The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

On Monday, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia order directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out an Obama-era rule that sets methane pollution limits for the oil and gas industry.

Nine of the 11 court judges issued the order upholding a July ruling that found that the Trump administration overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act when it tried to delay the methane rule.

Implemented in 2016, the rule targets new and modified sources of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas with long-term global warming potential thought to be many times that of carbon dioxide. The rule was expected to reduce 510,000 short tons of methane in 2025, the equivalent of reducing 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

After President Donald Trump asked the EPA to review the rule in a March executive order, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in an April letter, stayed the deadline for oil and gas companies to follow the new rule by 90 days. Pruitt later sought to pause the methane rule two years to “look broadly” at regulations and review their impact.

Studies Find Earth Tilting Hard toward Warming Tipping Point

Hope that limiting climate change to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures—the oft-cited threshold of “dangerous” warming—has been further diminished by recent studies published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

One study co-authored by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that human forces have heated the climate for longer than thought—since at least 1750—pushing the so-called “preindustrial” baseline for the planet’s warming backward and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that we can emit to avoid 2 or more degrees Celsius of warming.

The Mauritsen and Pincus study analyzed past emissions of greenhouse gases and the burning of fossil fuels to show that even if that burning suddenly ceased, Earth would continue to heat up about two more degrees Celsius by 2100.

This view was similar to that of another study led by the University of Washington’s Adrian Raferty. That study calculates the statistical likelihood of various amounts of warming by the year 2100 given three trends that matter most for carbon emissions: global population, countries’ GDP (on a per capita basis), and carbon intensity (the volume of emissions for a given level of economic activity). The research puts median warming at 3.2 degrees Celsius and concludes that there’s a 5 percent chance that the world can hold warming below 2 degrees Celsius this century. The authors say there’s a 90 percent chance that temperatures will increase by 2.0 to 4.9 degrees Celsius.

Raferty’s team built a statistical model covering a range of emissions scenarios, finding that carbon intensity will be the most important factor in future warming despite the expectation that technological advances will cut that intensity by 90 percent this century.

“The big problem with scenarios is that you don’t know how likely they are, and whether they span the full range of possibilities or are just a few examples,” said Raferty. “Scientifically, this type of storytelling approach was not fully satisfying. Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen. We’re closer to the margin than we think.”

Construction Ends on Twin Nuclear Reactors

South Carolina utilities SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper on Monday opted to end construction of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station’s two reactors. The first reactor at V.C. Summer had been expected to go online in August 2019, with the second following a year later.

“The best-case scenario shows this project would be several years late and 75 percent more than originally planned,” Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter said in a statement announcing the decision. “We simply cannot ask our customers to pay for a project that has become uneconomical. And even though suspending construction is the best option for them, we are disappointed that our contractor has failed to meet its obligations and put Santee Cooper and our customers in this situation.”

The move makes the future of the United States nuclear industry even more unclear. With just one nuclear plant under construction, as much as 90 percent of nuclear power could disappear over the next 30 years if existing units retire at 60 years of operation—the current maximum length of operating licenses.

In the southeast, where the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station reactors were located, it is unlikely that existing units can simultaneously be replaced with new plants given the long lead times and limited applications for new nuclear plants at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions study explores how the potential loss of existing nuclear plants in the Southeast interacts with the regions other electricity sector challenges—among them, increasing natural gas dependence, demand uncertainty, and emerging technology—and it proposes steps states can take to address these challenges.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Trump administration is proposing to repeal a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule aimed at ensuring hydraulic fracturing does not pollute water supplies, claiming that it triggers unjustified compliance costs and duplicates state rules.

“Upon further review of the 2015 final rule … the BLM believes that the 2015 final rule unnecessarily burdens industry with compliance costs and information requirements that are duplicative of regulatory programs of many states and some tribes,” agency officials wrote. “As a result, we are proposing to rescind, in its entirety, the 2015 final rule.”

