The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court Suspends Litigation on Methane Leaks Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Evaluating Stance on Paris Agreement

On April 27, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Administration officials are reported to be meeting at the White House today to deliberate on whether the United States should stay in or exit the Paris Agreement, the global accord to address global warming.

Although candidate Trump said he would “cancel” U.S. participation, eight Republican House colleagues are urging President Trump to take a different route, weakening the Obama-era emissions reduction commitment and taking other steps to bolster domestic industries (subscription). They argue that the underlying United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which covers nearly all the world’s countries, and the Paris deal, which has been ratified by more than 140 parties, have become international energy forums—participation in which gives the United States a platform for advancing domestic energy, including coal, interests. Energy Secretary Rick Perry favors a treaty renegotiation, although how that would be accomplished remains unclear. Two other administration officials appear divided on the deal: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States should remain a party to the agreement, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt has said the country should exit it.

If the United States does stay in the Paris accord—Trump’s decision is expected in May—the Washington Post projects that it is unlikely to meet its pledge under the agreement to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, because the policies that made the pledge possible are being dismantled.

On “CBS This Morning” Monday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Charles Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club, offered a more optimistic view. Given recent emissions reductions and leadership from cities and states, Bloomberg suggested that the United States will meet the Paris goals. 

Study: Climate Change Increased Odds of Some Extreme Heat, Wet and Dry Periods

The latest research in the emerging field of climate science called “extreme event attribution” finds links between a warming climate and record-setting weather events. A paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first to present a four-step framework for testing such links for Earth’s hottest, wettest, and driest events in recent decades. Using a computer model and statistical analyses of climate observations, the authors concluded that climate change had increased the odds of a record-breaking heat in 85 percent of the surface area of the Earth that they studied.

“The world is not yet at a place where every single record-setting hot event has a human fingerprint, but we are getting close to that point,” said lead author Diffenbaugh of Stanford University. “Greater than 80 percent of those record hot events is a substantial fraction.”

The researchers also found that climate change had increased the probability of the driest year on record in 57 percent of the observed areas and that of the wettest five-day period in each of these areas by 41 percent (subscription).

Climate scientists typically examine potential links between warming of Earth and extreme weather events such as heatwaves or downpours on a case-by-case basis. But the group led by Diffenbaugh developed a more global, comprehensive approach to investigating such links.

The team first examined the historical weather trend without factoring in climate models and then asked whether the severity or the odds of a record-setting weather event had changed (subscription). It used climate models to determine whether the odds of an event changed after factoring in the effect of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. When the climate model simulations were consistent with the real-world data, and when the likelihood of extreme events increased in those simulations, the team determined that global warming had probably been influential.

One of the research’s high-profile test cases was the record-low Arctic sea ice cover observed in September 2012. In that instance, the research revealed overwhelming statistical evidence that global warming contributed to the severity and probability of the low ice.

March Highlights Concerns about Science Budget Cuts, Climate Change

On Earth Day, tens of thousands of scientists and science advocates rallied in Washington, D.C., and at some 600 other sites around the world at the first-ever March for Science. The event organized by the Earth Day Network was intended to encourage policy makers to use scientific evidence to craft legislation, adopting policies consistent with the scientific consensus on climate change and other issues.

Among the featured speakers at the march endorsed by major science advocacy groups and publishers, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union, was Christiana Figueres, a key architect of the Paris Agreement, a global accord to limit global warming increases.

The official march website said the event was meant to reaffirm “the vital role science plays in our democracy.” It asserted that “Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone—without exception. Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.”

Although organizers said the event was non-partisan, Reuters reported that many marchers were in effect protesting President Trump’s stance on climate change and his proposal to make deep cuts to agencies funding scientists’ work.

Although Trump did not react to the March on Science, he did release a statement recognizing Earth Day. “Rigorous science is critical to my administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” said the president. “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks.”

On April 29, the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities will again highlight calls for action on climate change.

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

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.

