Last week, California’s Cap-and-Trade Program to reduce carbon emissions was handed a victory when a state appeals court ruled that program’s auction of emissions permits does not constitute an illegal tax because the program is voluntary and the emissions permits have value. In a 2–1 vote, the Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District upheld the cornerstone piece of California’s climate change policy, siding with the program’s operator, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), by finding that the auction revenues are more akin to regulatory fees than a tax. The court ruled against the California Chamber of Commerce, a tomato processor, and the National Association of Manufacturers, all of whom alleged that CARB lacked legislative authority to create the auctions and that the emissions allowances amounted to a tax that would have required a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
California created the Cap-and-Trade Program as part of its program to meet its targets of reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The program requires factories, power plants, and other companies to buy permits to emit greenhouse gases. By putting a cap on carbon emissions and by creating a market for emissions permits, which covered entities can bank and sell if they don’t need them, the program aims to encourage pollution reduction at the least possible cost. Specifically, it allows businesses to determine whether their most cost-effective compliance option is to reduce their emissions or to pay to pollute, a flexibility that figured in the appeals court decision.
“Reducing emissions reduces air pollution, and no entity has a vested right to pollute,” the court wrote. “The purchase of allowances is a voluntary decision driven by business judgments as to whether it is more beneficial to the company to make the purchase than to reduce emissions.”
The court decision frees California to continue holding auctions through 2020 but does not eliminate all the uncertainty that has dampened demand for permits and reduced state revenues that have been used for programs linked to emissions reductions. Although the decision immediately gave carbon markets a boost, an oversupply of permits has kept them inexpensive at roughly $12.50 or $13.50 a metric ton. Experts say that price needs to reach $30 to $40 to properly incentivize new pollution control investments.
Whether emissions permits in a cap-and-trade system should be given away or sold by the government has long been debated by scholars, reports Inside Climate News. California companies had wanted permits to be handed out for free, but California chose to auction them and to use the revenue to help finance spending on energy efficiency and other parts of its climate agenda.
State lawmakers are presently debating whether to extend the Cap-and-Trade Program past 2020 to eliminate any additional uncertainty about the program.
U.S. Power Sector Shrinks Carbon Footprint in Record-Breaking Way
A continuing drop in coal use, along with relatively mild winter temperatures, drove a second consecutive year of reductions in U.S. power sector carbon dioxide emissions, according to figures released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Monday. The EIA reported that those emissions dropped 1.7 percent, compared with the previous year. That reduction was largely attributed to an 8.6 percent drop in coal-related emissions, which was offset by increases in emissions from oil (1.1 percent) and natural gas (0.9 percent). Those figures added up to a record-breaking decrease in the power sector’s carbon intensity, a measure that relates carbon emissions to economic output.
“Overall, the data indicate about a 5 percent decline in the carbon intensity of the power sector, a rate that was also realized in 2015,” the EIA said. “Since 1973, no two consecutive years have seen a decline of this magnitude, and only one other year (2009) has seen a similar decline.”
“These recent decreases are consistent with a decade-long trend, with energy-related CO2 emissions 14 percent below the 2005 level in 2016,” the EIA added.
Whether the trend will continue will depend on several factors. Climate Central reports that utilities’ increasing switch from coal to less carbon-intensive natural gas is not a panacea for climate change, because extraction processes for natural gas emit methane, a greenhouse gas 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 100 years. Moreover, it’s unclear how the Trump administration’s push for fossil fuels development will play out. It may only delay the closure of coal-fired power plants slated for retirement if natural gas prices remain low. But carbon emissions could begin to rise again in the United States if demand for electricity and gasoline increases and if the average fuel economy of new vehicles does not increase.
The EIA reported that the only U.S. sector in which carbon emissions increased last year was transportation. Emissions directly from motor gasoline increased 1.8 percent. Notably, overall transportation sector emissions were higher than power sector emissions, a trend the EIA expects to continue until at least 2040.
Gorsuch Sworn in as Supreme Court Justice
After being confirmed Friday by a 54-to-45 vote—following Republicans’ invocation of the so-called nuclear option, which lowered the threshold on Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority vote—Colorado appeals court judge Neil M. Gorsuch took his oaths to be the Supreme Court’s 113th justice Monday. Gorsuch breaks the court’s perceived 4-4 ideological split since the February 2016 death of conservative stalwart Justice Antonin Scalia.
During his federal appeal court tenure, Gorsuch mirrored Scalia’s originalist approach to the law, interpreting the Constitution according to the meaning understood by its drafters. But he could envision his job in more “muscular” terms than his predecessor, according to The Economist. Of particular importance to climate policy is Gorsuch’s evident skepticism of the Chevron deference, whereby judges defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of federal laws when the law is ambiguous. The Chevron deference, as a principle, stems from a decision in a 1984 case that Chevron brought against the Environmental Protection Agency regarding its reading of the Clean Air Act. In last year’s Gutierrez-Brizuela v Lynch, notes The Economist, Gorsuch called into question the Chevron principle, writing that it allows agencies to “swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power” and that it “concentrate[s] federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the constitution of the framers’ design.” He suggested that it might be time to fundamentally rethink the Chevron principle.
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.
An internal budget draft shows how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes to meet Trump’s FY2018 Budget submission to Congress, which reduces EPA spending 31 percent.
The memo repeatedly portrays climate as outside the EPA’s core statutory requirements. It focuses instead on funding “core legal requirements,” scrapping 56 programs dealing with scientific research, climate change and education while sending other functions to state and local governments. One of those proposed cuts is to the program responsible for producing new car fuel economy labels and certifying that new vehicles, engines and fuels conform to clean air standards. Dubbed the Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standards and Certification program, it helped to uncover Volkswagen AG’s emissions cheating.
The agency’s budget also proposes to lay off 25 percent of EPA employees.
Asked about the budget in an interview with Fox News, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said that the agency expects states to assume a greater role in environmental protection.
“Over the last several years, there has been a lack of commitment to state partnership,” said Pruitt, adding that would change under his tenure (subscription).