The rule imposed well casing and wastewater storage requirements as well as required drillers to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulically fractured wells. Estimated to cost the oil and gas industry $32 million to $45 million a year, the rule has been the target of legal challenges since it was finalized in 2015.

It was among several Obama-era environmental rules President Donald Trump directed his administration to review and potentially rescind in a March executive order (subscription).

Research Highlights Little Studied Source of Methane Emissions

Climate change is allowing the release of methane from thawed permafrost according to aerial samplings of emissions from Canada’s Mackenzie River Basin, home to known oil and gas deposits. Research published in the journal Scientific Reports shows that the melting permafrost contributes to a warming climate not just through the natural production of biogenic methane but also through emissions of fossil gas, contributing significantly to the permafrost-carbon-climate feedback.

Between 2012 and 2013, the research team led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences took aerial geochemical samples, finding 13 times more methane than would be expected from typical microbial methane emissions rates. Although geological methane hotspots cover only 1 percent of the total area of the basin, they contribute to some 17 percent of its annual methane emissions.

“This is another methane source that has not been included so much in the models,” said lead author Katrin Kohnert. “If, in other regions, the permafrost becomes discontinuous, more areas will contribute geologic methane.”

Trump Cabinet: New Environment Nomination Draws Criticism

President Donald Trump has nominated Samuel Clovis to serve as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary of research, education and economics, the department’s top science post. Clovis is a former college economics professor and talk radio who has challenged the scientific consensus that human activity has been the primary driver of climate change.

The Washington Post points to2014 interview with Iowa Public Radio, where Clovis noted that he was “extremely skeptical” about climate change and added that “a lot of the science is junk science.”

E&E Daily reports that some see Clovis as committed to agricultural research. CNN and other media outlets highlighted a stipulation in the Farm Bill that “the Under Secretary shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics,”—requirements, they say, that Clovis’ nomination appears to violate.

A White House statement about Clovis’ nomination lists his background as largely military, noting that “Clovis holds a B.S. in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University and a Doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama. He is also a graduate of both the Army and Air Force War Colleges. After graduating from the Academy, Mr. Clovis spent 25 years serving in the Air Force.”

His nomination was among eight sent to the Senate Tuesday.

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.

 

California Extends Its Cap-and-Trade Program

On July 20, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a 28–12 vote on Monday night, California’s Senate approved AB 398 to extend the state’s landmark cap-and-trade program to 2030. Hours later, the bill passed in the state’s Assembly, 55–21. Lawmakers also approved a companion measure, AB 617, aimed at reducing pollution that causes local public health problems. In addition, to win GOP support in the Assembly for the cap-and-trade program, the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment giving Republicans increased input in how the state spends revenues from the sale of emissions allowances—permits to pollute—by requiring, in 2024, a two-thirds vote to approve how they are used.

Gov. Jerry Brown and others have argued that extension of the cap-and-trade program is critical to meet the most aggressive climate goal of any state in the nation—a 40 percent cut in 1990s-level greenhouse gas emissions by 2030—and to send a countering signal to President Donald Trump’s rejection of policies and partnerships aimed at limiting warming (subscription). The program sets a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allows emitters to buy and sell emissions permits, or allowances. The number of allowances available each year equals the annual limit, and both decrease over time, lowering emissions.

When unveiled for debate last week, the legislation drew the ire of many Republicans and progressive environmentalists, although other influential environmental groups said it represented a reasonable balance and the best chance for advancing the program (subscription). In the end, eight Republicans in the Assembly and one in the Senate voted to extend the program, but some environmental groups remain unhappy, saying the legislation allows polluters too many allowances to emit greenhouse gases and that local air quality is not addressed by the use of offsets, a practice whereby polluters can meet a certain amount of their emissions targets by investing in greenhouse-gas-reducing projects, including those outside California, rather than investing in their own emissions reductions.

The bipartisan, supermajority votes in both the state Assembly and Senate for extension of the program were touted by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León as a win for the environment and the economy.

