part of a complex climate feedback loop, said Sander Veraverbeke of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the study’s lead author.

“You have more fires; they creep farther north; they burn in these soils which have a lot of C02 and methane that can be exposed directly at the moment of the fire and then decades after,” Veraverbeke said. “That contributes again to global warming; you have again more fire.”

The study was prompted by immense fires in Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories in two of the last three years. Lightening was the cause of some 82 percent of the burned areas in the Northwest Territories in 2014 and 95 percent of the burned areas in Alaska in 2015—areas that don’t usually experience fires, according to Veraverbeke.

“These fires are claiming an area that they haven’t burned historically, which also means they can change the carbon balance and shift an ecosystem into a different state,” Veraverbeke said.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of new performance rules for power plants, rejecting environmentalists’ arguments that the rules discriminate against intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar (subscription). The court said FERC acted in a reasonable way when it allowed the PJM, the independent transmission operator in 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states and Washington, D.C., to charge penalties to power plants that clear its capacity market but fail to provide continuous capacity. The rule change was prompted by the PJM’s grid reliability concerns in the wake of the East’s unusually cold winter in 2014, when a significant amount of natural gas generation became unavailable.

Concerns about grid reliability were also the subject of a new report, published in anticipation of a forthcoming study ordered by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry on the electricity grid. The DOE study is planned to be released next month and is feared by environmentalists to undercut support for renewables (subscription).

The report released this week by consulting firm Analysis Group concluded that the addition of new natural gas-fired units and renewable energy capacity are increasing the nation’s electric reliability, not undermining it. According to the report, commissioned by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute and the American Wind Energy Association, efficient natural gas-fired generation and renewables increase reliability by increasing electric system diversity.

In calling for the grid study, Perry had suggested that renewable energy subsidies and related policies were jeopardizing reliability by decreasing the financial viability of baseload resources such as coal plants. The Analysis Group study said such policies were “a distant second to market fundamentals in causing financial pressure” on coal plants without long-term contracts. The biggest contributors to coal plants’ inability to compete, the report found, are new and efficient natural gas plants, low natural gas prices and flat electricity demand.

Moreover, the analysis challenged Perry’s statement, in the April 14 memo ordering the grid study, that “Baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid.” The report authors found that fears about the risks renewables pose to “baseload generation” don’t reflect understanding of a properly functioning electricity grid. They said “‘baseload resources’ is an outdated term in today’s electric system,” which seeks a combination of generation assets and grid-service technologies to allow for continuous power delivery.

Or as report co-author Susan Tierney, an Analysis Group senior advisor (and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Advisory Board member), summed it up, “The transformation now under way in the electric power system is driven primarily by market forces. . . The result is a more diverse set of energy resources on the grid that is being capably managed in a way that provides reliable electric power.”

At a DOE budget hearing on Tuesday, Perry skirted details on his forthcoming policy declaration on baseload power and grid security.

Asked about his grid report, Perry said electric power security “requires a baseload capability that can run 24/7,” adding that the administration supports an “all of the above” approach to energy and that it is “[n]ot trying to pick winners and losers, but let the facts fall where they may” (subscription).

DOE Secretary Disputes Core Climate Science Finding

Department of Energy (DOE) head Rick Perry denied on Monday that carbon dioxide emissions from human activities are the main driver of the earth’s record-setting warming. Instead, Perry said, the driver is most likely “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”

“The idea the science is somehow settled, and if you don’t believe it’s settled you’re somehow or another a Neanderthal, that is so inappropriate from my perspective,” he said. “If you’re going to be a wise intellectual person, being a skeptic about some of these issues is quite all right.”

Those comments came a week after the DOE confirmed it was shuttering its international climate office and just days before Perry began defending to Congress the agency’s $28 billion budget request, which would slash many clean-energy programs, make a 17 percent cut in DOE’s Office of Science, and reduce by more than half research and development funding at the Office of Fossil Energy, which supports carbon capture and sequestration technology.

Oil Majors Sign on to Carbon Tax Proposal

Nearly a dozen multinational corporations, including oil giants Exxon and Shell, on Tuesday backed a plan from senior Republican statesmen to replace the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas regulations with a revenue-neutral carbon tax—that is, one that gives revenue directly back to citizens—a concept popular with economists. In a newspaper ad, the companies called for a “consensus climate solution that bridges partisan divides, strengthens our economy and protects our shared environment.” Exxon and the others were listed as founding members of the plan, along with the green groups Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy.

