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Trump Starts Rolling Back Obama Climate Programs

January 27, 2017

Climate Change Weekly #238

President Donald Trump is off to a fast start, especially although not solely on energy and environmental issues.

On January 9, even before Trump was sworn in but anticipating his new direction on climate policy, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cancelled a Climate and Health Summit set for February 14-16 in Atlanta. The agency did not say why it cancelled the conference, but Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, a conference co-sponsor, told the Associated Press the CDC told him it was worried how the conference would be viewed by the Trump administration, saying, “They had no idea or not whether the new administration would be supportive.” Good thinking CDC.

Just minutes after Trump took the oath of office, all of former President Barack Obama’s energy and climate pages, including his Climate Action Plan page, were removed from the WhiteHouse.gov website and archived, replaced with a page dedicated to “An America First Energy Plan,” in which Trump promises, among other things, “to eliminate[e] harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”

Less than 24 hours after taking office, through a January 21 e-mail, Trump instructed EPA to freeze all grants and contracts. EPA, which awards more than $4 billion in grants and assistance each year, shared with the Washington Post the e-mail it sent to staff stating, “New EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification … please construe this to include task orders and work assignments.”

This is not some nefarious plot to halt scientific research or roll back environmental protections, but rather a sound management decision by Trump. Numerous investigations and court rulings have shown EPA routinely violates the law and its own guidelines, hides collusion between it and environmental lobbyists, wastes money on research with little or no benefit to public health or the environment, and enacts regulations that go beyond the bounds of the Constitution and the authority given it under various environmental laws. As the new president, with responsibility for EPA’s actions and spending, Trump wants to ensure these shenanigans stop and, in keeping with his campaign commitments, roll back regulations needlessly hamstringing American businesses. Until Trump or his appointees understand what spending, programs, and projects EPA has in the pipeline, the administration cannot fairly exercise proper oversight over the agency. Thus, the spending must stop for now.

On January 24, Trump signed executive orders aimed at restarting and expediting the completion of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The orders encourage TransCanada to reapply for a permit to complete the Keystone XL pipeline and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve [the Dakota Access Pipeline] in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law.” These pipelines would be good for the environment, provide jobs for American workers, and improve U.S. energy security. Obama, beholden to radical environmental interests, wrongfully blocked completion of these two pipelines. It’s time to get them finished. In addition, Trump signed an executive order expediting environmental reviews for future infrastructure projects, which should include lease sales, pipeline construction, and LNG export terminal projects.

All in all, a pretty productive four days. Trump’s early actions on climate and energy issues are a good down-payment on his promise to put America first and “make America great again.” I look forward to seeing what he does next.

- H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: USA Today; Washington Examiner; Yahoo News; and The Washington Post


IN THIS ISSUE …

Met Office: 2016 not clearly a record yearExpensive methane boondoggle harms environmentWill Trump boost geoengineeringJudith Curry files to intervene in climate defamation lawsuit


MET OFFICE: 2016 NOT CLEARLY A RECORD YEAR

Is the global warming hiatus over? Based on the data, we can’t tell. While news headlines have touted claims 2016 was the warmest year on record, on January 16, the UK’s Met Office announced what many scientists had already said: 2016 was warm, but much of the warming was driven by the very strong El Niño. According to Peter Stott, acting director of the Met Office, “a particularly strong El Niño event contributed about 0.2°C to the annual average for 2016.”

Both NASA and the Met Office, while saying 2016 was hotter than 2015 (NASA) or the long-term average global temperature (Met Office), admitted the temperature difference was due to El Niño. Considering the margin of error in the annual temperature measurements is +/- 0.1°C, it is clear 2016’s temperature is virtually indistinguishable from those measured during the previous 15 years, all years during which a hiatus was widely acknowledged. All we can say with certainty is the lull in warming temperatures may be over, and then again it may not be.

SOURCE: Global Warming Policy Foundation


EXPENSIVE METHANE BOONDOGGLE HARMS ENVIRONMENT

Anaerobic digesters (ADs) have been promoted as an environmentally friendly and inexpensive way of producing gas to heat and light homes, generate electricity for the power grid, dispose of farm and municipal organic waste, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the Daily Mail reports, however, the cost of the energy produced by ADs is far higher than energy generated by traditional fossil fuels, and ADs create their own environmental problems.

