The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will not circulate next Thursday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return November 30.

Although the world’s greenhouse gas emissions leveled out between 2014 and 2016, new studies presented this week at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, suggest that emissions will rise 2 percent in 2017.

“The temporary hiatus appears to have ended in 2017,” wrote Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who along with colleagues at the Global Carbon Project tracked 2017 emissions to date and projected them forward in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Economic projections suggest further emissions growth in 2018 is likely,” wrote the authors.

The primary driver of the rising emissions increase is a 3.5 percent increase in China’s emissions due to decreased use of hydropower and an uptick in coal use. India is expected to see a 2 percent rise in emissions. Meanwhile, the United States, the world’s second largest emitter behind China, is projected to experience a 0.4 percent decline in emissions.

The studies add urgency to the efforts of those in Bonn to negotiate the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the global treaty that aims to limit global warming. Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the Global Carbon Budget 2017 study and director of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, said the timeframe for meeting Paris Agreement targets is shortening: “Our expectations had always been that emissions would grow, but perhaps not as steeply as this.

“With global CO2 emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5C,” Le Quéré added.

COP 23: Coal, Finances, and Subnational Support

As signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) finish the second week of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, their focus remains on hammering out the details of the Paris Agreement, the global treaty aiming 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.

How exactly the needed actions will be financed is yet to be seen.

“We need all financial players—public, private, domestic, international—and including markets and regulators, to work together effectively to mobilize at least $1.5 trillion in climate finance that is needed every year,” said Eric Usher, head of Finance Initiative at the U.N. Environment Programme.

Now that the United States is the only country not supporting the Paris Agreement—President Donald Trump announced in June that it would withdraw from the agreement—the administration’s only appearance at the conference focused on fossil fuels.

George D. Banks, special adviser to President Trump on international energy issues, led a panel with top American energy executives, offering that “without question, fossil fuels will continue to be used, and we would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure when fossil fuels are used that they be as clean and efficient as possible. This panel is controversial only if we choose to bury our heads in the sand.”

Despite the Trump administration’s stance on the agreement, U.S. states and cities are looking to take action on climate change. This week, 20 states and 50 cities signed a pledge to abide by the emissions reduction targets of the Paris agreement.

“It is important for the world to know, the American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us,” former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said in Bonn.

The group is vowing to take measures, such as reducing coal-fired power and investing in renewable energy and efficiency, which would substantially reduce its carbon output.

Study: A Warming Planet Makes Harvey-like Storms More Likely

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, some researchers pointed to the increased likelihood of extreme rain events as the planet warms, but a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes further. It supports the idea that the specific risk of such events is already on the upswing because of humans’ contributions to climate change. According to the study author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, since the end of the 20th century, global warming has helped increase the annual likelihood of Harvey-like rainfall in Texas by 6 percent. By century end, that probability could rise to 18 percent.

To better understand how climate change is skewing those odds, Emanuel generated 3,700 computerized storms for each of the three climate models used in the study. He situated Texas storms in the climates of the years from 1980 to 2016. In these climates, he found that an event producing 20 inches of rain was extremely rare. When he performed a similar analysis in the projected climates of the years 2080 to 2100, Harvey’s 33 inches of rain in Houston became a once-in-a-100-year event, rather than a once-in-a-2,000-year event, and for Texas as a whole, the odds increased from once in 100 years to once every 5.5 years.

“The changes in probabilities are because of global warming,” Emanuel said.

In the study, global warming helped slow hurricanes by pushing land and ocean temperatures closer together, leading to the kind of longevity witnessed with Harvey, but the other and greater effect of that warming is the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture.

“If [general circulation] slows down, then places near the coast will get more rain,” Emanuel said. “But the main reason our technique shows increasing rainfall is that there’s more water in the air.”

The significance of this study, Emmanuel noted, is to alert city planners to the changing probabilities of large-scale hurricanes in Texas.

“It is important for those people who will rebuild Houston and rethink its infrastructure to understand the magnitude of the risk and how it will change over time,” he said.

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.