But as Greenwire points out, much of that partnership is fueled by federal dollars, and Trump’s proposed EPA budget cuts, if implemented, could undermine Pruitt’s pledge to state environmental regulators.
Sent March 21 by Acting Chief Financial Officer David Bloom, the draft budget was addressed to the heads of EPA departments. They are supposed to provide feedback and explain how they would make the cuts but still fulfill statutory requirements. John Konkus, an EPA spokesperson, said that the agency is “working towards implementing the president’s budget based on the framework provided by his blueprint,” offering little else about the review process surrounding the draft.
Trump’s official budget is scheduled to go before Congress in mid-May.
Following Executive Order, Climate Rule Notices Published in Federal Register
President Donald Trump may not be finished issuing executive orders related to environment and energy, according to Mike McKenna, the former head of the Department of Energy transition team and founder of MWR Strategies.
“I don’t think we’re quite done with the executive orders,” said McKenna, speaking at the Energy Bar Association’s annual meeting in Washington (subscription). He noted that “offshore energy development” and “probably something clarifying where we are going with [the] Antiquities [Act]” could be next.
Last week, Trump signed a long anticipated executive order promoting fossil fuel extraction, greatly diminishing the role climate change plays in U.S. government decision making, and directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel fired power plants.
On Tuesday, notices announcing the review of Clean Power Plan as well as performance standards for new fossil-fuel fired power plants and oil and gas facilities were published in the Federal Register. That step is the first in the rulemaking process to amend or rescind the rules. The EPA also withdrew its proposed rules for a federal plan to implement the Clean Power Plan. Those rules would have provided a template for states setting up their own regulations to meet the plan’s emissions reductions targets.
After Trump Executive Order, Others Seek to Provide Climate Leadership
President Donald Trump’s March 28 executive order formalizing his commitment to “unwind science-based climate action in the United States” would “relegate the United States to the bottom of the global climate action league,” according to a report released by Climate Action Tracker), a research coalition that rates all major nations on their pledges under the Paris Agreement, which is aimed at holding the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and at pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report finds that the order sets the United States on a trajectory to fall well short of its Paris Agreement commitment for 2025: instead of the 13 percent decrease from 2014 levels needed to meet that commitment, U.S. emissions in 2025 and 2030 would be roughly similar to today’s levels. But the report also finds that market pressures will continue the global clean energy transition.
Reacting to Trump’s executive order, which did not address the Paris Agreement, many nations acknowledged a vast investment shift from fossil fuels to clean energy and, notably, China, one of the world’s largest emitters, reaffirmed its commitment to the agreement.
All countries should “move with the times,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang. “No matter how other countries’ policies on climate change, as a responsible large developing country China’s resolve, aims and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change.”
Within the United States, Trump’s order elicited a similar sentiment by some cities and states.
“Climate change is both the greatest single threat we face, and our greatest economic opportunity for our nation,” the mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Houston and 72 other cities wrote in an open letter to the president. “That is why we affirm our cities’ commitments to taking every action possible to achieve the principles and goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, and to engage states, businesses and other sectors to join us.”
The Democratic governors of California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Washington, along with five mayors in those states, said in a statement that they would continue to lower carbon emissions despite conflicting policy from the Trump administration.
“Our commitment to limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius remains,” said the group. The signatories are members of the Under2 Coalition, a group of 167 cities, states and countries committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 2 tons per capita, or 80–95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
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.
President Donald Trump signed a long anticipated executive order greatly diminishing the role climate change plays in U.S. government decision making by directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel fired power plants.
The order directs each executive department and agency in the federal government to identify regulations, rules, policies, and guidance documents that slow or stop domestic energy production. In addition, the order also calls to review use the “social cost of carbon,” a metric for weighing the potential economic damage from climate change. Effective immediately, it instructs federal officials to use the 2003 Office of Management and Budget guidance “when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations, including with respect to the consideration of domestic versus international impacts and the consideration of appropriate discount rates, agencies shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law.”
Regulations affecting methane leaks at oil and gas production facilities and hydraulic fracturing will all be reviewed, and a moratorium on coal leases on federal lands will be eliminated.
“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” said Trump. “I made them this promise. We will put our miners back to work.”
Coal’s share of the electric sector dwindled in the last decade to some 32 percent last year, according to The Associated Press, while gas and renewables have made gains as hundreds of coal-burning power plants have been retired or are on schedule to retire soon.
Low natural gas prices are, in large part, responsible for those retirements, making it unlikely that rolling back the Clean Power Plan will bring back coal jobs. Given the way market forces—rather than regulations—have hurt the coal industry and reduced employment Trump should “temper his expectations,” said Robert Murray, the founder and CEO of Murray Energy.
“[Utilities] are not going to flip a dime and say now it’s time to start building a whole bunch of coal plants because there’s a Trump administration,” said Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Scientists Propose “Carbon Law”; Human Fingerprint Evident in Extreme Weather Events
An article published in Science says that “alarming inconsistencies” remain between the Paris Agreement’s science-based targets and national commitments. To harness the dynamics associated with disruption, innovation, and nonlinear change in human behavior and to calibrate for “political short-termism,” the authors propose that the decarbonization challenge be framed as a global decadal roadmap based on a “carbon law” of halving carbon dioxide emissions every decade.
Inspired by Moore’s Law, which predicted steady advances in computing power, the carbon law, say the researchers, is a flexible way to think about reducing carbon emissions because it can be applied across borders and economic sectors and at both regional and global scales.
It would require fossil-fuel emissions to peak by 2020 and to fall to zero by 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The idea is to reduce the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget to stay below 2 degrees Celsius by making the greatest efforts to reduce emissions now rather than later.
The researchers call for a ramping up of technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, a rapid reduction of emissions from agriculture and deforestation, and a doubling of renewables in the energy sector every five to seven years.
“We are already at the start of this trajectory,” said lead author Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. “In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace, fossil fuels will exit the energy sector well before 2050.”
By 2020, according to the roadmap outlined by authors, the world would implement “no-brainer” policies, including ending fossil-fuel subsidies, putting a $50 per ton price on carbon emissions, and cracking down on energy efficiency. Both coal and polluting vehicles would have to be phased out, and new clean technology, including superconducting electricity grids, would have to be developed.