“Californians understand that we can’t truly have a healthy economy that’s built to last without taking meaningful steps to protect public health and preserve a livable environment,” said de León.

Climate Science: The Debate

Last week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt proposed a televised debate of climate science, whereby a red team would attack mainstream findings and a blue team would play defense. Critics of the idea, which has raised alarm bells among scientists, have argued that it will give viewers the impression that scientists are evenly divided over the fundamentals of climate change, when in fact the vast majority of scientists agree on those fundamentals, and that a debate format would test debating techniques and communication skills, not the evidence.

ClimateWire reported that climate scientists view the debate as a trap because it gives the minority of researchers who question mainstream climate science a stage they’ve not been able to command in peer-reviewed journals (subscription). At the same time, refusal to participate could leave the impression that mainstream climate scientists are hiding something—and would leave skeptics’ assertions unopposed.

Proposal of this debate comes amid news of a U.S. Geological Survey e-mail alert to international scientists warning that the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget cuts, if approved, would undermine important data-gathering programs and cooperative studies in a number of areas, including climate change.

NOAA Says 2016 Greenhouse Gas Influence Reached 30-Year High

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, the influence of greenhouse gases on atmospheric warming was higher last year than it has been in nearly 30 years (subscription). The greenhouse gas index was intended to provide a straightforward way to report the yearly change in the warming influence of greenhouse gases, reported the New York Times, which noted the steady increase in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990.

“The role of greenhouse gases on influencing global temperatures is well understood by scientists, but it’s a complicated topic that can be difficult to communicate,” the NOAA release states.

As explained by Climate Central, the index takes measurements of 20 key greenhouse gases from some 80 ships and observatories around the world and boils them down into a numerical index that defines the rise from 1700 to 1990 as 100 percent or 1. This year’s number, 1.4, shows that the direct influence of the gases on the climate has risen 140 percent since 1750; 40 percent of that increase has been realized since 1990. The increase is due mostly to human activities and has resulted in warming of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures.

This week NOAA announced that the first half of 2017 was the planet’s second-warmest, behind 2016, since the start of planetary temperature recordkeeping in 1880. A major El Niño, such as that experienced in 2016, tends to increase global temperatures. But as Earth’s temperature has risen because of greenhouse gases, an El Niño isn’t necessary to attain very high temperatures. Years with La Niñas, which tend to cool global temperatures, are today hotter than El Niño years several decades ago.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In an interview last week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott Pruitt said that the United States should “exit” the Paris Agreement—the first time such a high-ranking Trump administration official has so explicitly rejected the global accord to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Pruitt also vowed that the EPA would “roll back” the Clean Power Plan, a key component of former Obama administration’s plan to meet the U.S. pledge under the Paris Agreement, which calls for an emissions reduction of 26–28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

“Paris is something we need to look at closely,” Pruitt said. “It’s something we need to exit in my opinion. It’s a bad deal for America It’s an ‘America second, third or fourth’ kind of approach.”

Pruitt said that he would not risk U.S. jobs to comply with the agreement, the subject of a battle within the Trump administration—one that President Donald Trump’s most senior advisers are expected to resolve in the next few weeks (subscription).

Pruitt said that complying with the Paris Agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe and China and India. They are polluting far more than we are. We’re at pre-1994 levels with respect to our CO2 emissions.”

In total, only China emits more carbon dioxide than the United States, according to tracking data released by the World Resources Institute last week. Those data show that emissions from India and from the European Union are, respectively, one-half and two-thirds emissions from the United States. Moreover, on a per capita basis, the United States in 2015 produced two times more carbon dioxide emissions than China and eight times more than India.

How the Trump administration could actually exit the Paris Agreement, as Pruitt suggested, remains unclear. Under the agreement’s terms, it takes three years for a party to withdraw, followed by a one-year waiting period.

Pruitt followed up his interview with a proclamation of a new era of environmental deregulation in a speech at a coal mine fined for contaminating local waterways with toxic materials. There he said the EPA’s new “back to basics” agenda would give oversight of clean air and water to individual states and would bolster jobs in fossil fuel industries.