The proposal calls for a rising tax, starting at $40 for every ton of carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels, and a charge on imports in exchange for the Environmental Protection Agency being stripped of most powers to issue new emissions control regulations and repeal of the Clean Power Plan. Its proponents say this approach would create deeper emissions cuts than regulations—more than enough to meet the U.S. pledge under the Paris Agreement on global warming—and that in the first year the average family of four would receive approximately $2,000 as a carbon dividend.

The proposal was put forward by the Climate Leadership Council in February as part of a “free-market, limited government” response to climate change. It would require action from Congress, but the GOP, which controls both chambers, has shown no indication it would take it up. In fact, the House last year passed a nonbinding resolution—supported by every Republican member—to denounce a potential carbon tax.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

At a meeting of Group of Seven (G7) environment ministers, the first since President Donald Trump announced the U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement, the United States refused to sign a pledge that calls the global climate accord the “irreversible” global tool to address climate change. In a communique issued Monday, the U.S. position was distinguished in a footnote: “The United States will continue to engage with key international partners in a manner that is consistent with our domestic priorities, preserving both a strong economy and a healthy environment.”

In the communique, ministers representing Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union reaffirmed their “strong commitment to the swift and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement,” but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt, who departed the two-day meeting in Bologna, Italy, meeting early, refused to sign sections related to climate change, multilateral development banks and support for implementation of climate finance pledges. He did join the other ministers in committing to a 2030 agenda for sustainable development, sustainable finance and resource efficiency.

In a statement on the G7 meeting, the EPA announced that the United States “stands firm” on its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and that it has “reset the conversation about climate change” to reflect new priorities and the “expectations of the American people.” It included this quote from Pruitt: “We are resetting the dialogue to say Paris is not the only way forward to making progress. Today’s action of reaching consensus makes clear that the Paris Agreement is not the only mechanism by which environmental stewardship can be demonstrated.”

At the meeting’s opening session, Pruitt told delegates that the United States wanted to continue making efforts to combat climate change and that he wished to engage with the United Nations Climate Change secretariat.

Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said a dialogue had been kept open to determine whether there were conditions for Washington to reenter the Paris accord. “But one thing is clear,” he said, “the accord is irreversible, non-negotiable and the only instrument for fighting climate change.”

McClatchy reported that the G7 country pushing hardest to maintain international momentum to address global warming is Germany, which hosts this year’s annual climate summit in November. Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks met last week with California Governor Jerry Brown to demonstrate that Germany is ready to work with individual U.S. states on the issue.

Hendricks and Brown—who last week signed green energy agreements with two Chinese cities—issued a joint statement on climate change in which they said “the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement underscores the important role that non-state actors, and particularly subnational actors, play in achieving the overall objective and goals of that agreement.”

The divide between the United States and its G7 partners on climate action was highlighted last week by Hendricks’s fact checks of Trump’s recent statements about the Paris deal and by President Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to U.S. climate researchers to move to France.

Clean Power Plan Goes to OMB for Review; Methane Emissions Standards on Hold

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advanced President Donald Trump’s efforts to rescind or revise the Clean Power Plan—which seeks a 32 percent cut in the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2030—by sending a review of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for analysis (subscription).

The OMB review is the final step before the EPA can release its proposal for public comments. Although the nature of the proposal remains unclear, a full repeal is expected to be the Trump administration’s goal.

Underlying the Clean Power Plan is a 2009 EPA determination that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles should be regulated. The Obama administration argued that the determination, known as the endangerment finding, applied to stationary sources such as power plants as well to mobile sources. EPA head Scott Pruitt could reverse that interpretation to pull the plug on power plant regulation.

But a more likely strategy, ClimateWire reported, is that Pruitt will contend that the agency went beyond its purview in setting carbon reduction goals by looking at what the power system as a whole could achieve instead of focusing solely on improvements at coal plants (subscription). That is, the agency could be focusing on a legal argument rather than attempting to fight the science behind the rule.

A D.C. Circuit temporarily froze a case brought against the rule by some states and industry groups (subscription). It is now considering whether to keep proceedings on hold or to close the case.

Also on hold: the Obama administration’s oil and gas industry methane emissions standards (subscription). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it would propose a two-year stay of those standards while it reconsiders them. Pruitt signed the notice submitting the two-year stay to the Federal Register on Monday.

The move would extend the 90-day administrative stay, announced May 31, of the 2016 New Source Performance Standards for the oil and gas industry, which require companies to install leak detection devices and capture leaking emissions (subscription). The EPA also proposed a separate three-month stay to cover any time gap between the end of the 90-day stay and the beginning of the 2-year stay. Both new stays are subject to a 30-day comment period.