In the 2030s, coal use would end in the energy sector and in the 2040s oil use would end. By 2050, the carbon price would have risen to $400 per ton.
A study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports suggests human-caused global warming is changing the behavior of planetary waves such as the jet stream in a way that intensifies droughts, wildfires and floods (subscription).
“We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events,” said Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University and lead author of the study.
Authors used computer simulations, historical temperature data going back as far as 1880 and roughly 50 climate models to explore a series of unusual and deadly weather events, which they connect with an increase in the stalling of the jet stream, a phenomenon that occurs with a decreased temperature difference between the Arctic and tropical air streams. Conditions that favor that phenomenon have increased nearly 70 percent since the start of the industrial age—and most of that change has occurred in the past four decades, according to the study.
“The more frequent persistent and meandering jetstream states seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, which makes it even more relevant,” said co-author Dim Coumou from the Department of Water and Climate Risk at VU University in Amsterdam. “Such non-linear responses of the Earth system to human-made warming should be avoided. We can limit the risks associated with increases in weather extremes if we limit greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Keystone Pipeline Application Approved
President Donald Trump continued to tout restoration of American jobs with his approval of a Canadian firm’s application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska, linking existing pipelines to carry oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s a great day for American jobs, a historic day for North America and energy independence,” said Trump Friday. “This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families, and very significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
The Obama administration had cited environmental concerns in rejecting the Keystone permit in 2015. In the 30-page explanation that the State Department gave for its presidential permit, signed by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr., it said it relied on yet earlier environmental studies into the pipeline’s possible environmental effects. The only new material in the permit is communications from TransCanada.
“In making his determination that issuance of this permit would serve the national interest, the Under Secretary considered a range of factors, including but not limited to foreign policy; energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; and compliance with applicable law and policy,” a statement on the U.S. Department of State website reads.
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.
President Donald Trump is not considering a national carbon tax proposal that a group of Republicans discussed in February. A White House official told GreenWire in an e-mail that although the group of Republican leaders visited the White House to discuss their proposal that “the Trump Administration is not considering a carbon tax.”
The plan had called for an increase in the cost of fossil fuels to bring down consumption—suggesting a tax of $40 a ton that would increase steadily over time. Tax proceeds, they state, would be redistributed to consumers on a quarterly basis in what they call “carbon dividends” that could be approximately $2,000 annually for a family of four.
The Hill reports that White House advisors, along with National Economic Council (NEC) Director Gary Cohn, met with the group led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
“Part of the NEC’s responsibility in coordinating economic policy for the president is to listen to a range of viewpoints on various issues,” said Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman. “The Trump administration is not considering a carbon tax.”
Nominee for Supreme Court Sheds Little Light on How He Would Weigh Environmental Issues
The Senate hearing began this week for Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant in February 2016 by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. How Gorsuch may weigh environmental issues is difficult to discern due to his slender case record on energy and climate topics.
“His record is kind of skimpy,” said Peter McGrath, a member of the Moore & VanAllen law firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s hard to predict where he might rule.”
His third day of Senate testimony has revealed little about how Gorsuch might consider specific issues. He repeatedly said that it is his duty to “apply the law impartially.”
He has been skeptical of a judicial doctrine whereby government agencies’ interpretation of ambiguous statutes prevails unless it is unreasonable—the so-called Chevron deference. Chevron has become the basis of the legal argument for many environmental cases since the 1980s. But according to a concurring opinion Gorsuch wrote last year, the doctrine empowers bureaucrats to “swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power” and to “concentrate federal power” in a way with which the framers of the Constitution would have disagreed.
On day two of his Senate hearing, Gorsuch may have partly clarified his stance on the legal doctrine.
“Scientists, biologists, chemists—the experts get great deference from the courts,” Gorsuch said. “The only question is who decides what the law is.”
The hearing for Gorsuch is expected to continue through Thursday and possibly into Friday. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said the plan is for the full Senate to vote on Gorsuch by Easter.
Complex Picture of Carbon Emissions Emerges; Record Temps Continue
Thanks to a combination of stricter emissions regulations, a decline in the use of coal, cheaper natural gas and a rise in clean energy, climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions—totaling 32.1 metric gigatons in 2016—have remained flat for the third consecutive year despite 3.1 percent growth in the global economy over the same period, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced on Monday. The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3 percent, while the economy grew 1.6 percent. Carbon dioxide output also declined 1 percent in China, where the economy grew by more than 6 percent, showing that the world’s two largest energy users and carbon emitters may be able to balance economic growth with emissions reductions. The decreases offset increases in most of the rest of world.
“These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter.”
In 2016, renewables, particularly hydro, supplied more than half the growth in global electricity demand. The overall increase in the world’s nuclear net capacity last year was the highest since 1993, with new reactors becoming operational in China, the United States, South Korea, India, Russia and Pakistan. And coal demand fell worldwide but particularly in the United States, where it was down 11 percent in 2016 and where, for the first time, more electricity was generated from natural gas than from coal.
Although positive for air pollution, the emissions pause, said the IEA, is insufficient to keep global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius, the cutoff that scientists say helps us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Transparent, predictable policies are needed worldwide to ensure temperatures do not rise above 2 degrees Celsius.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday announced that last month’s average global temperature was 1.76 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average of 53.9 degrees Fahrenheit, making February 2017 the second warmest, behind last February, in 137 years of record keeping.
On the heels of this announcement, the annual State of the Global Climate report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also showed that 2016 was the warmest year on record. The El Niño weather phenomenon contributed 0.1 to 0.2 degrees to the longer-term warming driven by carbon dioxide emissions.
“The year 2016 was the warmest on record—a remarkable 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 degrees Celsius above the previous record set in 2015,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas. “This increase in global temperatures is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system. Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year.”
According to WMO, provisional data also indicates that there has been no easing in the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide despite the fading of 2016’s strong El Niño conditions, a phenomenon in the Pacific that increases global temperatures and affects weather patterns.
“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system,” said David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme. “We are now in truly uncharted territory.”