IEA: Universal Energy Access Achievable by 2030

On October 26, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A new analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the number of people without electricity fell from 1.6 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2016—and that the most cost-effective strategy for lowering that number is compatible with the demands of global climate change goals. The analysis, which looked at 140 developing countries, concludes that universal energy access is possible by 2030 and that solar technology will be the linchpin of the effort.

“Providing electricity for all by 2030 would require annual investment of $52 billion per year, more than twice the level mobilized under current and planned policies,” the IEA analysis reports. “Of the additional investment, 95% needs to be directed to sub-Saharan Africa. In our Energy for All Case, most of the additional investment in power plants goes to renewables. Detailed geospatial modeling suggests that decentralized systems, led by solar photovoltaic in off-grid systems and mini-grids, are the least-cost solution for three-quarters of the additional connections needed in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Although coal supplied 45 percent of energy access between 2000 and 2016, its role in new access will shrink to 16 percent, according to the report. Meanwhile, renewables are poised to take the leading role, growing from 34 percent of the supply over the last five years to 60 percent by 2030. The reason: they are becoming cheaper, and the hardest-to-reach people live where off-grid solutions offer the lowest cost.

The biggest gains in access will be experienced by developing countries in Asia, particularly India, which could achieve universal energy access by 2020. But 674 million people, nearly 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa, will remain without electricity even after 2030, the report said.

The IEA report underscores the central role of energy in meeting human and economic development goals. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 by 193 countries is to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030.

PJM Opposed to Department of Energy Directive

More than 500 comments—some hundreds of pages long—were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by Monday’s deadline following Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s September directive to FERC to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in wholesale power markets. The change proposed by Perry would mandate that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid.

The largest grid operator, the PJM Interconnection, in comments asked regulators to reject the directive, calling the plan “unworkable.”

“I don’t know how this proposal could be implemented without a detrimental impact on the market,” said Andrew Ott, who heads up PJM Interconnection, noting that PJM feels Perry’s proposal is “discriminatory” and inconsistent with federal law.

Ahead of Monday’s comment period, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute hosted a webinar for state regulators explaining the legal and market implications of Perry’s directive.

FERC is allowing to Nov. 7 for parties to file responses to the initial comments.

Senate Committee Approves Trump EPA Nominees

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a 11 to 10 party line vote, on Wednesday advanced President Donald Trump’s nomination of Michael Dourson and William Wehrum to the full Senate where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can schedule a vote for confirmation. Dourson, a University of Cincinnati professor, longtime toxicologist and former EPA employee, is being considered to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office of chemical safety and pollution prevention. Wehrum, who currently serves as partner and head of the administrative law group at Hunton & Williams—a practice focused on air quality issues—is slated for the post of assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of air and radiation.

The two nominees were questioned at a confirmation hearing Tuesday where much focus was placed on Dourson’s post as a special advisor at the EPA and his duties associated with that role. Committee Democrats questioned whether Dourson was violating the law by working at the EPA prior to being confirmed.

“Your appointment creates the appearance, and perhaps the effect, of circumventing the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent responsibility for the position to which you have been nominated,” 10 Democrats wrote in a letter to Dourson, warning that it would be “unlawful” for him to assume the duties of the position to which he’s been nominated.

Wehrum’s hearing, which was held earlier this month, focused in part on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—a program managed by the office of air and radiation.

“The RFS is a very complex program, and there are extensive provisions within the law that govern how it should be implemented, and even more extensive regulations that EPA has adopted,” Wehrum said. “So, I have to say I know a bit about the RFS. I don’t know everything about the RFS. So, I said this before, but I really mean it. If confirmed, part of what I need to do is fully understand the program and part of what I need to do is fully understand your concern, and I commit to you that I will do that senator.”

The other nominees approved by the committee are Matthew Leopold for assistant administrator for the Office of General Counsel, and David Ross, for the Office of Water.

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.

Trump Nominates CEQ Lead

On October 19, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Donald Trump last week nominated Kathleen Hartnett White, a former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) commissioner, to serve as head of the Council on Environmental Quality. If confirmed, White who is presently a distinguished senior fellow in residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, would head a key White House office that coordinates environmental and energy policies across the government.