Study on Climate Change Put on Ice by Climate Change

Warming temperatures have resulted in dangerous maritime conditions off north Newfoundland, preventing climate scientists from traveling to their study area and forcing their transport vessel, the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen, to help free fishing boats and other ships hemmed in by ice traveling unusually far south from the high Arctic. David Barber, the expedition’s chief scientist, noted the irony of the conditions that caused cancellation of part of his team’s climate change study.

“I have been in the Arctic for 35 years and this is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had,” he said Monday. “Normally these conditions aren’t so bad. This is climate change fully in action—affecting our ability to make use of marine resources and transport things.”

Barber pointed out that warming loosens ice, which can travel long distances on ocean currents.

“It’s very much a climate-change driven phenomenon,” said Barber. “When you reduce the extent of the ice and reduce the thickness of it, it becomes more mobile.” And he suggested that phenomenon offered a valuable lesson about climate change to the Canadian government.

“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there. It comes south,” he said. “We’re simply ill-prepared.”

Canadian researchers and their international colleagues have been monitoring the impacts of climate change and resource development on Arctic marine and coastal ecosystems and northern communities since 2003.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Despite President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, nonfederal entities are saying they will continue to fight climate change. Twelve states and Puerto Rico have formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, committing to uphold the global climate accord, and leaders of 211 cities have declared themselves “Climate Mayors,” promising to work toward the accord’s goals. Many of those same governors and mayors are among some 1,200 signatories, including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies and 170-plus universities, vowing to cut emissions (subscription) in an open letter released Monday to the international community.

“The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change,” said the letter. “Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.”

Going by the name “We Are Still In,” the coalition called itself “the broadest cross section of the American economy yet assembled in pursuit of climate action.”

On Tuesday, Bloomberg Philanthropies said it would work with the coalition’s governors, mayors and business leaders to quantify greenhouse gas reductions. Although the organization does not expect to send a formal submission to the United Nations, it will develop a “societal nationally determined contribution” (subscription).

Some legal scholars have warned that, depending on their nature, actions taken by states in the U.S. Climate Alliance and “We Are Still In” coalition could raise constitutional questions under the foreign affairs pre-emption doctrine or Compacts Clause (subscription).

The first test case may be Hawaii, which on Tuesday became the first state to pass state-specific legislation that claims to legally implement portions of the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change is real, regardless of what others may say,” said Hawaii Governor David Ige. “Hawaii is seeing the impacts first hand. Tides are getting higher, biodiversity is shrinking, coral is bleaching, coastlines are eroding, weather is becoming more extreme. We must acknowledge these realities at home.”

Ige signed Senate Bill 559, which “expands strategies and mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide,” and House Bill 1578, which aims to “identify agricultural and aquacultural practices to improve soil health and promote carbon sequestration—the capture and long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide to mitigate climate change.”

Post­–Paris U.S. Climate Change Efforts: What Happens Now?

In his Paris Agreement exit speech, Trump promised to “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or really an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.” But what concessions the United States could gain from a renegotiation are unclear, and attempts to forge a new deal may not have willing participants. In a joint statement issued an hour after Trump’s speech, Italy, Germany and France said “we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.”

Greenwire reported that legal experts say a future president could get the United States back into the Paris Agreement, from which the earliest official exit date would be November 4, 2020, in just 30 days under a process by accession (subscription).

In the meantime, at least one former Environmental Protection Agency head, William Reilly (who serves as chair of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Advisory Board), suggested that the United States should make a “clean break” from international climate talks.

“I think that the worst possible outcome here is to announce an intended withdrawal from the agreement but to continue to participate in the deliberations of the parties,” said Reilly, adding that the United States might attempt to “reduce the commitments or aspirations that are agreed to in future conferences of the parties” (subscription).

Fact Checkers Question President Trump’s Paris Agreement Exit Speech

President Donald Trump never mentioned science in his speech announcing America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (subscription). In an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, U.S. Environmental Protection head Scott Pruitt, a vocal critic of the pact, appeared to suggest that science played no role in the exit decision, insisting that the focus of discussions about a withdrawal was “on the merits and demerits of the Paris accord.”

Multiple media have highlighted inaccuracies in Trump’s presentation of the accord. The Washington Post noted that Trump’s case against the agreement—that it would hurt the U.S. economy and that it treated the United States unfairly—ignored the benefits that could come from tackling climate change, including potential green jobs, and misrepresented the nature of the agreement. Specifically, emissions reduction pledges reflect non-legally binding nationally determined plans and the reality that developed countries, on a per capita basis, often produce more greenhouse gases than developing countries.