President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to dismantle Obama-era climate rules, including the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel fired power plants. Originally expected this week, GreenWire reports that according to a White House official the order “may be pushed beyond this week.”
It was unclear until now if the Trump administration would “repeal and replace” the Clean Power Plan, or just set upon a path to undo it, but the executive order will only call for the withdrawal of the regulation, according to sources (subscription). It could also instruct the Justice Department to effectively withdraw its legal defense of the climate rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Like other executive orders recently signed by the president, this one would not, by itself, roll back the Clean Power Plan. Altering a final rule, like the Clean Power Plan, isn’t as simple as the stroke of a pen. It will likely require the EPA to undertake a new rulemaking process, including public notice and comment that could last a few years.
Unless Congress amends the Clean Air Act or the Supreme Court reverses prior opinions, the EPA retains its authority—and a legal obligation—to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The question then becomes which Clean Air Act program is appropriate for the EPA to fulfill its legal obligation—the authority that underpins the Clean Power Plan or another provision of the Clean Air Act—and how the Trump administration believes that authority should be deployed in its discretion.
And while members of the Trump administration remain split on whether to follow through with campaign promises to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the European Union (EU) pledged to “reinvigorate EU climate diplomacy … taking into account the latest developments and changing geopolitical landscape.” The EU may be looking to Canada to help ensure the agreement is implemented.
Oil and Gas Industry No Longer Required to Report Methane Emissions
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt withdrew an Information Collection Request order issued by the Obama administration in November requiring the oil and gas industry to report information about their equipment and operations in an effort to rein in leaks of methane. The order, which took effect immediately, was the EPA’s first step to regulate methane emissions from the sector.
In November, the EPA sent letters to more than 15,000 owners and operators in the oil and gas industry requiring them to provide information on the numbers and types of equipment at onshore oil and gas production facilities, as well as information on methane emissions at the sites.
A letter sent to the EPA by the attorney generals of Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia expressed concern with the requirement, prompting the withdrawal.
“By taking this step, EPA is signaling that we take these concerns seriously and are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states,” Pruitt said. “Today’s action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry.”
Senate Approves Rick Perry as Energy Secretary, Ryan Zinke as Interior Lead
Last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed two department heads who will have considerable influence on how the country approaches energy issues from funding of advanced energy projects to use of public lands for oil and gas extraction.
In a 62–37 vote, Rick Perry was confirmed as head of the U.S. Department of Energy, the agency he vowed to eliminate during his failed 2012 presidential bid and at the helm of which he faces tough issues related to regulatory reach, efforts to mitigate climate change, and potentially deep cuts in agency staffing and spending. He now is responsible for maintenance of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and 17 national laboratories that conduct research into energy technologies that could help fight climate change, a phenomenon he has questioned. During his confirmation hearings he acknowledged that human activity has contributed to warming, a sharp pivot from the global cooling cover up he advanced in his 2010 book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington.
As governor of Texas, Perry presided over big increases in his state’s wind power and shale oil drilling. During his Senate confirmation hearing, he said he would seek to develop American energy in all forms—oil, gas, nuclear, and renewable—and that he would rely on federal scientists to pursue “sound science.”
He replaces Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who led technical negotiations in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and successor of Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
By a vote of 68 to 31, former Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke was confirmed as secretary of the Department of the Interior, where he assumes oversight of 500 million acres of public land, including 59 national parks. Zinke, who has questioned climate science and expressed support for expanding mining and oil and gas development on public land, will now head up the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
During Senate committee hearings on his nomination last month, Zinke said one of his first priorities would be to fix deteriorating infrastructure at parks under the National Park Service. But he gave little clue about how he would act on other issues as head of the department whose agencies decide how resources such as coal are managed and which animals are eligible for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
He did say that federal land should be managed under a multiple-use model that allows hiking, hunting, fishing and camping along with timber harvesting, coal mining and oil and natural gas drilling.
Meanwhile, one of Trump’s confirmed cabinet members, Scott Pruitt, who was approved by the Senate last month and sworn in as EPA administrator,
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt filed 14 lawsuits challenging EPA regulations, including limits on carbon emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Many of the cases are pending in the courts, creating “serious conflicts of interest,” said Delaware Senator Tom Carver the day before the vote. On Tuesday, Oklahoma asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to replace Pruitt in the Clean Power Plan lawsuit with the state’s new attorney general.
In his first speech to EPA staff on Tuesday, Pruitt said, “I believe that we as an agency, and we as a nation, can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment. We don’t have to choose between the two.”
He steered clear of specifics about the Trump administration’s energy policies, instead hinting at some agency reforms, saying that the agency has a responsibility to “avoid abuses that occur sometimes” in rulemaking, and he stressed the importance of following the “rule of law” and in partnering with states.
“I seek to ensure that we engender the trust of those at the state level,” he said (subscription).
Those comments echoed Pruitt’s first interview as EPA administrator, in which he told the Wall Street Journal that he intends to restore power to states, that environmental laws were not meant to be a “one-size-fits-all model,” and that “the state departments of environmental quality have an enormous role to play” as well as suggested that the public has trust issues with the EPA’s procedure for producing studies and cost-benefit analyses.
“The citizens just don’t trust that EPA is honest with these numbers,” he said. “Let’s get real, objective data, not just do modeling. Let’s vigorously publish and peer-review science. Let’s do honest cost-benefit work. We need to restore the trust.”
During the interview, Pruitt appeared to contradict his confirmation hearing testimony by questioning EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, saying that “the courts have seriously called into question the legality” of both the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States Rule, which clarifies the EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. Both rules may be targets of future executive actions. Although the order may not cancel the Clean Power Plan outright, it would mark the first step in weakening the Obama-era climate rule.
The Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts vs. EPA that the EPA possesses authority to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act—an authority that the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s panel on the environment is looking to roll back (subscription).