Study: Meeting Paris Agreement Goal Means World Has One Decade to Peak Emissions

The latest research establishing a timeline for phasing down fossil fuel consumption to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius—the more stringent of the two Paris Agreement temperature goals—finds that global carbon dioxide emissions need to peak within 10 years (subscription).

Net emissions could peak by 2022, the study in the journal Nature Communications shows, under a “high-renewable” scenario in which wind, solar and bioenergy increase by some 5 percent annually.

Overall, the analysis produced by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) suggests that, by 2100, fossil fuel consumption must likely be reduced to less than a quarter of primary energy supply. But if carbon-capture-and-storage technology coupled with bioenergy production is found to be unfeasible, uneconomical or too burdensome on ecosystems, the analysis suggests that the world may have to rely heavily on nascent “negative emissions” technology.

The authors did note one other opportunity to rein in emissions, suggesting that land use and agriculture might absorb more carbon dioxide than their model considered.

“The study shows that the combined energy and land-use system should deliver zero net anthropogenic emissions well before 2040 in order to assure the attainability of a 1.5°C target by 2100,” said Michael Obersteiner, IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program director and study coauthor.

The study is one of the first published results from the newly developed—and freely available—FeliX model, a system dynamics model of social, economic, and environmental Earth systems and their interdependencies.

“Compared to other climate and integrated assessment models, the FeliX model is less detailed, but it provides a unique systemic view of the whole carbon cycle, which is vital to our understanding of future climate change and energy,” said Obersteiner.

The day after the IIASA study was published, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration released data showing that March ranked as the second hottest on record for the planet. It followed the second hottest February and third hottest January on record.

Energy Department Orders Grid Study

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered a 60-day study of the U.S. power grid to determine whether policies that favor wind and solar energy—including a recently renewed production tax credit that helps offset the cost of wind and solar installations and, in some states, renewable power mandates—are speeding the decline of baseload coal and nuclear power plants and potentially hampering grid reliability.

In an April 14 memo to his chief of staff, Perry wrote that grid experts have “highlighted the diminishing diversity of our nation’s electric generation mix and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience.”

The memo orders consideration of “the extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants,” among other things.

Travis Fisher, a senior advisor in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, has been tapped to head the study. Greenwire reported that Fisher has made several public statements through interviews, op-eds and blog posts in which he warned that federal regulations, the wind production tax credit and state renewable mandates were threatening grid reliability.

Electricity regulators are already examining how state policies might be affecting regional electricity markets and grid reliability, reports Bloomberg. Next month the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will hold a technical conference to consider state and federal jurisdictional battles over electricity markets, along with state programs that direct credits to renewable energy and zero-emission power.

In laying out her vision for the conference, FERC’s acting chair, Cheryl LaFleur, said that she hopes for a negotiated solution to wholesale power market issues.

“As I see it, there are three potential outcomes that we could achieve here, and the first is some kind of negotiated or planned solution—in my mind, the best option for stakeholders in different regions,” said LaFleur, who also mentioned litigation and re-regulation.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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.

Carbon Tax Not on Agenda for Trump

On March 23, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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.”

The WMO says the Arctic has experienced the “polar equivalent of a heatwave” at least three times this winter, while Antarctic sea ice has been at a record low.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump announced in Detroit Wednesday that standards requiring automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 will be reviewed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the standards as a single program alongside the Department of Transportation’s fuel economy rules, popularly known as Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards. They were put in place by the Obama administration not only to eliminate atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide but also to save a projected 12 billion barrels of oil.

Last year, the Obama administration speedily conducted a midterm review of whether the stricter 2022-2025 targets would be achievable. The review, which was required to be complete by 2018, found that the industry could easily meet the stricter standards.

“Today I am announcing we are going to cancel that executive action,” said Trump. “We are going to restore the originally scheduled midterm review and we are going to ensure any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories. We’re going to be fair.”