Prior to Governor Rick Perry’s appointment of White to the TCEQ in 2001, she served as then Gov. George Bush’s appointee to the Texas Water Development Board. She has served on the Texas Economic Development Commission and the Environmental Flows Study Commission and sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Regulatory Science, the Texas Emission Reduction Advisory Board, and the Texas Water Foundation.

Nomination of White, originally a contender to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seems to follow the pattern of other Trump cabinet members: she denies climate change and has questioned the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At the Texas Public Policy Foundation, White works on the Fueling Freedom project, which seeks to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels.” In a Q&A with the Orlando Sentinel she discussed the superiority of fossil fuels over renewables.

“At this point in time, there are no alternative energy sources capable of providing the endless goods and services that fossil fuels now handily provide,” said White. “Our abundant, concentrated, affordable, versatile, reliable, storable and controllable energy from fossil fuels is far superior to renewable energy . . . Adding more and more variable, uncontrollable renewables to the electric grid will serve only to necessitate backup power from reliable coal or natural gas to stabilize the mix.”

FERC Chairman Speaks on Department of Energy Directive

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry has received criticism from lawmakers and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) staff following last month’s proposal that FERC establish reliability and resilience pricing for certain power plants in regional trading organization markets.

“This proposal is just a first step in seeking to ensure that we truly have an energy policy that first and foremost protects the interests of the American people,” Perry told the House Energy Subcommittee about the change that would mandate increased payments for plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies. “Following the recommendations of the Staff Report, the department is continuing to study these issues and, if, necessary, will be prepared to make a series of additional recommendations to improve the reliability and resiliency of the grid.”

Neil Chatterjee, acting FERC chairman, pledged not to “blow up the market” as FERC acts in the prescribed 60-day window on the proposed rule, which would benefit coal and nuclear plants and which some have said could upset decades of electricity market reform.

Chatterjee suggested to GreenWire that FERC could do an advance notice of proposed rulemaking or a notice of proposed rulemaking superseding the DOE proposal. FERC could also extend the comment period, convene technical conferences, or initiate Federal Power Act Section 206 review proceedings.

“There are many tools available to the commission to act within 60 days to address and put a process in place … determining whether or not there are attributes that need to be properly valued, in a legally defensible manner, that doesn’t blow up markets,” Chatterjee said.

The proposal adds complexity to ongoing discussions of whether and how FERC-regulated wholesale electricity markets should evolve in light of a changing generation mix and evolving state policy objectives. In recent years, some states have sought to subsidize some generation sources to meet their particular energy and environmental goals, raising questions about what such policies mean for FERC-regulated wholesale markets. Last month the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions hosted a workshop examining challenges and recent proposals for harmonizing state policies and regional market design in the PJM region.

Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley Pipelines Approved

FERC has issued separate orders granting approval permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in two 2–1 votes. The two projects are among a collection of pipeline projects proposed or under construction that are intended to take advantage of the Marcellus gas boom, but they are not without critics.

FERC rejected calls for more public comment on the proposals, writing “all interested parties have been afforded a full complete opportunity to present their views to the commission.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would run through West Virginia and is proposed to span 303 miles and cost $3.7 billion.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5 billion project by Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, will carry gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and eight counties in eastern North Carolina, crossing 600 miles of the Southeast to transport about 1.5 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas to customers in North Carolina and Virginia.

“Natural gas from the pipeline will increase consumer savings, enhance reliability, enable more renewable energy and provide a powerful engine for statewide economic development and job growth,” said Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good. “It also supports our plan to produce cleaner energy through newer, highly-efficient natural gas plants and allows more capacity for Piedmont Natural Gas to serve new homes and businesses.”

Cheryl LaFleur was the dissenter, highlighting the projects’ potential environmental impacts.