Senate Democrats had sought to delay Pruitt’s Senate confirmation vote, saying lawmakers could afford to wait a few days to learn more about Pruitt’s ties to the oil and gas industry, a reference to an Oklahoma judge’s ruling, that required Pruitt to hand over nearly 3,000 e-mails related to his communications with the industry, the subject of a public records lawsuit. The Center for Media and Democracy published those e-mails yesterday, two years after Pruitt initially refused to release them. The e-mails share close ties to the oil and gas industry. AP detailed a few of the ways in which those e-mails show how Pruitt and his staff coordinated their legal strategy with oil and gas industry executives and advocacy groups funded by those profiting from fossil fuels to fight federal efforts to curb carbon emissions.
Study Examines Spill Risk of Hydraulically Fractured Wells
A new analysis led by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, which appeared Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, concludes that making states spill data more uniform and accessible could provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills at hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells.
“… Reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis,” said Lauren Patterson, policy associate at the Nicholas Institute and the study’s lead author. “Given the rapid recent development of unconventional oil and gas development, data are scarce on both how often spills happen, where in the process they occur, and what caused them.”
“The presence of a spill,” she added, “does not mean an adverse impact; many spills were small or contained. The data on containment and potential impacts varied between states and over time, making it difficult to do more than report on the number of spills.”
It identifies 6,648 spills reported across Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania during a 10-year period (2005 and 2014). The work also shows that the range of requirements makes it impossible to compare states or come up with a comprehensive national picture. For example, Colorado and New Mexico require spills of more than 210 gallons to be reported to the state, whereas North Dakota calls for any spill of more than 42 gallons to be documented.
Making this state-level data more uniform could help regulators and industry reduce future spills.
“Analyses like this one are so important, to define and mitigate risk to water supplies and human health,” said Kate Konschnik, co-author on the paper from Harvard Law School’s Environmental Policy Initiative. “Writing state reporting rules with these factors in mind is critical, to ensure that the right data are available—and in an accessible format—for industry, states and the research community.”
Singapore Commits, States Consider Carbon Tax
A proposed carbon tax by a group of Republican lawmakers—the Climate Leadership Council—hasn’t made much headway with Congress since its introduction earlier this month, but others are starting to think about the concept.
State lawmakers in California are debating whether to extend the current cap-and-trade system beyond 2020, or replace it with a carbon tax—or cap and tax. Like the cap-and-trade system, this alternative strategy would place a cap on emissions that would decline each year, but it would also tax all emissions at the EPA-set social cost of carbon, or $50 per ton in 2030. And, ClimateWire reports, Washington state has proposed a $25-per-ton carbon tax to bolster the state budget. A second proposal to impose a $15-per-ton tax is also on that state’s legislative agenda (subscription).
“The most economically efficient and fair way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to set a carbon tax, so that emitters will take the necessary actions,” said Singapore Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. “Singapore is vulnerable to rises in sea level due to climate change. Together with the international community, we have to play our part to protect our living environment.”
The Congressional Review Act was used to repeal a rule that forced energy companies on the U.S. stock exchanges to disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments in an effort to fight corruption in resource-rich countries. President Donald Trump signed legislation to scrap the rule, implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, on Tuesday.
The repeal of the Obama-era rule was made possible through the rarely used Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress a small window to scuttle regulations before they take effect with a simple majority vote and blocks regulators from writing similar rules in the future unless Congress authorizes them through subsequent legislation. Given the infrequency with which the Congressional Review Act has been used, however, legal uncertainty hangs over how the government approaches a statutorily required regulation that is overturned through the Congressional Review Act. Before Trump took office, the Congressional Review Act had been used only once, in 2001, to overturn a Clinton administration ergonomics rule.
So far, the House has moved to repeal eight other rules, including a rule restricting coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and one curtailing methane waste from oil and gas drilling on public lands. The Senate could consider the latter, H. J. Res. 36, which would rescind the Bureau of Land Management’s Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation rule, this week. Also this week, Trump could sign a separate resolution scrapping the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule, enacted to protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Monday for six of Trump’s cabinet nominees, allowing them to come before the full Senate for a vote. Trump’s environment-focused nominees—Ryan Zinke (U.S. Department of the Interior) and Rick Perry (U.S. Department of Energy), are presently on hold. Some reports say Zinke’s confirmation may not be until March.
Although a Senate vote for Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was expected this week, Senate Democrats requested Scott Pruitt’s vote be delayed due to a pending court case regarding e-mail records. There is no indication at this point that the vote will be delayed, however.
“These records are needed for the Senate to evaluate Mr. Pruitt’s suitability to serve in the position for which he has been nominated,” the Democrats wrote.
Sea Ice Continues to Shrink at Both Poles; Study Examines Method to Refreeze
Sea ice at the north and south poles continues to reach record low levels. In Antarctica, sea ice has shrunk to its lowest level since record keeping began in 1979—contracting to 2.287 million square kilometers. The average between 1981 and 2010 was more than 3 million square kilometers.
“No one knows for sure what will happen, as there might be a rebounding from the very large decreases last year, or there might be a continuation of those decreases,” said Claire Parkinson, a NASA sea ice researcher. “Whichever way it turns out, the added information will probably help scientists to get a better handle on the likely causes.”
A new study published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, suggests that it may be possible to refreeze ice in the Arctic, building back up record-low ice levels.
“This loss of sea ice represents one of the most severe positive feedbacks in the climate system, as sunlight that would otherwise be reflected by sea ice is absorbed by open ocean,” authors write. “It is unlikely that CO2 levels and mean temperatures can be decreased in time to prevent this loss, so restoring sea ice artificially is imperative.”
The authors examine a means for increasing sea ice production using wind power to pump water from the ocean and spray it on the surface during Arctic winters. Because the mean annual thickness of Arctic ice is approximately 1.5 meters, the authors say, this plan could increase the thickness of the ice by about 70 percent over the course of a winter—enough to counteract the 0.58 meters lost each year due to the changing climate.
“Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” said Arizona State University’s Steven Desch, an author of the plan to use 10 million wind-powered pumps.
Human Activities Dwarf Natural Forces When It Comes to Climate Change Impacts
Two researchers who examined the Earth as a single complex system say they have captured in a one equation the impact of human activities. Those activities, specifically, the emission of greenhouse gases, are causing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces.