A video posted by The New York Times on its website questioned many of Trump’s claims, one of which was that the agreement would in effect transfer coal jobs to China and India. In fact, the voluntary Paris agreement doesn’t stop Trump’s loosening of restrictions on coal, a U.S. industry in decline in large part because of domestic access to cheap and abundant natural gas—a just released U.S. Energy Information Administration report says coal consumption for electricity sank last year to its lowest level (subscription) since 1984. Although China is building relatively less-polluting coal plants because it lacks such access, it has canceled more than 100 coal plants and expects to peak its coal use before the 2030 date set forth in a pre-Paris climate agreement with the United States. In its Paris pledge, India committed to obtain 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took issue with the president’s statement that even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full, it would produce only a two-tenths of 1-degree Celsius (0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Although Trump did not name his source, Reuters reported that he was referring to a MIT study finding that if countries honored their Paris pledges, global warming would slow by between 0.6 degree and 1.1 degrees Celsius by 2100—not two-tenths of 1-degree Celsius. The point of the article, according to one of the author’s co-authors, was not to diminish the contribution of the agreement but to illustrate that further actions would be needed to avert catastrophic warming.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump has decided to exit the Paris Agreement, the set of voluntary emissions reductions to which all but two countries are signatories—a win for 22 Republican Senators and a small group of advisers and a disappointment to those who lobbied for remaining in the agreement, including executives of the biggest global corporations and energy majors, national security officials, many top White House officials, and many heads of state. The United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only holdouts to the accord.

“To fulfill my solemn duty to protect America,” said Trump, “the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.” He added, “But begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States . . . So we’re getting out but we’ll start to negotiate and we’ll see if we can make a deal that’s fair.”

Trump said he is keeping his campaign promise to “put American workers first” and claimed that the accord was poorly negotiated by the Obama administration. He offered no details about how he plans to disentangle the United States from the Paris Agreement (subscription).

The nonbinding Paris Agreement was designed to allow countries to tailor their climate plans to their domestic circumstances and to alter them as circumstances changed. But the hope was that peer pressure and diplomacy would lead to increased ambition and action to curb global-warming emissions. Nonetheless, Trump advisers like the chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon made the argument that staying in the Paris accord could entail a series of legal obligations—an argument rejected by some legal scholars.

Reaction to a likely withdrawal prompted world leaders to reiterate their commitment to the global pact and drew the ire of some.

European Commission President Jean Claude-Juncker said Trump doesn’t “comprehensively understand” the terms of the accord, though European leaders tried to explain the process for withdrawing to him “in clear, simple sentences” during summit meetings last week. “It looks like that attempt failed,” Juncker said. “This notion, ‘I am Trump, I am American, America first and I am getting out,’ that is not going to happen.” Juncker also warned that it would take years to extricate the United States from the Paris Agreement.

This week, an administration official laid out three ways the United States could leave the accord. First, Trump could announce he is pulling the United States from the deal, which would trigger a three-year withdrawal process that wouldn’t conclude until November 2020 under the deal’s terms—actual withdrawal would take perhaps another year. Second, Trump could declare that the Paris Agreement is actually a legal treaty that requires Senate approval, which it is unlikely to get. Third, Trump could withdraw the United States from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—the treaty that underpins the Paris Agreement. Although this process would take just one year, it would remove the United States from all global climate diplomacy.

Yesterday, as media outlets reported the likely decision by Trump on the Paris Agreement, came word of the first-ever bilateral agreement on climate change (subscription) between the European Union (EU) and China. According to a statement being prepared before an EU-China summit in Brussels starting today, members of the new alliance will say they are determined to “lead the energy transition” toward a low-carbon economy. The new pact calls for the EU to support the rollout of China’s national emissions trading system, likely hastening linkage of that system with the EU carbon market, the world’s largest. It also calls for the two partners to help poor countries develop green economies. A draft called the Paris Agreement an “historic achievement” and “proof that with shared political will and mutual trust, multilateralism can succeed in building fair and effective solutions to the most critical global problems of our time.”

The new pact may help to fill the void left by China’s former partnership with the Obama administration, a partnership instrumental in persuading nearly 200 countries to support the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Economists Say Carbon Tax Is Needed to Avert Climate Catastrophe

On Monday, 13 leading economists, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern, said carbon dioxide should be taxed at $40 to $80 per metric ton by 2020 and at as much as $100 per metric ton by 2030 to stop catastrophic global warming. The idea is to give businesses and governments an incentive to lower emissions even when fossil fuels are cheap—an idea rejected by the Trump administration and embraced by the world’s largest emissions trading coalition, the European Union, albeit at a carbon price—$6.70 per ton—well below that recommended by the report released by the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices.