“I recognize that the Commission’s actions today are the culmination of years of work in the pre-filing, application, and review processes, and I take seriously my decision to dissent,” LaFleur wrote in a statement. “I acknowledge that if the applicants were to adopt an alternative solution, it would require considerable additional work and time. However, the decision before the Commission is simply whether to approve or reject these projects, which will be in place for decades. Given the environmental impacts and possible superior alternatives, approving these two pipeline projects on this record is not a decision I can support.”

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

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The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Absent efforts well beyond those described in the Paris Agreement—to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius—climate change could pose a deadly threat to most humans by century’s end. This finding was suggested by an international group of climate science and policy experts in a pair of recently published studies.

To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) said the world would have to take aggressive measures to curtail the use of fossil fuels and emissions of short-lived climate pollutants such as methane. In addition, we would also have to extract carbon dioxide from the air and sequester it before it can be emitted.

According to the findings, which were originally published by the University of California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, there is a 5 percent chance of catastrophic change within roughly three decades, and a smaller chance that it would extinguish human life. It proposed two new classifications for climate change: “catastrophic,” meaning that adaptation would be difficult for most people, and “unknown,” or “existential,” meaning that adaptation would be impossible.

“There is a low probability that the change will be catastrophic,” said the study’s lead author, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps. “But you would not get on an airplane if you thought there was a 5 percent chance that it was going to crash.”

The researchers defined their proposed risk categories on the basis of guidelines established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and previous independent studies. Even a global temperature increase limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Farenheit)—the Paris Agreement’s aspirational goal—is categorized as “dangerous.” An increase greater than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Farenheit) could be “catastrophic,” and an increase greater than 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Farenheit) could lead to “unknown” but potentially existential threats. For humans, catastrophic impacts include widespread famine and the exposure of more than 7 billion people to heat-related mortalities.

Policy and science experts, including Ramanathan, relied on the PNAS findings to compile a report on potential warming containment efforts. That report pointed to the need for greater weight on subnational government action and a sharp uptake in mature clean energy technologies—such as wind, solar, biogas, and geothermal—coupled with aggressive electrification of transportation and building energy use.

A separate analysis published in the journal Nature Geoscience says the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 Celsius aspirational goal may be more feasible than many think. It makes a fresh estimate of the necessary carbon budget, including updating measurements of the emissions and warming that have already occurred, and shows that the global carbon emissions budget that meets that goal is equivalent to 20 years of current global annual emissions. But other researchers have raised questions about the analysis—which, if correct, would have very large implications for climate policymaking. Aside from concerns about the new study’s methods and assumptions, broader questions about the definition of the carbon budget and how it should be calculated are now swirling.

Senators, Local Level Decision Makers Focus on Climate Action

After some speculation following comments by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the White House, on Monday, reaffirmed its commitment to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

“There has been no change in the United States’ position on the Paris agreement,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told CNN. “As the President has made abundantly clear, the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”

Despite the White House’s stance on the global climate accord, others are taking steps to acknowledge and, in some cases, take specific action on the issue. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday told guests attending a climate change conference convened at Yale University by former Secretary of State John Kerry that he supports a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’m a Republican. I believe that the greenhouse effect is real, that CO2 emissions generated by man is creating our greenhouse gas effect that traps heat, and the planet is warming,” said Graham. “A price on carbon—that’s the way to go in my view.”

Sen. Graham’s reinvocation of these concepts means that there may be some ability to have conversations again about the bipartisan solution to climate change (subscription).

State and local leaders associated with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group—a network of megacities dedicated to addressing climate change—remain focused on faster climate action. As part of a Climate Week convening, several mayors discussed how that action falls on them now that the United States is pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

“As mayors, our responsibilities also became even clearer. It’s not enough to reach our ‘80 by 50’ goal,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, referencing New York City’s earlier commitment to cut greenhouse gases by 80 percent by midcentury, “or to go along with the fantastic goal of keeping warming to two degrees Celsius. If the U.S. government is backing away, we had to step forward.”

On Wednesday, 91 U.S. cities and Denmark unveiled a climate plan that aims to enhance cooperation among companies, governments, regions and cities in an effort to promote green growth. The initiative is dubbed Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030. Also, North Carolina joined 14 other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance—a bipartisan group of states committed to reducing their share of greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals that countries agreed upon as part of the Paris Agreement.