Fate of the Clean Power Plan Remains Uncertain

On January 5, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last month, a 24-state coalition led by Texas and West Virginia state attorneys general—leading litigators in the fight against the Clean Power Plan—penned a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump asking him to issue an order to stop working to enforce the rule to reduce emissions from existing power plants. More recently, officials from states and several cities have sent a letter countering this earlier advice, and instead urged Trump to preserve the rule and continue defending it in court.

The Clean Power Plan is presently stayed while a 10-judge panel reviews a legal challenge. A decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rare “en banc” review is expected this year.

“We advocate that you reject misguided advice that the Clean Power Plan be discarded; advice that, if followed, would assuredly lead to more litigation,” the latest letter reads. “Instead, we urge you to support the defense of this critically-important rule and the implementation of its carefully constructed strategies to reduce emissions from the nation’s largest sources.”

If politics or litigation forces the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use other authorities under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a new working paper by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the University of North Carolina’s Center for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Energy says the EPA might consider using the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program.

“The language of the Clean Air Act gives the EPA a lot of flexibility to enact a program for greenhouse gases,” said Christina Reichert, a Nicholas Institute policy counsel who co-authored the paper.

The paper examines the opportunities and challenges associated with regulation of greenhouse gases under the NAAQS program, drawing a comparison with the Clean Power Plan’s approach under a different section of the Clean Air Act. Though a program under NAAQS wouldn’t mirror the Clean Power Plan, it could support many of its key provisions, including trading-ready plans. Although use of the NAAQS program would present challenges—such as permitting small sources—it is feasible, say the paper authors.

Climate Policy and Trump

In December, the Electoral College confirmed the presidency of Donald Trump. With just weeks before his inauguration, ClimateWire took a look back at the Paris Agreement, the Clean Power Plan, and other highlights of climate policy in 2016, and other media outlets contemplated what 2017 holds.

Mongabay’s Mike Gaworecki lays out eight issues to watch, including whether the Trump administration will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. And Nicholas Institute, Harvard, and University of North Carolina researchers outlined six key areas of federal policy and, for each area, identified the issues Trump must address that will shape the future of the electricity sector. This month, we’re awaiting Senate hearings for some of Trump’s environmental picks—Scott Pruitt (presently slated to lead the EPA) and Rex Tillerson (tapped as secretary of state).

Ahead of his senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 11, Rex Tillerson cashed out of his Exxon Mobil CEO post.

Study: Flood Risk Pattern Changing with Warming Climate

According to research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the threat of flooding in the northern half of the United States is growing as the Earth warms.

Using stream gauge data and satellite images, two University of Iowa scientists found that this pattern is likely due to shifting rainfall patterns and the amount of water in the ground. The study’s 2,042 stream gauge readings between 1985 and 2015 showed a measurable increase in the number of flood events in the north over the last 30 years.

“It’s almost like a separation where generally flood risk is increasing in the upper half of the U.S. and decreasing in the lower half,” said study co-author Gabriele Villarini in reference to the finding that satellite data showed groundwater increasing in the north and decreasing in the Southwest and western U.S., regions that are experiencing prolonged droughts. “It’s not a uniform pattern, and we want to understand why we see this difference.”

Although the authors have yet to identify the reasons that some areas are getting more, or less, rainfall than others, they believe that rains may be redistributed as regional climate changes.

The researchers hope that their findings could change communication of changing flood patterns, which typically have been described in terms of stream flow, or the amount of water flowing per unit of time.

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 Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The possible energy agenda for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is described in a memo prepared by Trump’s energy transition head Thomas Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance and the Institute for Energy Research. It highlights a “pro-energy and pro-market policies” agenda. At the top of the list of 14 policy changes is withdrawal from the Paris Agreement—the international agreement to limit global warming by cutting global carbon emissions—and the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce emissions from existing U.S. power plants.

“In response to Massachusetts v. EPA, the Obama administration found that greenhouse gas emissions harmed human health and welfare,” the memo states. “This is the regulatory predicate to the Obama administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates and Clean Power Plan and greatly expanded EPA’s power. This finding will be reconsidered and possibly revoked, marking a major blow to underpinning for many climate regulations.”