The report, which is backed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, concluded that a “well-designed” carbon price is an “indispensable” element of any strategy to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining economic growth.

“The world’s transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy is the story of growth for this century,” Stiglitz and Stern said in a joint statement. “We’re already seeing the potential that this transformation represents in terms of more innovation, greater resilience, more livable cities, improved air quality and better health. Our report builds on the growing understanding of the opportunities for carbon pricing, together with other policies, to drive the sustainable growth and poverty reduction which can deliver on the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Among the report’s findings: Meeting objectives set out in the Paris Agreement will require all countries to implement policies that complement carbon pricing and address market and government failures—policies promoting renewable-based power generation, high efficiency standards, relevant R&D investment, and financial devices that lower the risk-weighted capital costs of low-carbon technologies. Although carbon taxes can raise revenues that can be used to increase green growth, low-income countries might need to start pricing carbon at low and gradually increasing levels to protect people particularly vulnerable to initial price increases.

The report explicitly acknowledges that challenge, suggesting that “The revenue can be used to foster growth in an equitable way, by returning the revenue as household rebates, supporting poorer sections of the population, managing transitional changes, investing in low-carbon infrastructure, and fostering technological change.”

The report highlights the difference between a carbon tax and an emissions trading system (ETS), which in the European Union has resulted in few, if any, carbon emissions reductions due to a far-too-high emissions cap, resulting in an oversupply of emissions permits that have kept carbon prices low. A carbon tax is administratively far less complex than an ETS. Although any particular carbon tax level could result in a higher- or lower-than-desired emissions reductions, it can be adjusted to achieve desired reductions, especially if it levied in an administratively efficient way, which in the energy sector would involve an “upstream” levy on bulk coal, oil, or gas.

Study Refutes EPA Head’s Claim of a “Leveling Off” of Global Warming

A new study in the journal Nature Scientific Reports directly refutes the claim made by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt during his Senate confirmation hearing that satellite data show a “leveling off” of global warming.

“Mr. Pruitt claimed that ‘over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming.’ We test this claim here,” wrote Benjamin Santer and three of his Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory colleagues, along with scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Washington in Seattle, and science research company Remote Sensing Systems.

After comparing all possible 20-year periods of satellite records to larger trends in the climate system, the paper concludes Pruitt was wrong (subscription). It also points to multiple peer-reviewed studies that have undercut the theory of a “pause” in global warming between 1998 and 2012 and that have shown increased evidence of a “human fingerprint” on climate.

“In my opinion, when incorrect science is elevated to the level of formal congressional testimony and makes its way into the official congressional record, climate scientists have some responsibility to test specific claims that were made, determine whether those claims are correct or not, and publish their results,” Santer told the Washington Post.

He emphasized the importance of continuing scientific research into climate change, telling ThinkProgress that the budget that covers the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where his work is housed, faces a proposed 70 percent cut in the budget released last week by the White House.

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The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Tuesday the Trump administration released its proposed fiscal 2018 budget, which detailed deep cuts to energy and environmental programs—cuts telegraphed by the White House’s budget outline in March. The reductions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy and Interior departments were defended by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as necessary to boost Pentagon accounts and leave Social Security untouched at hearings with the House and Senate Budget committees yesterday and today, respectively.

In broad strokes, the budget calls for a 31 percent cut for the EPA, an 11 percent cut for the Interior Department, and an almost 6 percent cut for the Energy Department.

The EPA cuts, outlined in budget documents obtained on Monday by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, include zeroing out of some programs and significantly reduced funding for research into climate change. Some of the EPA cuts would

  • Reduce science and technology funding by nearly 40 percent to $450 million.
  • Cut grants to states for their own air and other environmental protections from $3.6 billion to $2.9 billion.
  • Remove all $19 million in aid for Alaskan native villages under threat from warming temperatures and rising sea levels.
  • Scrap the $8 million used to fund the greenhouse gas reporting program, which lists carbon emissions from industrial facilities.

“During the previous administration the pendulum went too far to one side where we were spending too much of your money on climate change and not very efficiently. We don’t get rid of it here. Do we target it? Sure. Do a lot of the EPA reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes. Does it mean we are anti-science? Absolutely not,” Mulvaney said on Tuesday.

At the Energy Department, the Trump administration would slash funding for clean energy programs, power grid operations and next-generation energy technologies, reversing years of collaboration with the private sector and academia to advance clean energy transmission and reliability, smart grid research and development, and energy storage (subscription). Some of the Energy Department cuts would

  • Halve the budget of the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, which oversees efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, supports research in clean energy technologies, and provides the majority of funding for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Weatherization and state energy subprograms are targeted for elimination.
  • Gut cutting-edge technology, leaving just $20 million to close out the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and cutting fossil research and development funding by more than half—funding that supports research on carbon capture and sequestration and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.
  • Decrease funding for the Office of Nuclear Energy by about a third.
  • Decrease funding for the Office of Science, which oversees the majority of the national energy labs, from $5.3 billion to $4.5 billion.