“In the absence of leadership from Washington, North Carolina is proud to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, and we remain committed to reducing pollution and protecting our environment,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. “So much of North Carolina’s economy relies on protecting our treasured natural resources, and I’m committed to maintaining the quality of their air we breathe for generations to come.”

Report: Energy Outlook to 2040

World energy consumption will increase 28 percent by 2040, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects in its latest International Energy Outlook 2017. Areas in China and Asia will consume the most energy—representing as much as 60 percent of increased demand.

The report indicates that fossil fuels will continue to dominate the world energy mix, making up 77 percent of energy use in 2040, while renewables, despite growing faster than any other fuel source during the coming years, will represent just 17 percent of world energy consumption by 2040. Demand for coal will remain relatively flat with consumption projected to decline from 27 to 25 percent between 2015 and 2040.

Global natural gas consumption is seen increasing by 1.4 percent per year over the forecast period.

“Abundant natural gas resources and rising production—including supplies of tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane—contribute to the strong competitive position of natural gas,” the report indicates.

Nuclear power is expected to grow the fastest behind renewables, with consumption increasing about 1.5 percent per year.

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 U.S. Department of Energy, on Wednesday night, released its electric grid reliability study, finding that the greatest driver of baseload power plant retirements was cheap natural gas followed by flat power demand, environmental regulations and the growing penetration of renewables on the grid.

Requested by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April, the study was intended to report on whether the U.S. electric grid can handle the retirement of aging coal-fired and nuclear power plants and the “market-distorting effects of federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others.”

It found that “the biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation.”

It offers recommendations to boost coal and nuclear. It suggests that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ease rules for resources such as coal, nuclear and hydropower and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission likewise ease permitting rules for nuclear plants. It also suggests that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expedite efforts to reform the way prices are set in wholesale markets and how those markets value reliability. Finally, it recommends that the Department of Energy should prioritize research and development for grid resiliency, reliability, modernization and renewables integration technologies be promoted.

Notably absent from the grid study was any mention of climate change, the focus of a 15-member panel disbanded Friday by the Trump administration. The panel had been charged with helping officials and policy makers evaluate a separate federal report, the National Climate Assessment Report. Its members warned that the move leaves the public to deal with what amounts to a data dump with its impending release.

Established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2015, the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained Climate Assessment included members of government, industry, academia and non-profits. The group was charged with helping evaluate the National Climate Assessment Report, a portion of which [the Climate Science Special Report] was widely publicized in its draft form earlier this month.

The charter for the committee expired Sunday. A note on the committee’s website offers that “per the terms of the charter, the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment (Committee) expired on August 20, 2017. The Department of Commerce and NOAA appreciate the efforts of the committee and offer sincere thanks to each of the committee members for their service.”

NOAA Communications Director Julie Roberts said “this action does not impact the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which remains a key priority.”

The Climate Science Special Report is due in its final form in November; the larger congressionally mandated document, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, is scheduled for publication in late 2018.

The National Climate Assessment integrates and evaluates current and projected global climate change trends, both human-induced and natural, and analyzes the effects of current and projected climate change. It has been published three times since passage of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, a law mandating its publication every four years.

Court Directs FERC to Consider GHG Impacts of Pipelines

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 decision issued Tuesday, found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fuel flowing through the Southeast Market Pipelines Project when it approved the project in 2016. FERC’s failure under the National Environmental Policy Act to adequately discuss the downstream effects of carbon emissions from natural gas transported through the pipelines in the project’s environmental impact statement was grounds for the court’s vacatur and remand.

Judge Thomas Griffith wrote that FERC’s environmental review “should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so.”

Griffith went on to write that “greenhouse-gas emissions are an indirect effect of authorizing this project, which FERC could reasonably foresee, and which the agency has legal authority to mitigate. Quantification would permit the agency to compare the emissions from this project to emissions from other projects, to total emissions from the state or the region, or to regional or national emissions-control goals. Without such comparisons, it is difficult to see how FERC could engage in ‘informed decision making’ with respect to the greenhouse-gas effects of this project, or how ‘informed public comment’ could be possible.”

