Elections Shake up Climate Policy Picture
Climate Change Weekly #231
The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States has left reeling the environmental lobbyists and activists and international leaders committed to reducing fossil fuel use to meet the Paris climate agreement. As the Washington Post noted, “Trump comes into office with a plan to toss out most of what President Obama achieved on energy and the environment.”
Trump, who has called the alleged human-caused climate change catastrophe a “hoax,” vowed to “cancel” the United States’ participation in the Paris climate accord. Trump also has committed to scrapping the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has said he will review and possibly reverse the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) determination carbon dioxide is a pollutant endangering public and environmental health (the “endangerment finding”). Trump can’t undo the endangerment finding with the stroke of a pen, but he is in a position to get that done over time. Reversing the endangerment finding would end the legal justification for a range of climate regulations. In the process, it also would end radical environmental activists’ ability to use the courts to impose climate policies on an unwilling public whose elected representatives have repeatedly rejected climate policies.
Before the election, Trump said he would reverse Obama administration rules imposing undue burdens on businesses. In particular, Trump said he would cut EPA’s budget dramatically, virtually reducing it to an advisory agency, and review all EPA regulations, eliminating many of them because, “Over-regulation presents one of the greatest barriers to entry into markets and one of the greatest costs to businesses that are trying to stay competitive.”
Trump says he wants to open up more federal lands to oil and gas drilling and eliminate regulations that have contributed to the decline of the coal industry.
The Washington Post reported, “Scott Segal, co-head of government relations at the legal and lobbying firm Bracewell, said in an email a Trump administration would be ‘clearly in favor of enhanced exploration and production of oil and gas as a tenet of energy, economic and national security policy.’”
Environmentalists and some foreign dignitaries fear what Trump’s election means for America’s climate commitments and environmental policies. “We’re feeling angry and sad and contemplative,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the Post.
Asked by the Post how “the environmental movement would deal with a President Trump, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate action group 350.org, said in an email ‘[I] don’t really know.’”
The Guardian reports international climate negotiators at the United Nations’ climate talks in Morocco say “it would be a catastrophe if Trump acted on his pledge to withdraw the US from the deal, which took 20 years to negotiate, and to open up public land for coal, oil and gas extraction.”
Speaking to reporters at the Morocco meeting, Ségolène Royale, the French environment minister who helped negotiate the Paris accord, said Trump could not easily withdraw the United States from the treaty. “The Paris agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years.”
On this point Royale is whistling past a graveyard. Trump can end the United States’ participation in the Paris climate agreement either directly or indirectly. Directly, he can “unsign” the agreement. Regardless of the text of the agreement, because it has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate as required by the Constitution, it has no force of law in the United States. And because the treaty sets only voluntary goals with no legal enforcement mechanism, other countries have no legal way of enforcing the agreement’s terms on the United States.
Indirectly, Trump can scuttle the country’s participation by reversing Obama’s climate actions and not replacing them with alternative climate policies. If Trump does this, U.S. participation in the Paris climate agreement dies from neglect.
-- H. Sterling Burnett
IN THIS ISSUE …
Recent analyses show methane emissions have surged since 2007 after declining or holding steady from the 1990s through 2006. These analyses have determined plants and animals, not natural gas production, are responsible for the increase in methane emissions since 2007.
During the latter part of the twentieth century, the human share of emissions grew due to leaking natural gas operations and pipelines in the former Soviet Union. Declining production after the collapse of the Soviet Union, combined with Western companies helping Russian pipeline operators plug porous pipelines, account in part for the halt in rising emissions from the 1990s to 2006.
Climate alarmists blamed the surge in emissions since 2007 on the tremendous increase in natural gas production in the United States, a result of the fracking revolution. However, a study reported in Nature finds “methane emissions from natural gas as a fraction of production have declined from approximately 8 per cent to approximately 2 per cent over the past three decades.” The lead author of the study, Stefan Schwietzke of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, “Despite the large increase in natural gas production, there has not been an upward trend in industrial emissions.”