Also targeted in the memo is lifting of the coal lease moratorium, expediting approvals of LNG export terminals, moving forward with pipeline infrastructure, reassessing the environmental impacts of wind energy, reducing energy subsidies, amending the Renewable Fuel Standard, increasing federal oil and natural gas leasing and relaxing the federal fuel economy standards. Ending federal agencies’ use of the social cost of carbon—an estimate of the damage avoided from marginal reductions of carbon dioxide—when weighing the costs and benefits of new energy and environmental regulations is also mentioned.

“The Obama administration aggressively used the social cost of carbon (SCC) to help justify their regulations,” the memo states. “During the Trump Administration the SCC will likely be reviewed and the latest science brought to bear. If the SCC were subjected to the latest science, it would certainly be much lower than what the Obama administration has been using.”

The social cost of carbon also came up in another document suggestive of the future of U.S. energy policy—a questionnaire sent by Trump’s transition team to the Department of Energy that asked agency officials to identify employees and contractors who have played a role in promoting President Obama’s climate agenda, including those who worked on forging the Paris Agreement and on domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output and those who attended interagency meetings on the social cost of carbon.

Among the transition’s requests in the 74-item questionnaire, reports NPR, are e-mails about domestic and international climate talks, money spent on loan-guarantee programs for renewable energy, and names of the 20 highest-paid employees at the DOE’s national laboratories. The Energy Department on Tuesday said it would not comply with requests for names.

Trump Nominates Tillerson as Secretary of State; Perry to Lead Department of Energy

On Tuesday, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump nominated Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the Department of State—the most senior U.S. diplomat position, one responsible for enacting the U.S. government’s foreign policy (subscription).

“Mr. Tillerson knows how to manage a global organization and successfully navigate the complex architecture of world affairs and diverse foreign leaders. As Secretary of State, he will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world,” said Trump of the Texas native who has been with Exxon since graduating from the University of Texas in 1975.

The 64-year-old Tillerson has no experience in government or working as a diplomat and his position on climate change may be left of Trump’s. As the Washington Post reports, Exxon understood the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels in the 70s but only fairly recently (under Tillerson’s watch) did the company publicly acknowledge the link.

For Tillerson to win Senate approval of his nomination, he will need to counter some concerns from lawmakers in both parties about ties to Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Specifically, some have expressed unease about his opposition to U.S. sanctions in Russia, which awarded him a friendship medal in 2013.

Also, on Tuesday, Rick Perry, former Texas governor, was tapped to head the Department of Energy as secretary. Perry, who once said he would eliminate the department when he ran for president in 2012, would replace Ernest Moniz, who has been energy secretary under the Obama administration since 2013.

Arctic Report Card: Warming Continues

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual Arctic Report Card suggests a persistent warming trend and loss of sea ice that’s triggering extensive changes in the region.

“We’ve seen a year in 2016 in the Arctic like we’ve never seen before,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program. The year showed “a stronger, more pronounced signal of persistent warming than any other year in our observation record.”

What changes are scientists observing? To name a few: The spring snow cover this year in the North American Arctic was the lowest since the satellite record began in 1967, and the average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2016 is by far the highest since 1900. Scientists are seeing temperature spikes during months when little, if any, sunshine is reaching the surface of the Arctic.

“Those are the periods when the Arctic should be really cold,” Mathis said. “It’s one thing for the summers to be warmer, but this is [a new] trend of the winter months setting record temperatures.”

And due to water temperatures that are colder than those further south, the Arctic Ocean is especially prone to ocean acidification. The report describes how Arctic sea ice has become younger and thinner, causing patches of dark open water to absorb more solar rays that warm the water.

It indicates the changes are influenced by long-term increases not only in global carbon dioxide, but also in air temperatures—as well as with natural seasonal and regional variability.

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.