The project comprises three natural gas pipelines under construction in Alabama, Georgia and Florida that are intended to bring natural gas to Florida to fuel existing and planned power plants.

Trump Denies Coal Exec Plea as EPA Reviews Toxic Waste Limits from Coal Power Plants

As part of a legal appeal, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt filed a letter Monday with the Fifth Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans in which he indicated that he will seek to revise the 2015 guidelines mandating increased treatment for wastewater from coal-fired power plants.

The rule, originally issued by the Obama administration in 2015, aimed to reduce toxic water discharges into lakes, rivers and streams from coal-fired power plants and coal ash dumps.

In the letter, Pruitt said he “decided that it is appropriate and in the public interest to conduct a rulemaking to potentially revise the new, more stringent Best Available Technology Economically Achievable effluent limitations and Pretreatment Standards for Existing Sources in the 2015 rule that applies to bottom ash transport water and flue gas desulfurization wastewater.”

The 2015 rule has faced some scrutiny, with opponents saying it could lead to the closure of coal-fired power plants and economic harm for small utilities.

Also this week, the Trump administration denied a request by coal industry executives from Murray Energy Corporation and FirstEnergy Solutions Corporation to provide them relief for plants they say are overburdened by environmental regulations and market stresses, by pushing forward a rarely used emergency order protecting coal-fired power plants.

“We look at the facts of each issue and consider the authorities we have to address them but with respect to this particular case at this particular time, the White House and the Department of Energy are in agreement that the evidence does not warrant the use of this emergency authority,” said U.S. Department of Energy spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.

The department did not address assertions by Murray Energy Corporation CEO Bob Murray in letters that Trump told him multiple times in July and August that he wanted Energy Secretary Rick Perry to invoke the emergency authority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOE Secretary Disputes Core Climate Science Finding

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

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

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

Oil Majors Sign on to Carbon Tax Proposal

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

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

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last week President Donald Trump’s bid to rescind the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which seeks to regulate emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants, was made easier by a Court of Appeals ruling that put a 26-state lawsuit challenging the plan on hold for 60 days without deciding on the plan’s legality. That decision followed a Department of Justice request—amid objections of 18 states, several cities and other groups—to halt the case. The court also granted a similar request to halt a regulation setting emissions limits for future power plants.

The ruling was a win for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt, who is working on the president’s behalf to review the Clean Power Plan. But it did not give him his desired unlimited hiatus, or “abeyance,” which would have put the case on hold while the EPA decides what to do about controlling carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants—an EPA mandate, under the Clean Air Act, that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld. Instead, the litigants were given two weeks to submit briefs on whether the Clean Power Plan should be “remanded”—sent back to the EPA in lieu of the court deciding the case.

An EPA spokesperson acknowledged Pruitt’s partial victory.

“Pursuant to the president’s executive order, Administrator [Scott] Pruitt has already announced that EPA is reviewing  the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan,” said J.P. Freire. “We are pleased that this order gives EPA the opportunity to proceed with that process.”

Others acknowledged that the court will probably never rule on the Clean Power Plan’s legality and that today’s order probably hastened the regulation’s demise.

“If the court had upheld the rule, it wouldn’t have prevented the new administration from revoking it, but it might have made this effort harder,” said Jeffrey Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell and a former EPA air chief (subscription). “At the very least, today’s ruling means that it will not take as long for the administration to undo the Clean Power Plan.” He added that “I don’t think the D.C. Circuit has ever gone ahead and decided on the legality of a rule when a new administration says it plans to rescind or revise it.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who leads the CPP defense, vowed to fight on in court, stating that “Today’s temporary pause in the litigation does not relieve EPA of its legal obligation to limit carbon pollution from its largest source: fossil-fueled power plants.”