A second study confirms the recent surge in methane emissions has come from the “output of microbes living in anoxic environments such as wetlands, landfills, and the stomachs and butts of ruminants ... and the burning of vegetation like forests, bush, and crop residues.” In particular, most of the post-2006 increase in methane emissions came from densely populated countries including China, India, and Southeast Asia. Researchers disagree on the cause of the natural increase. One set of researchers believes the increase in natural methane emissions is due to increased rainfall and higher temperatures, “enhanc[ing] microbial activity in both natural wetlands and flooded rice paddies.” A second study suggests increasing “production from flooded rice fields and a growing number of livestock have been the likely culprits.”
An analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reports Asia’s rising demand for coal threatens to undermine commitments various countries have made to curb their carbon emissions. Despite a slowdown in its economy, China expects to continue bringing online two new large coal-fired power plants a week until 2021, when it expects the rate will fall to one new coal plant a week. Utilities in Japan, finding it difficult to bring back online nuclear plants shuttered in the aftermath of the Fukushima plant shutdown, are investing in coal plants. The Japanese government projects substantial growth in coal-fired electricity for the next 15 years at a minimum.
Simultaneous with the expansion of coal-generated electricity, lawmakers concerned about limited economic growth and high energy prices are cutting their support for renewable power. Michael Liebreich, founder of BNEF, said in an interview, “Clean energy investment will be down 15 to 20 percent this year. As things stand, it will not bounce back … in the next five years.”
Wikileaks’ dump of e-mails of from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta show ClimateProgress, the environment section of the ThinkProgress blog, targeted University of Colorado environmental scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. for career destruction for publishing articles saying climate change was not causing more severe weather.
Pollster Nate Silver’s 538 website hired Pielke to write about global warming. In one post, “Disasters Cost More Than Ever – But Not Because of Climate Change,” Pielke wrote weather is doing more damage today because there are more, and more expensive, properties located in areas prone to hurricanes, floods, and tornados than there used to be – not because human-caused climate change is producing more extreme weather.
Not long after Pielke’s post went live, ClimateProgress embarked on a crusade to discredit him. In an email to Democratic donor Tom Steyer, ThinkProgress Editor in Chief Judd Legum bragged of ClimateProgress’s success in suppressing Pielke’s work. Legum wrote,
Within hours, ClimateProgress published a comprehensive debunk, with quotes from many prominent climate scientists. ... I think it’s fair [to] say that, without ClimateProgress, Pielke would still be writing on climate change for 538. He would be providing important cover for climate deniers backed by Silver’s very respected brand. But because of our work, he is not. I don’t think there is another site on the internet having this kind of impact on the climate debate.
Legum then wrote to Steyer, “Thanks for your support of this work. Looking forward to doing even more in the coming months.”
Pielke told the Daily Caller Legum’s email described an “organized, politically motivated campaign to damage my career and reputation. [Center for American Progress] wrote 160+ articles about me, many misrepresenting my views and calling me a … denier. With their megaphone, propaganda worked. ... I’m surprised I lasted as long as I did.”
EUROPE’S CLIMATE ACTION FALTERS
Europe’s climate plans are in disarray. Germany, the largest member of the European Union (EU), recently decided to continue using coal for at least 25 years. Germany’s rejection of nuclear energy in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear plant shutdown and rising renewable energy mandates and fees resulted in steeply rising energy prices. Those rising prices in turn led Germany’s leaders to ramp up coal-fired electric power plants.
Actions by other EU member states also undermine its carbon-reduction goals. As detailed by Euractiv, “France is also behind on its 2020 targets, both in terms of emissions and renewables.” In addition, although the EU ratified the Paris climate accord on October 6, only a small number of member states have done so themselves, and 12 EU states (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, and Spain) rejected the EU commission’s proposals to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation and agricultural sectors, and member states also rejected Germany’s proposal to accelerate the pace of mandatory energy efficiency goals and deadlines.
SPECIAL NOTE: In the Australian Parliament House, Senator Malcolm Roberts hosted on November 8 a panel discussion of the flawed science used by the country’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to push government action on climate policy. In addition to Roberts, panelists were Tim Ball, Ph.D., Steve Goddard, Ph.D., Jennifer Marohasy, Ph.D., Darren B Nelson, and Peter Bobroff, AM (Order of Australia). The entire discussion can be viewed on