Donald Trump Meets with Al Gore

On December 8, 2016, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Just a few weeks after U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, a critic of climate change science, told New York Times journalists he had an “open mind” on climate change, he and his daughter Ivanka met with former vice president and climate advocate Al Gore.

“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” said Gore of Trump. “It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting beforehand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued.”

Though Trump and Gore’s topic of discussion wasn’t directly referenced in his statement, it is speculated that climate change was on the list. The Washington Post reports that an aide to Gore, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the former vice president “made clear in his statements following the election that he intended to do everything he could to work with the president-elect to ensure our nation remains a leader in the effort to address the climate crisis.”

Regarding the meeting with Ivanka, however, Gore was more forthcoming.

“It’s no secret that Ivanka Trump is very committed to having a climate policy that makes sense for our country and for our world,” Gore said. “And that was certainly evident in the conversation that I had with her before the conversation with the President-elect.”

Trump’s EPA: Leader Tapped

U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump has tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to replace current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. The nomination seems to follow with Trump’s campaign promises to rollback EPA regulations.

“For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn,” said Trump in a statement. “As my EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, the highly respected Attorney General from the state of Oklahoma, will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”

Pruitt, whose biography indicates he is a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” offered that he intends to run the EPA in a way that “fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

Pruitt was one of two rumored candidates for this post who have called for significant rollbacks in regulations. He has sued the EPA over its regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. In an interview with Reuters in September, Pruitt said that he sees the Clean Power Plan as a form of federal “coercion and commandeering” of energy policy and that his state should have “sovereignty to make decisions for its own markets.”

Warming Could Dramatically Increase Soil Carbon Losses 

A study published last week in the journal Nature documents how carbon loss in soil worsens climate change. The 25-year study finds that as the planet warms, the respiration of microorganisms in soils increases, releasing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The scientists’ compilation of 49 empirical studies of soil carbon emissions from plots around the world revealed that climate change will lead to the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century.

“It’s of the same order of magnitude as having an extra U.S. on the planet,” said Thomas Crowther, a co-author with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.

The study found that carbon losses will be greatest in colder places at high latitudes and altitudes—places that have massive carbon stocks but that have largely been missing from previous research.

The researchers note that their global mid-century total for soil carbon emissions is a gross figure, not the net after uptake by above-ground plants.

Correction: In last week’s story about an Arctic Council report on climate and other changes in the Arctic, we should have said that temperatures in the region had reached 9–12 degrees Celsius (16–22 degrees Fahrenheit) above seasonal averages.

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 Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Climate-change-related environmental, ecological, and social changes in the Arctic are accelerating and are more extreme than ever recorded, undermining the sustainability of current ways of life in the region and potentially destabilizing climate and ecosystems around the world, according to a five-year report released last week by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organization formed to protect the region.

“Arctic social and biophysical systems are deeply intertwined with our planet’s social and biophysical systems, so rapid, dramatic and unexpected changes in this sensitive region are likely to be felt elsewhere,” the report states. “As we are often reminded, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

The report noted that the Greenland Ice Sheet, which was thought to be resistant to climate change, is experiencing higher-than-expected thinning “over time scales of only years” due to warmer temperatures caused by climate change and that if it melts completely, global sea levels would rise an average of 7.4 meters.

The report outlines 19 “regime shifts” under way or on the horizon absent efforts to halt them. They range from sea-ice-free summers to ocean circulation changes and collapse of some Arctic fisheries.

“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the co-authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”

Trump Transition: EPA Prospects

Just days after stating his “open mind” to confronting climate change, president-elect Donald Trump was meeting with potential prospects to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would align with his campaign promises to roll back agency regulations.

Two rumored EPA leaders who have called for a significant rollback in regulations—Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and former Texas environmental regulator Kathleen Hartnett White—were scheduled to meet with Trump this week.

In an interview with McClatchy, White confirmed her consideration for the post, which she says she would take on with a new approach to address a “shifting environmental landscape.” White also shared details of her conversation with Trump.