The study, published in the journal The Anthropocene Review, represents that exceptional rapid rate of change in an “Anthropocene equation.”
Explaining the equation in New Scientist, co-author Owen Gaffney of the University of Stockholm said it was developed “by homing in on the rate of change of Earth’s life support system . . . For four billion years the rate of change of the Earth system has been a complex function of astronomical and geophysical forces plus internal dynamics: Earth’s orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun’s heat output, colliding continents, volcanoes and evolution, among others.”
“In the equation, astronomical and geophysical forces tend to zero because of their slow nature or rarity, as do internal dynamics, for now,” Gaffney added. “All these forces still exert pressure, but currently on orders of magnitude less than human impact.”
Gaffney said that although complex interactions between the Earth’s core and the biosphere had rendered Earth relatively stable over millions of years, human societies would be unlikely to fare so well. The research concluded that failure to reduce anthropological climate change could “trigger societal collapse.”
Using a rarely invoked Congressional Review Act, Congress has paved the way for President Donald Trump to roll back three Obama-era environmental regulations.
On Thursday, the Senate, in a 54-45 vote, gave final legislative approval to a measure repealing a new rule aimed at preventing the dumping of coal mining debris into nearby streams. When announcing the Stream Protection Rule in December, the Department of the Interior said that it would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests.
On Friday, the House approved a Congressional Review Act resolution against the Bureau of Land Management’s methane venting and flaring rule. If approved by the Senate and signed by President Trump, the rule, which keeps companies from venting natural gas on public and tribal lands, would come off the books. In announcing the rule, which updated 30-year old regulations governing venting, flaring, and leaks of natural gas, the DOI said it would reduce the waste of public resources, cut methane emissions that contribute to climate change, and provide a fair return on public resources for taxpayers.
On the day Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State, the House, with a strict party-line vote, killed a Securities and Exchange Commission transparency rule requiring companies to disclose mining- and drilling-related payments to foreign governments. When he was Exxon CEO, Tillerson had lobbied against the rule in part because it affected the company’s business dealings in Russia (subscription).
The Congressional Review Act allows Congress a small window to scuttle regulations before they take effect with a simple majority vote and blocks regulators from writing similar rules in the future unless Congress authorizes them via subsequent legislation.
Trump has also targeted specific regulations he believes hamper job growth, including the Waters of the U.S. Rule and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which aims to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants but is under a Supreme Court stay. On Wednesday, a group of Republicans led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, with former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson Jr., met to discuss the prospect of imposing a national carbon tax, rather than using federal regulations, to address climate change.
“I really don’t know the extent to which it is manmade, and I don’t think anybody can tell you with certainty that it’s all manmade,” said James Baker, one of the members of the newly formed Climate Leadership Council. However, “the risk is sufficiently strong that we need an insurance policy and this is a damn good insurance policy.”
The group meets with White House officials this week about the plan to raise the cost of fossil fuels to bring down consumption—suggesting a tax of $40 a ton that would increase steadily over time. Tax proceeds, they state, would be redistributed to consumers on a quarterly basis in what they call “carbon dividends” that could be approximately $2,000 annually for a family of four.
Sessions Confirmed; Pruitt and Zinke Still Waiting
Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general who has served as a Senator from Alabama since 1997, was confirmed in a 52-47 vote Wednesday evening. He is expected to be sworn in today.
This week, Bloomberg BNA reported that the environment may not be a top priority for Sessions, who as a senator regularly voted against environmental protection legislation—for example, against a rule limiting emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants (in 2012) and a rule setting greenhouse gas standards for new and modified power plants (in 2015).
For Scott Pruitt, the path to consideration by the full Senate to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not without controversy. On Monday, nearly 450 former EPA employees urged Congress to reject his nomination.
“Our perspective is not partisan,” they wrote, noting that many of the 447 names on the letter had served as career employees under both Republican and Democratic administrations. “However, every EPA administrator has a fundamental obligation to act in the public’s interest based on current law and the best available science. Mr. Pruitt’s record raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date and whether he agrees with the long-standing tenets of U.S. environmental law.”
As Pruitt awaits his Senate confirmation, a new bill—HR861—aims to get rid of the agency altogether. Introduced during the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing “Make the EPA Great Again,” its details are sparse.
Ryan Zinke, Interior Secretary nominee, and Rick Perry, Energy Secretary nominee, were both approved by Senate committee vote last month but await consideration by the full Senate. According to Senator Jon Tester, that could be a bit.
“I think that right now, the priority was put on DeVos, and Price, and on Sessions and Mnuchin, and I think that’s where the majority wants to move,” said Tester. “They want to move on those four very controversial ones before they get to Perry and Zinke, and I think Perry and Zinke, neither one of those are near as controversial. I think that they’ll go through, it’s just a matter of getting them floor-time to send them through.”
New Study Affirms Nonexistence of Global Warming Slowdown Amid Furor Over Earlier Study
A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that in 2015 found no evidence of a warming slowdown over the last decade is under the microscope again. At the time, challenges by climate change doubters prompted a U.S. House of Representatives committee to subpoena the study authors’ e-mails—and the threat of subpoenas was raised again on Sunday by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) who accused NOAA scientists of politically motivated fraud.
Citing statements critical of the 2015 NOAA study (sometimes referred to as the Karl study after lead author Tom Karl) by former National Climatic Data Center scientist John Bates that appeared in The Daily Mail, Smith said, “Dr. Bates’ revelations and NOAA’s obstruction certainly lend credence to what I’ve expected all along—that the Karl study used flawed data, was rushed to publication in an effort to support the president’s climate change agenda, and ignored NOAA’s own standards for scientific study.”
The truth, according to a new analysis of data from ocean buoys, robotic floats, and satellites published in the journal Sciences Advances, is that earlier suggestions of a warming slowdown are incorrect and were the result of measurement error—a confirmation of the NOAA study conclusion.
“Our results mean that essentially NOAA got it right, that they were not cooking the books,” said lead author Zeke Hausfather when the study was published in January.
In Carbon Brief, Hausfather said, “What he [Bates] fails to mention is that the new NOAA results have been validated by independent data from satellites, buoys and Argo floats and that many other independent groups, including Berkeley Earth and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, get effectively the same results.”