A UK government report found the government has provided more than £216 million in subsidies to build and operate ADs, making the energy they produce more than three times as expensive as from conventional sources. Part of the problem is ADs were supposed to operate on farm waste, primarily manure, generated on-site or nearby, but there is not enough farm waste to operate them, meaning ADs are increasingly relying on crops specifically grown for use in the digesters - said crops most often being grown miles away from where the ADs are located. A UK Government March 2016 “impact assessment” found “agricultural crops are … not a cost effective means of biomethane production.”

In addition, ADs are creating their own waste problems. Eighty-five percent of the material used in ADs to create biogas remains after use. For example, keeping the Sparsholt AD plant operating requires shipping 60,000 tons of crops to the plant annually, leaving 50,400 tons of leftover material to be shipped out each year.

In addition, toxic spills from ADs are becoming increasingly common. “According to the Environment Agency, ADs caused 12 ‘serious pollution incidents’ in 2015 - a rise of more than 50 per cent on the previous year.” According to the Daily Mail, one massive chemical spill from an AD made toxic a stream running through farms in West Sussex. One farmer had 70 acres of his land contaminated. “In the following days, 28 of [the farmer’s] pregnant ewes perished, along with 35 lambs, and the fish and other wildlife in the stream for a distance of several miles. The Environment Agency warned that children and animals should stay well away from the polluted water.”

SOURCE: Daily Mail


WILL TRUMP BOOST GEOENGINEERING?

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which coordinates and oversees federally funded climate research across 13 departments and agencies, has for the first time recommended undertaking research on possible geoengineering responses to climate change. Geoengineering is the deliberate manipulation of environmental processes in order to counteract the negative effects of climate change. Under President Barack Obama, climate research and regulatory efforts focused on preventing or lessening climate change in large part by limiting the use of fossil fuels. Talk of geoengineering responses to climate challenges was basically verboten. Perhaps anticipating the direction climate research may take under President Donald Trump, who has said he wants to expand the use of fossil fuels and remove climate regulations that hamper economic growth, USGCRP is now considering funding geoengineering research.

The 119-page plan describing USGCRP’s research agenda through 2021 says research into the potential of geoengineering could provide “insight into the science needed to understand potential pathways for climate intervention or geoengineering and the possible consequences of any such measures, both intended and unintended.”

Two main geoengineering approaches have been the focus of research by scientists not working on the government dime: altering the reflectivity of Earth (the planet’s albedo) and removing carbon from the atmosphere. Only time will tell if the Trump administration pursues geoengineering approaches to climate change.

SOURCE: Science


JUDITH CURRY INTERVENES IN CLIMATE DEFAMATION LAWSUIT

In an attempt to get the D.C. Circuit Court to reverse itself and end Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and National Review, the nonprofit Cause of Action Institute (COAI) on January 25 filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of climate scientist Judith A. Curry, Ph.D. Curry’s brief argues the court should reconsider its decision to let Mann’s lawsuit go forward. Mann has sued CEI and National Review claiming they defamed him in statements questioning the validity of his research, his honesty, and the honesty of the Penn State University committee that exonerated Mann of accusations of academic misconduct.

Curry’s brief says by suing CEI and National Review, “Mann has transgressed the basic norms of scientific behavior and First Amendment principles by trying to use the court system to silence critics of his methodological approach to climate science.”

“Scientists should not use the court system to silence people who are critical of their work. Public exposure of a scientist’s methodologies and an openness to defend those methodologies is at the very core of scientific progress,” said Curry in a COAI press release.

The brief also notes Mann’s actions are hypocritical since he regularly attacks the character and motives of scientists who disagree with his views.

“Dr. Curry has been the repeated victim of Dr. Mann’s efforts to silence and harass her for criticizing his work. She finds it hypocritical that Dr. Mann is trying to use the court system to silence his critics while engaging in similar behavior toward other scientists,” said COAI’s acting president, John Vecchione.

SOURCES: Cause of Action Institute press release and Judith Curry amicus brief

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland research fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org