“He wants the EPA to run more carefully, to use stronger science and be unabashedly conscientious to the effect of more and more rules on existing employment and job creation,” she said. “I have no desire to put words in his mouth. But as he is in other areas, he likes a good deal.”

Climate Change Conference in Marrakech Concludes

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22), which brought nearly 200 countries together to hammer out the details of last year’s Paris Agreement, concluded last month. What exactly came out of the two-week conference?

  • A timeline for implementing the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries participating in COP22 decided to complete detail setting for the agreement by 2018 and to review progress in 2017.
  • The Marrakech Action Proclamation. The one-page document reaffirms countries’ commitments to the Paris Agreement’s goals following the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. On the campaign trail, Trump stated intentions to end U.S. involvement in the agreement.
  • Forty-eight of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries pledged to turn in more ambitious targets to Paris before 2020 and to shift to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050.
  • An agreement to continue the discussion on climate finance. There’s still uncertainty surroundingthe pathway to mobilizing $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, to establishing rules for reporting finance, and to scaling up adaptation finance.
  • Nations also agreed on a five-year work-plan on “loss and damage” to address issues beyond climate adaptation like slow-onset impacts of climate change, non-economic losses and migration.

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 Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next week, Thursday, November 24, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return Thursday, December 1.

A speech by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during the second week of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) focused, in part, on president-elect Donald Trump and his views on climate change. He tried to dispel doubts about the new U.S. government’s policies, saying it is a little bit “different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail.”

“The president-elect is going to have to make his decision,” said Kerry of Trump, who vowed while campaigning to withdraw the United States from the global Paris Agreement now under negotiation at COP22. “What I will do is speak to the assembly about our efforts and what we’re engaged in and why we’re engaged in it, and our deep commitment as the American people to this effort.”

He noted that the United States “is on our way to meeting all of our climate commitments,” and that the primary driver of emissions reduction is marketplace forces. “Investing in clean energy simply makes economic sense … [clean energy] is a multi-trillion dollar market, the largest the world has ever known.”

But he also acknowledged that even though the Paris Agreement came into force Nov. 4, there is no guarantee that its critical goals—holding the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius—will be met. He noted that, although government leadership will be essential, governments alone won’t solve the climate crisis and that private industry is more important than ever.

“And if we fall short, it will be the greatest instance in modern history of a generation in a time of crisis, abdicating responsibility for the future,” Kerry said. “And it won’t just be a policy failure; because of the nature of this challenge, it will be a moral failure, a betrayal of devastating consequence.”

CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels, Industry Flattening

A new study suggests that for the third consecutive year carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry have risen negligibly amid global economic growth, a slowdown driven by China. According to the study released at United Nations talks on climate change in Marrakesh, Morocco, and published in the journal Earth System Science Data, these emissions will grow by just 0.2 percent overall this year but will continue to rise in emerging economies.

“2016 we estimate to be flat again,” said Glen Peters, one of the contributors to the research and a scientist at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo in Norway. “It’s definitely three years, it’s fairly flat, which is quite a contrast to a decade ago, when it was growing at about 3 percent. It’s really leveled out the last few years.”

The decrease in Chinese emissions is particularly significant because China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter, accounting for some 30 percent of the world’s annual global emissions, though whether that decrease is due mainly to economic troubles or to environmental efforts is uncertain.

Like Chinese emissions, U.S. emissions have also fallen, a downward trend that began in 2007. According to the study, they were down 2.5 percent in 2015 and are projected to drop 1.7 percent this year due to lowered demand for coal.

Nevertheless, the leveling off falls short of the reductions called for in the Paris Agreement, implementation details of which are being hammered out during the second week of the U.N.’s COP22 in Marrakech.

“The break in emissions rise is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough,” said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at University of East Anglia and primary study author. “Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing. If climate negotiators in Marrakech can leverage ambitions for further cuts in emissions, we could be making a serious start to addressing climate change.”

According to a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report, implementing current international pledges will slow the projected rise in carbon emissions from 650 million tons per year in 2000 to 150 million tons in 2040 but put the world far off the Paris Agreement goals.