Bates, in an interview with E&E News on Tuesday, clarified that his issue was with the publication process and not with the data underlying the NOAA research.
To determine whether the 2015 NOAA study findings were correct, Hausfather and his colleagues took an independent look at ocean temperatures. Rather than combine old ship measurements with data from new buoys, as NOAA had done, they created temperature records from individual data sources. They found that—no matter the source, whether satellites, robotic floats, or buoys—the warming ocean trends matched those found in the NOAA study. The conclusion? Oceans have warmed consistently over the previous 50 years, at about 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade.
On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an order that will require federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new rule and that will set an annual cap on the cost of new regulations with the exceptions of military and national security regulations. For fiscal year 2017, the cap will require that the cost of new regulations be completely offset by the rescinding of existing rules. Starting in 2018, the order directs the White House Office of Management and Budget head to give each agency a budget for increasing or decreasing regulatory costs.
Yet, legal experts suggest that the executive order could be impossible to implement because many regulations are required by laws written by Congress.
“It should be noted that no [executive order] can change underlying statutes adopted in the regular order by Congress and signed by the president,” Scott Segal, an industry lawyer at Bracewell LLP, told ClimateWire (subscription).
The new order comes on the heels of a Congressional Research Service study finding that the Clean Air Act’s regulatory structure “faces an unusual degree of uncertainty” this year, with one or more branches of government poised to weigh in on key existing EPA rules. Those rules include the Clean Power Plan, methane rules for new or substantially modified oil and gas operations, and EPA’s latest ambient air quality standards for ozone. Yet other rules could be vulnerable under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress 60 legislative working days from the time a federal regulation is finalized to pass a “joint resolution of disapproval” on the rule.
The House passed two bills on Wednesday invoking the seldom used Congressional Review Act to attempt to roll back the Stream Protection Rule and the Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to reveal payments made to foreign governments. The rules were among five Obama administration regulations, including the Bureau of Land Management’s restrictions on methane emissions from flaring and venting during oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands, being targeted for reversal.
Trump has targeted specific regulations he believes hamper job growth, including the Waters of the U.S. Rule and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which aims to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants but is under a Supreme Court stay.
Trump Nominates Supreme Court Justice; Some Cabinet Appointees Move Forward
President Donald Trump on Tuesday appointed 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant last February by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The decision, which has implications for environmental policy, comes as Trump promised—within two weeks of taking office.
Gorsuch’s parallels to Scalia were described by SCOTUSBlog writer Eric Citron as “eerie.”
“He is an ardent textualist (like Scalia); he believes criminal laws should be clear and interpreted in favor of defendants even if that hurts government prosecutions (like Scalia); he is skeptical of efforts to purge religious expression from public spaces (like Scalia); he is highly dubious of legislative history (like Scalia); and he is less than enamored of the dormant commerce clause (like Scalia),” Citron wrote.
Although Gorsuch hasn’t ruled on many environmental matters, Inside EPA reports that he has called for limiting the discretion of the EPA and other agencies to interpret their own authority. Last year, in Gutierrez-Brizuelo v. Lynch, Gorsuch indicated he was fine without Chevron deference, the legal doctrine granting government agencies interpretation of ambiguous statutes unless their interpretation of a statute is unreasonable.
“We managed to live with the administrative state before Chevron. We could do it again,” wrote Gorsuch in the majority opinion.
In that opinion, Gorsuch argued that the meaning of the law is for judges, not federal bureaucrats, to decide.
“Where in all this does a court interpret the law and say what it is?” Gorsuch said. “When does a court independently decide what the statute means and whether it has or has not vested a legal right in a person? Where Chevron applies that job seems to have gone extinct.”
Also this week, several of Trump’s cabinet picks—Department of Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry, U.S. Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions and Department of the Interior nominee Ryan Zinke—gained committee approval and now move forward for consideration by the full Senate.
All 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is tasked with considering whether to move Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA to the full Senate, opted to boycott the Wednesday meeting. They said Pruitt failed to provide substantive answers to questions about rules governing air pollution, toxic chemicals and lead in gasoline. But today, Republicans on the committee advanced Pruitt’s nomination on a party line vote after suspending committee rules because of the boycott.
Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil, was confirmed by the Senate as the next Secretary of State by a 56-43 vote and was sworn in Wednesday evening. At his confirmation hearing, he acknowledged that the climate is changing but said that he believes science is not conclusive on the issue of how rising greenhouse gas emissions will affect life on Earth. He expanded on his views when providing written responses to questions posed by two senators.
“I agree with the consensus view that combustion of fossil fuels is a leading cause for increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he wrote to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. “I understand these gases to be a factor in rising temperature, but I do not believe the scientific consensus supports their characterization as the ‘key’ factor.”
Study Says Carbon Capture Necessary to Meet Paris Agreement Goal
The global climate can survive the possible withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, said the authors of a study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. The bigger threat, they said, is a world without widespread deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Absent those technologies, achieving the climate treaty’s goal to limit warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius could be impossible.
The authors reached that conclusion by reviewing past energy trends and examining nearly 150 countries’ pledged carbon reduction targets in the context of more than 100 climate simulations indicating how changes in energy production and use through 2040 could meet the 2 degrees Celsuis goal. To deal with the mix of targets—among them, straight emissions reductions (for example, 30 percent by 2030), lowered emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP), and technology deployment (for example, expansion of renewables)—the study used the Kaya Identity method, which breaks the carbon dioxide emissions rate into the human factors that affect it—broad factors such as GDP and more specific ones such as quantity of deployed renewables.
The study paints a good news-bad news picture of progress toward the 2 degrees Celsius goal. It indicates that the rate of global emissions has leveled off over the last few years due to a reduction in coal burning by China, a shift from coal to gas and renewables plus increased industrial energy efficiency in the United States, rapid expansion of renewables in the European Union, and slowed GDP growth in the U.S., EU and China. But sustaining this trend of decreasing carbon intensity of energy will not be easy. Although renewables development is keeping pace with 2 degree Celsius scenarios, nuclear power is lagging and CCS is barely past the starting gate. Only a few CCS facilities are operational, and only a couple of dozen are in construction.