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt added that the standards “are costly for automakers and the American people,” noting that the EPA will work with the Department of Transportation “to take a fresh look to determine if this approach is realistic.”

Rolling back the standards will take more than a year of legal and regulatory reviews by the EPA and the Department of Transportation, The New York Times reports.

Trump did not take steps Wednesday to revoke a waiver that allows California and a dozen other states to enforce emissions standards more stringent than those of the EPA, Reuters reports. If those regulations remain intact, automakers will still be compelled to produce more fuel-efficient cars regardless of any changes at the federal level.

Pruitt: Let Congress Figure Out If the EPA Should Regulate Carbon Dioxide

In the same CNBC interview in which he doubted the contribution of carbon dioxide to global warming, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt said Congress, not his own agency, should decide whether the EPA has the power to regulate greenhouse gases.

“Nowhere in the equation has Congress spoken,” said Pruitt. “The legislative branch has not addressed this issue at all. It’s a very fundamental question to say, ‘Are the tools in the toolbox available to the EPA to address this issue of CO2, as the court had recognized in 2007, with it being a pollutant?’”

The comment appeared to be a reference to Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the Supreme Court found that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act. That ruling prompted the EPA to promulgate the first-ever greenhouse gas regulations for motor vehicles.

Taking a legislative approach, reports  ClimateWire, would get around a protracted rulemaking process and legal challenges that might beset efforts to rewrite federal regulations addressing climate change (subscription). Congress could instead simply change the definition of an air pollutant to exclude carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, putting into question a range of federal regulations from the Clean Power Plan to fuel economy standards.

That’s the intent of the Stopping EPA Overreach Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives introduced last week. H.R. 637 would amend the Clean Air Act so that the term ‘air pollutant’ does not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride.

The proposal would nullify the EPA’s regulation of carbon pollution, stating that “no federal agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under current law” and “no attempt to regulate greenhouse gases should be undertaken without further Congressional action.”

The bill would also repeal the Clean Power Plan and a rule setting methane emission standards for oil and gas operations. If it were to become law, legal recourse would be unlikely because the Clean Air Act would be explicitly rewritten.

This week, 17 Republicans re-introduced a resolution acknowledging the problem of global warming.

Trump Unveils $1.1 Trillion Budget; Signs Another Executive Order

President Donald Trump unveiled his 2018 discretionary spending budget proposal Thursday, one that reduces many federal agency budgets. The largest cut of 31 percent is to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The move will result in the loss of 3,200 positions, or more than 20 percent of the EPA’s workforce, and terminates more than 50 EPA programs. It defunds the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide from existing fossil-fuel-fired power plants, and the Energy Star Program, which identifies and promotes energy efficiency in products.

“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it. So, I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “The president wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they overreach, and the budget reflects that.”

The budget is only an outline, as Congress has the authority to set government spending levels and appropriate money.

Stating that he couldn’t “in good conscience be supportive” of the Trump administration’s major cuts to the EPA budget, Mustafa Ali stepped down as head of the EPA’s environmental justice office, which he helped found in 1992 to alleviate the impact of air, water and industrial pollution on poverty-stricken areas.

In a lengthy letter, Ali urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt not to kill the agency’s programs as Pruitt prepares to dismantle many in response to the Trump administration’s 2018 budget blueprint.
Setting the stage for the historic downsizing of federal agencies and the federal workforce in the budget proposal was an executive order signed Monday that requires government agencies to make themselves lean. The new White House review effort, the Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch, could identify additional areas for cuts within the EPA and the Department of Energy and Department of the Interior.

“Today there is duplication and redundancy everywhere,” said Trump. “This order requires a thorough examination of every executive department and agency to see where money is being wasted, how services can be improved and whether programs are truly serving American citizens.”

The order directs Mulvaney to “propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies … components of agencies and agency programs,” according to the White House. Agency heads have 180 days to submit a reorganization plan.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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,

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.