“While this (reduction) is a significant achievement, it is far from enough to avoid the worst impact of climate change as it would only limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2.7 (degrees Celsius) by 2100,” said the IEA.

Study Says Climate Change is Altering Earth’s Ecological Systems

A new study in the journal Science suggests that climate change is already having an impact on 82 percent of global ecological systems—affecting everything from genes to entire ecosystems. This impact could increase disease outbreaks and threaten food security.

“There is now clear evidence that, with only a ~1 degree C of warming globally, very major impacts are already being felt,” said co-author Brett Scheffers of the University of Florida. “Genes are changing, species’ physiology and physical features such as body size are changing, species are rapidly moving to keep track of suitable climate space, and there are now signs of entire ecosystems under stress.”

The study also indicates that the adaptive capacity in wildlife could be used applied to crops, livestock and fisheries.

“The level of change we have observed is quite astonishing considering we have only experienced a relatively small amount of climate change to date,” said study co-author James Watson from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Queensland. “It is no longer sensible to consider this a concern for the future. Policy makers and politicians must accept that if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions, an environmental catastrophe is likely.”

This study comes as nations discuss the Paris Agreement and the need to plan for its implementation.

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 Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, enters into force Friday. Just three days later, the Twenty-Second Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22), kicks off in Marrakech, Morocco. But, discussion of fundamental issues of the Paris Agreement’s implementation such as transparency rules, climate finance or pre-2020 carbon cuts may be overshadowed—at least in the first few days—by the results of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election reports Climate Home.

When it comes to implementing the Paris Agreement, there’s a lot of negotiating left.

“Whilst Paris’ entry into force is great news it’s a bit of a shock for negotiators who weren’t expecting it for a few years yet,” said Camilla Born, a policy advisor at E3G. “Decisions on how the sequencing will work now that particular landmark has been brought forward will be made and negotiators will begin work on the rulebook in earnest. The rulebook will be crucial to ensure that countries are able to consistently track progress and create the best foundation for securing upward ambition moving forward.”

So what exactly is left to decide? For one, financing. There’s still uncertainty surrounding the pathway to mobilizing $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, the rules for reporting finance, and how to scale up adaptation finance.

A new report published by the Harvard Belfer Center features a collection of expert briefs—two penned by colleagues at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions—that addresses the opportunities for, and challenges to, elaborating, implementing, and complementing the Paris Agreement.

Study Highlights Significance of Limiting Warming for Mediterranean

According to a study published in the journal Science, southern Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean region could become a desert by 2100 absent efforts to sharply limit global average warming.

The authors reached that conclusion on the basis of historical vegetation data and computer models, which they used to forecast the likely impact of climate change on the region under four greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, including two scenarios reflecting the two ends of the Paris Agreement’s global warming limit range—1.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They found that the region would avoid desertification only if global warming remains at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. Average global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times.

“With 2 degrees of warming, for the Mediterranean we will have a change in the vegetation which has never been known in the past 10,000 years,” said lead author Joel Guiot of Aix-Marseille University.

“The main message is really to maintain at less than 1.5C,” he added. “For that, we need to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases very quickly, and start the decreasing now, and not by 2020, and to arrive at zero emissions by 2050 and not by the end of the century.”

Sea Level Rise May be Underestimated

The longest and highest-quality records of historical ocean water levels may have underestimated the amount of global average sea level rise that occurred during the 20th century, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“It’s not that there’s something wrong with the instruments or the data,” said Phillip Thompson, associate director of the University of Hawaii Sea Level Center in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, Manoa, “but for a variety of reasons, sea level does not change at the same pace everywhere at the same time. As it turns out, our best historical sea level records tend to be located where 20th century sea level rise was most likely less than the true global average.”

The authors, from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Hawaii, suggest it is “highly unlikely” global average sea level rose less than 5.5 inches during the 20th century—most likely rise was closer to 6.7 inches.

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.