Executive Order Could Expand U.S. Offshore Drilling

Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that initiates the process of undoing former President Obama’s restrictions on offshore oil and natural gas drilling. The action could expand offshore energy development by issuing a multi-year review of oil and gas drilling in federally prohibited waters as well as an evaluation of the status of marine sanctuaries. Specifically, the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy instructs the Interior Department to revise the Obama administration’s five-year plan for leasing federal waters and the Commerce Department to refrain from naming or expanding marine sanctuaries and to review existing ones.

At the signing ceremony, Trump emphasized that he is rescinding Obama’s executive action to indefinitely put much of U.S. Arctic waters and some of the Atlantic off limits to drillers.

“It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban. So, you hear that? It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban,” said the president.

But whether the Trump administration can actually reverse this separate offshore drilling ban is unclear. In issuing the ban, Obama used an obscure provision of the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. That act does not explicitly allow a president to get rid of a designation.

Also unclear is the impact of the order, which comes as low oil prices and soaring onshore production have significantly dampened industry demand for offshore leases.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke emphasized that the order won’t immediately open up the outer continental shelf to drilling but that it will trigger a two-year public process to reconsider which areas are suitable for leasing for oil, gas and wind development. He also added that he was uncertain how the plan would take into account melting Arctic ice.

“I have not thought about climate change,” Zinke said. “I’m sure we’ll look at that.”

EPA, DOE Temporarily Spared Big Cuts, But Not Climate Info on Government Websites

A bipartisan government funding deal unveiled Monday by congressional leaders to avert a government shutdown tomorrow would make much smaller cuts in climate and energy programs (subscription) than those proposed by President Donald Trump for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year. Instead of a $247 million cut, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will get a $81 million cut. The deal actually increases clean energy and science funding by $17 million, increases the Department of Energy’s Office of Science funding by $42 million, and increases funding for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a program Trump wants eliminated, by $15 million (subscription). But funding for renewable energy programs was reduced by $808 million compared to the Obama administration’s budget request.

The Trump administration is not waiting for the 2018 fiscal year budget battle to make other cuts reflecting its budget priorities: on the eve of Saturday’s People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities, where tens of thousands of demonstrators sounded warnings about the Earth’s warming climate, the administration began diminishing climate-related information on government websites, deleting, for example, a climate change portal from the EPA website and adding new information about “energy independence.”

Notably, statements that “the evidence is clear” on climate change and that human activity is the phenomenon’s main driver—language that ran counter to the view EPA head Scott Pruitt put forth during an appearance on CNBC in March—were replaced by a message that the EPA website “is being updated.”

A web page on the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s regulation for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants, now routes visitors to an “energy independence” page focused on the Trump administration’s efforts to undo the plan.

“The first page to be updated is a page reflecting President Trump’s Executive Order on Energy Independence, which calls for a review of the so-called Clean Power Plan,” the agency stated. “Language associated with the Clean Power Plan, written by the last administration, is out of date. Similarly, content related to climate and regulation is also being reviewed.”

Although some of the deleted pages are still available through EPA’s search engine, they are no longer organized under a climate-change heading.

President Trump has also reflected his budget priorities with recent energy and environmental post appointments, most recently tapping Daniel Simmons, who has questioned the value of promoting renewable energy sources and curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, to oversee the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Simmons will serve as acting assistant secretary until someone is confirmed by the Senate for the post.

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

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th president of the United States, a revamped White House website announced the new administration’s intention.” That same day, Reuters reported that all references to climate change had been removed from the WhiteHouse.gov site, and the Wall Street Journal’s Amy Harder tweeted that the URL to the climate change page had gone dead.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration instructed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its website’s climate change page, which contains links to climate research and detailed data on emissions. The news was reported to Reuters by staffers who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media. One of them said some employees were scrambling to save some of the information on the website (subscription).

“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” an EPA staffer told Reuters.

Yahoo News reported that, late last year, scientists had begun backing up the climate data publicly available on government websites in fear that the data might disappear under Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax.”

But on Wednesday, the Trump administration walked back its directive.

“We’ve been told to stand down,” an EPA employee told E&E News, which reported that administration officials may have been prompted to change course because of the backlash that erupted over its previous instructions. The instructions didn’t go over well with agency employees, said the unnamed EPA staffer, adding that the information is “world class” data. “And it’s true.”