“The greatest challenge is the slower-than-expected rollout of technologies to capture and permanently store carbon from fossil fuel and bioenergy combustion,” said study co-author Robbie Andrew of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). “Most scenarios suggest the need for thousands of facilities with carbon capture and storage by 2030, and this compares with the tens currently proposed.”
Thus far, high up-front costs have stymied development of commercial-scale CCS plants. If they don’t materialize, the world faces a harsh reality, suggests lead author Glen Peters of CICERO.
“If we don’t have CCS, then we will need to reduce use of fossil fuels much faster and in a much more disruptive way,” he said.
Study co-author Robert Jackson of Stanford University noted that CCS technology will prove even more crucial if President Donald Trump makes good on his pledge to revive the nation’s limping coal industry.
“There’s no way to reduce the carbon emissions associated with coal without carbon capture and storage,” Jackson said.
We may find out soon whether Trump will follow through on his pledge to remove the U.S. from the Paris climate deal when he issues an expected review of the U.S.’s involvement in multinational treaties. InsideEPA lays out mechanisms through which the administration could do so (subscription).
Shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th president of the United States, a revamped White House website announced the new administration’s intention.” That same day, Reuters reported that all references to climate change had been removed from the WhiteHouse.gov site, and the Wall Street Journal’s Amy Harder tweeted that the URL to the climate change page had gone dead.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration instructed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its website’s climate change page, which contains links to climate research and detailed data on emissions. The news was reported to Reuters by staffers who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media. One of them said some employees were scrambling to save some of the information on the website (subscription).
“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” an EPA staffer told Reuters.
Yahoo News reported that, late last year, scientists had begun backing up the climate data publicly available on government websites in fear that the data might disappear under Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax.”
But on Wednesday, the Trump administration walked back its directive.
“We’ve been told to stand down,” an EPA employee told E&E News, which reported that administration officials may have been prompted to change course because of the backlash that erupted over its previous instructions. The instructions didn’t go over well with agency employees, said the unnamed EPA staffer, adding that the information is “world class” data. “And it’s true.”
And at a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer commented on reports this week that the White House had curtailed social media use at the EPA, the Interior Department and the Energy Department.
“They haven’t been directed by us to do anything,” Spicer said of the restrictions. “From what I understand,” he added, staffers “have been told within their agencies to adhere to their own policies, but that directive did not come from here.”
Executive Actions Reflect About Face on Climate Change Action
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump acted on campaign promises to remove hurdles to domestic energy development by signing an executive action to advance the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska, linking existing pipelines to carry oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, and a memorandum calling for an expedited review and approval of the Dakota Access pipeline. Both were projects that the Obama administration blocked due in part to environmental concerns, including their influence on greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Trump said both pipelines would be subject to renegotiation and that the materials for them must be sourced from the U.S.
The impact of the orders is likely to be felt first in North Dakota, where Energy Transfer Partners wants to install the final 1,100-foot section of the 1,172-mile pipeline that runs under Lake Oahe, a route that sparked protests after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe raised concerns about potential spills and leaks. The pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota to refineries and pipeline networks in Illinois. The Keystone XL pipeline would also reach those refineries along its route.
Revival of the two pipeline projects (subscription) was Trump’s first action to make good on his America First Energy Plan, presented on a new WhiteHouse.gov web page that has replaced the Obama administration’s climate change web page.
The Climate Action Plan, introduced by Obama in June 2013, outlined plans for the U.S. to cut its carbon pollution, prepare for the effects of climate change, and lead international efforts to address global warming. The brief America First Energy Plan goes in another direction.
“For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry,” it reads. “Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”
Trump’s plan encourages the burning of coal and the use of shale oil and gas. It does not reference solar, wind, or other sustainable energy sources but does offer up a commitment to “clean coal technology.” That term sometimes refers to plants outfitted with “scrubbers” or having the capacity to capture and store carbon emissions, which has reportedly not been demonstrated to work in a cost-effective way.
Trump Cabinet Nominees Acknowledge Some Influence of Humans on Climate Change
At Senate confirmation hearings, President Donald Trump’s picks to run some key federal agencies have said that the climate is changing and that human activity is a factor. The extent of human influence on climate change, they say, is up for study and debate, along with policies that might be needed.
The Washington Post reports that transition officials say that there has been no coordination to get these candidates—Ryan Zinke, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson—on message. “This is an accurate reflection of what they believe, and Cabinet nominees are encouraged to give their opinion on questions when they’re asked,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In opening remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing last Thursday, Rick Perry, Trump’s Energy Secretary pick, acknowledged that his call for the Department of Energy’s elimination, made during his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, was in error.
“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” said Perry. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Like many of Trump’s other cabinet picks, he softened his earlier position on climate change.
“I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity,” said Perry. “The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy or American jobs.”
At his confirmation hearing, Trump’s pick to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, indicated he would give the power to apply environmental rules back to states. However, he also stated that he would review a federal waiver under the Clean Air Act allowing California to set emissions standards for vehicles. The state mandates that 15 percent of new cars by 2025 have zero emissions—a standard that’s stricter than anywhere else in the country.
“That’s what would be evaluated, it’s very difficult, and we shouldn’t prejudge the outcome,” said Pruitt.
There are some hints that in this case giving the power back to states may not align with the new administration’s objectives. On Tuesday Trump told auto executives to increase U.S. production and boost American employment and said that he would cut regulations and taxes to make operating in the U.S. more attractive.
“We’re bringing manufacturing back to the United States big league, we’re reducing taxes very substantially and we’re reducing unnecessary regulations,” Trump said, calling himself an environmentalist, but indicating that environmental regulations are “out of control.”
Some states vowed not to let the new administration roll back environmental efforts. Gov. Jerry Brown stated Wednesday that “California is not turning back. Not now, not ever.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, won approval in a 11–10 vote along party lines from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His nomination now moves to the full Senate, where he needs the support of 51 members for confirmation. That final vote could come as early as next week.