At the Interior Department, the Trump administration would significantly reduce new federal land acquisitions and revenue-sharing partnerships with states, but pursue new oil and drilling opportunities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge starting in 2022. One of the Interior Department cuts would repeal payments to counties that produce geothermal energy as an alternative heat and energy source.

The president’s proposed budget is likely to face considerable pushback from Congress. “Almost every president’s budget proposal that I know of is basically dead on arrival,” Senator John Cornyn told CNN just hours before the budget release.

Court Suspends Litigation on Methane Leaks Rule

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the foreseeable future paused litigation over the Obama administration’s curbs on methane—a short-lived greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide—for new oil and gas operations. The court granted the Trump administration’s request to hold the litigation in abeyance (subscription) in the wake of a March “energy independence” executive order, which required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the new source methane standards, along with other Obama administration actions to address climate change.

The ruling came a week after the U.S. Senate rejected a resolution to repeal a 2016 Bureau of Land Management methane rule, which limits venting, flaring, and equipment leaks at more than 100,000 oil and gas wells on public and tribal lands across the West.

In light of the Senate’s failure to kill that rule, the American Petroleum Institute (API) last week asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to postpone compliance with it (subscription). In a letter to Zinke, API urged that compliance dates for the methane and waste prevention rule be pushed off for two years. Industry and states are challenging the rule in court, and the Trump administration has promised to review it (subscription).

Study: Sea-level Rise Not Just Under Way—It’s Accelerating

The pace of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990, due largely to an acceleration in the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, according to a new study, which detected a larger rate of increase than previous studies by taking a new approach to handling of pre-satellite data. Overall, the new reconstruction of sea-level rise is similar to that of other researchers except for the reconstruction during the early 1900s, when it shows ocean levels rising at a slower pace. Consequently, it shows a faster acceleration of sea-level rise over recent decades.

The study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about 1.1 millimeters per year, or just 0.43 inches per decade. But from 1993 through 2012, it finds that they rose at 3.1 millimeters per year, or 1.22 inches per decade.

Last week, a group of scientists, including three working for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), published a paper that highlighted the link between sea-level rise and global climate change, arguing that studies may have underestimated coastal flooding risks. The Washington Post reported that the Department of Interior, which houses the USGS, angered some of the authors by removing this line from the news release on the study: “Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding.” According to co-author Chip Fletcher of the University of Hawaii, the deletion didn’t make the release wrong—but it did make it incomplete. “It did not cause any direct inaccuracy,” said Fletcher, “but it did eliminate an important connection to be made by the reader—that global warming is causing sea-level rise.”

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Slowing coal use in China and India has put the two most populous countries on a trajectory to beat their carbon emissions goals under the Paris Agreement, making up for rollbacks in U.S. climate action under the Trump administration, according to a new analysis released by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) at intersessional climate talks concluding today in Bonn, Germany.

China, which had pledged to peak its carbon emissions no later than 2030 and to sharply reduce them thereafter, has seen a coal consumption decrease over three consecutive years (2013 to 2016), a trend expected to continue. India, which had pledged to slow its emissions growth by expanding its renewables sector, has stated that its planned coal-fired power plants may not be needed. If it fully implements recently announced policies, its emissions growth would significantly slow over the next decade.

“Five years ago, the idea of either China or India stopping—or even slowing—coal use was considered an insurmountable hurdle, as coal-fired power plants were thought by many to be necessary to satisfy the energy demands of these countries,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, a CAT consortium member. “Recent observations show they are now on the way towards overcoming this challenge.”

So much so that they will compensate for the anticipated failure of the United States to make good on its pledge. Together, India and China will reduce projected global carbon emissions growth by 2 to 3 gigatons in 2030 compared to last year’s CAT projections—significantly outweighing the impact of the Trump administration’s proposed rollbacks in U.S. emissions reduction efforts, which the CAT analysis calculated at some 0.4 gigatons of extra carbon emissions each year by 2030.

“The highly adverse rollbacks of US climate policies by the Trump Administration, if fully implemented and not compensated by other actors, are projected to flatten US emissions instead of continuing on a downward trend,” said Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, a CAT consortium member.