And at a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer commented on reports this week that the White House had curtailed social media use at the EPA, the Interior Department and the Energy Department.

“They haven’t been directed by us to do anything,” Spicer said of the restrictions. “From what I understand,” he added, staffers “have been told within their agencies to adhere to their own policies, but that directive did not come from here.”

Executive Actions Reflect About Face on Climate Change Action

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump acted on campaign promises to remove hurdles to domestic energy development by signing an executive action to advance the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska, linking existing pipelines to carry oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, and a memorandum calling for an expedited review and approval of the Dakota Access pipeline. Both were projects that the Obama administration blocked due in part to environmental concerns, including their influence on greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Trump said both pipelines would be subject to renegotiation and that the materials for them must be sourced from the U.S.

The impact of the orders is likely to be felt first in North Dakota, where Energy Transfer Partners wants to install the final 1,100-foot section of the 1,172-mile pipeline that runs under Lake Oahe, a route that sparked protests after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe raised concerns about potential spills and leaks. The pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota to refineries and pipeline networks in Illinois. The Keystone XL pipeline would also reach those refineries along its route.

Revival of the two pipeline projects (subscription) was Trump’s first action to make good on his America First Energy Plan, presented on a new WhiteHouse.gov web page that has replaced the Obama administration’s climate change web page.

The Climate Action Plan, introduced by Obama in June 2013, outlined plans for the U.S. to cut its carbon pollution, prepare for the effects of climate change, and lead international efforts to address global warming. The brief America First Energy Plan goes in another direction.

“For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry,” it reads. “Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”

Trump’s plan encourages the burning of coal and the use of shale oil and gas. It does not reference solar, wind, or other sustainable energy sources but does offer up a commitment to “clean coal technology.” That term sometimes refers to plants outfitted with “scrubbers” or having the capacity to capture and store carbon emissions, which has reportedly not been demonstrated to work in a cost-effective way.

Trump Cabinet Nominees Acknowledge Some Influence of Humans on Climate Change

At Senate confirmation hearings, President Donald Trump’s picks to run some key federal agencies have said that the climate is changing and that human activity is a factor. The extent of human influence on climate change, they say, is up for study and debate, along with policies that might be needed.

The Washington Post reports that transition officials say that there has been no coordination to get these candidates—Ryan Zinke, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson—on message. “This is an accurate reflection of what they believe, and Cabinet nominees are encouraged to give their opinion on questions when they’re asked,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In opening remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing last Thursday, Rick Perry, Trump’s Energy Secretary pick, acknowledged that his call for the Department of Energy’s elimination, made during his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, was in error.

“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” said Perry. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

Like many of Trump’s other cabinet picks, he softened his earlier position on climate change.

“I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity,” said Perry. “The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy or American jobs.”

At his confirmation hearing, Trump’s pick to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, indicated he would give the power to apply environmental rules back to states. However, he also stated that he would review a federal waiver under the Clean Air Act allowing California to set emissions standards for vehicles. The state mandates that 15 percent of new cars by 2025 have zero emissions—a standard that’s stricter than anywhere else in the country.

“That’s what would be evaluated, it’s very difficult, and we shouldn’t prejudge the outcome,” said Pruitt.

There are some hints that in this case giving the power back to states may not align with the new administration’s objectives. On Tuesday Trump told auto executives to increase U.S. production and boost American employment and said that he would cut regulations and taxes to make operating in the U.S. more attractive.

“We’re bringing manufacturing back to the United States big league, we’re reducing taxes very substantially and we’re reducing unnecessary regulations,” Trump said, calling himself an environmentalist, but indicating that environmental regulations are “out of control.”

Some states vowed not to let the new administration roll back environmental efforts. Gov. Jerry Brown stated Wednesday that “California is not turning back. Not now, not ever.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, won approval in a 11–10 vote along party lines from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His nomination now moves to the full Senate, where he needs the support of 51 members for confirmation. That final vote could come as early as next week.

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.