According to the CAT analysis, meeting the U.S. pledge to lower its carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 levels by 2025 would require implementation of the full climate action plan outlined by the Obama administration—which along with the Clean Power Plan called for expanding clean energy, energy efficiency programs and advanced transportation technology. But even then, the analysis suggests, the United States would reduce emissions only 10 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Without the Clean Power Plan, emissions would fall just 7 percent below 2005 levels.

Clean Power Plan: EPA, Rule Foes Seek Abeyance; Rule Supporters, a Remand

Following last month’s Court of Appeals ruling that put lawsuits challenging the Clean Power Plan on hold for 60 days without deciding on the rule’s legality, the Trump administration on Monday asked the court to make that hold indefinite rather than remand the litigation—send it back—to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while it decides what to do with the rule. A remand would end a halt that the Supreme Court placed on the rule last year, allowing supporters to file a new lawsuit if the EPA repeals the Clean Power Plan, which under a March executive order, it is almost certain to do.

“Abeyance is the proper course of action because it would better preserve the status quo [the Supreme Court’s stay of the rule], conserve judicial resources, and allow the new Administration to focus squarely on completing its current review of the Clean Power Plan (‘the Rule’) as expeditiously as possible,” said the EPA brief. “Whereas abeyance would maintain the Supreme Court’s stay, a remand would raise substantial questions regarding the stay’s vitality,” it continued.

Foes of the rule also argued in favor of an indefinite hold on the litigation, writing in their own brief that “holding these cases in abeyance best protects Petitioners’ rights to judicial review and this Court’s ability to resolve challenges to the Rule should EPA ultimately not revise or rescind the Rule.”

Environmentalists, states, cities and power companies that support the Clean Power Plan, along with wind and solar industry associations, all filed briefs in favor of remand.

Environmental groups said placing the cases in long-term abeyance would violate basic administrative law principles—a point also made by cities and power companies that support the Clean Power Plan—and that remanding the cases would avoid an improper extension of the Supreme Court stay. In addition, they argued that the courts should rule on the merits of the lawsuits.

“While remand is preferable to abeyance,” states their brief, “the only appropriate path is to issue a merits decision. Withholding a merits decision now would waste massive resources that the agency, the public, the parties and the Court have invested, and would very likely introduce sprawling new chapters to the long history of delay in curtailing the grave health and environmental consequences of power plant carbon pollution.”

Renewable energy trade groups said sending the cases back to the EPA would ensure that the agency goes through “reasoned decisionmaking.”

Even though the Clean Power Plan is unlikely to survive in its current form, on Monday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a directive to state air regulators to write a plan to cap power plant emissions and to allow companies to swap allowances “through a multistate trading program,” much like the Clean Power Plan.

“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” McAuliffe said. “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void.”

The order seems to lean toward linking to or joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state cap-and-trade system for power generators in the Northeast.

Arctic Council Declaration Stops Short of Reaffirming Signatories’ Paris Agreement Pledges

Last week the eight member nations of the Arctic Council released a consensus declaration that included references to climate change but merely acknowledged the existence of the Paris Agreement rather than reaffirming members’ commitment to it—a concession sought by the U.S. delegation (subscription).

At the two-day ministerial meeting in Fairbanks, which concluded the council’s U.S. chairmanship, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reflected the Trump administration’s uncertain Paris Agreement stance, telling fellow council members that “In the United States we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change,” and adding that “We’re not going to rush to make a decision. We’re going to work to make the right decision for the United States.”

The joint agreement by the Arctic Council did not recommit its members to meet their pledges to the 2015 global accord to limit global warming increases.

In its preamble, the so-called Fairbanks Declaration merely noted “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation” and reiterated “the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

The U.S. State Department said the statement should not be construed to require U.S. action.

“The Fairbanks Declaration notes what Paris claims to be,” said a State Department official. “It does not obligate the U.S. to enforce it.”

The declaration referenced the Arctic’s fast-rising temperatures and their threat to the region, noting that “The Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average” and calling climate change “the most serious threat to Arctic biodiversity.”

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Tuesday, the White House postponed a scheduled meeting of officials to discuss the fate of the Paris Agreement, which business leaders and the international community (subscription) have pressed U.S. President Donald Trump to continue to support and which Trump’s conservative allies have urged him to exit. The decision will now come after the Group of Seven summit in late May.

The president’s potential rejection of the agreement loomed over both this week’s intersessional climate talks, held under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, and the two-day Arctic Council ministerial meeting, where there’s anxiety that Trump’s dismissal of the science backing climate change will mean that the customary declaration on Arctic priorities will have to weaken wording (subscription) on Paris-related emissions targets and their impact on the Arctic.

The administration’s ambivalence toward the Paris Agreement was signaled by the number of U.S. representatives at the Bonn climate talks, which are focused on implementing the details of the deal to combat climate change. According to a list of registered participants, the U.S. government sent just seven representatives to the meeting—one fewer than Tonga and dozens fewer than the Obama administration sent to last year’s talks.

The U.S. State Department said the small team reflects the fact that the United States is working out its climate priorities.

“We are focused on ensuring that decisions are not taken at these meetings that would prejudice our future policy, undermine the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, or hamper our broader objective of advancing U.S. economic growth and prosperity,” a spokesperson said.

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. He has already begun to reverse regulations implemented by the Obama administration to help meet the U.S. pledge to reduce emissions by 26–28 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2025. U.S. action to make good on that pledge will come under review as part of the multilateral assessment process that will take place May 12–13 at the Bonn meeting.

Proponents of the Paris Agreement worry that without the participation of the United States, the second largest global emitter behind China, meeting the agreement’s goal of keeping temperature increases under 1.5 Celsius compared with preindustrial levels will be impossible and that a U.S. withdrawal from the deal would make it harder for other countries to maintain their ambitions. In his budget proposal, Trump is seeking to cut an outstanding $2 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund.

Although continued U.S. participation in the global climate accord remains a question mark, Washington will not withdraw from participation in climate science on the Arctic. That was the word from the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, David Balton, ahead of the biennial Arctic Council ministerial meeting hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“The U.S. will remain engaged in the work the Arctic Council does on climate change throughout,” said Balton. “I am very confident there will be no change in that regard.”

During the meeting, members are expected to sign off on a report by the council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme showing that the worst effects of climate change are already happening in the Arctic and could have significant implications for the rest of the world. That report recommends that the Arctic nations lead efforts “for an early, ambitious, and full implementation” of the Paris Agreement.

Senate Fails to Repeal Rule to Limit Methane Releases from Energy Extraction on Public Lands

Yesterday a U.S. Senate resolution to repeal an Interior Department rule that limits venting and flaring of methane from natural gas drilling sites on public lands was rejected (subscription). It was the second-to-last day that the Senate could attempt to roll back the rule under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to undo recent regulations through an act of Congress. But the Interior Department signaled that the 51 to 49 vote does not end efforts to alter the Obama-era rule.

“As part of President Trump’s America-First Energy Strategy and executive order, the Department has reviewed and flagged the Waste Prevention rule as one we will suspend, revise or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation,” said Kate MacGregor, Interior’s acting assistant secretary for land and minerals (subscription).

The methane rule, finalized last November, seeks to reduce energy companies’ burn off of vast supplies of methane, the primary component of natural gas, at drilling sites. That practice, along with leaks, is estimated to waste $330 million a year in natural gas—enough to power some 5 million homes a year—ABC News reported.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said, in a letter to Ohio Senator Rob Portman, that his department would continue to regulate methane emissions (subscription) and would take “concrete action to reduce methane waste” if Congress passed the resolution rolling back the Obama-era rule. But how the department would have done so is unclear (subscription). Under the CRA, agencies cannot issue “substantially similar” rules on regulations that Congress has repealed without new legislation (subscription).

Pruitt Recuses Himself from Lawsuits, Considers Replacing Academics with Industry Experts

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt last week recused himself from a dozen lawsuits against the EPA that he pursued as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Those suits include one against the Clean Power Plan—the key component of former President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda—which a federal appeals court may hold in abeyance or send back to the agency for review.

“To demonstrate my profound commitment to carrying out my ethical responsibilities, while I am the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, I will not participate in any active cases in which Oklahoma is a party, petitioner or intervenor, including the following,” Pruitt wrote in the May 4 memo, before listing 12 cases from which he is recusing himself.

Among those cases are several involving Obama-era air rules, including the EPA’s methane regulations for new oil and gas sources, the 2015 ozone standard, and the agency’s cost analysis of mercury standards for power plants.

Although Pruitt will not take part in legal challenges, the Washington Post notes he will not recuse himself from EPA rulemaking processes, meaning he will continue to direct reviews of the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era regulations.

In what appears to be a move to alter how it assesses the science that underlies those and other regulations, the EPA last week began an overhaul of the Board of Scientific Counselors, which addresses important scientific questions and advises the agency on the integrity and rigor of its research. At an April meeting, the board discussed the importance of climate change research at EPA and “the growing need for information on, and understanding of, climate change and responses to its impacts” (subscription).

Agency spokesman J.P. Freire said Pruitt is thinking of replacing the board’s academics with experts from the industries typically regulated by the EPA.

“The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said Freire.