Trump’s Final Moves Complicate Biden’s Climate Goals
Climate Change Weekly #384
In the waning days of President Donald Trump’s term of office, the administration has finalized a series of actions and rules that will complicate if not prevent incoming President Joe Biden from easily imposing radical climate proposals on the country.
The Trump administration offered oil and gas leases on public lands in Alaska (January) and California (December), and despite today’s relatively low oil and gas prices, companies bid on the leases and won. In the Alaskan case, a federal court refused to halt the leases, noting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), after nearly four decades of wrangling, was authorized by a federal law. These actions will complicate Biden’s ability to keep his promise of ending new oil and gas leases on federal land.
Although a Biden administration can refuse to offer further leases (to the government’s and taxpayers’ fiscal detriment), it will be harder to prevent future production from leases the Trump administration recently approved. The Biden administration will find it difficult, if not impossible, directly to block the development of already-offered leases unless it can come up with the money to buy the leaseholders out of the leases or to compensate the companies for the government instituting a taking of them.
Under Biden’s control, the federal regulatory agencies with authority over federal lands with leases can put strictures on development of these leases and/or drag out the environmental review and permitting process, but as long as the companies comply with the relevant laws and guidelines, they should eventually be able to develop these lands. These companies have jumped through federal hoops thousands of times under numerous administrations over the decades, and they know how to get through the regulatory process. Unless the companies with the leases are bought out or cede their leases, new oil and/or gas should flow from federal lands at some point, despite Biden’s best efforts to stop it.
Trump also withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Biden has vowed to take us back into it, and he can do so, unless Trump submits it to the lame duck Senate as a treaty and the Senate does not ratify it. Even if Biden does successfully bring the United States back into the Paris fold, actions the Trump administration has adopted will make it harder to implement Paris-compliant regulations solely through executive action.
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the amount agreed to in the Paris climate accord, executive agencies under the administration of President Barack Obama imposed a series of regulations, such as limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants (the so-called “Clean Power Plan”) and methane emissions from oil and gas production and delivery activities on federal lands. These rules, and others, remained tied up in court battles until they were repealed and replaced by new rules under President Trump or were dismissed by federal courts as unlawful.
Among recent actions taken by the Trump administration that will make it harder to justify and implement energy-restricting climate regulations in the future were the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision in December to maintain the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone and Particulate Matter (PM) and to finalize a rule requiring comprehensive benefit-cost analyses (BCA) be carried out for all future rules implemented under the 1970 Clean Air Act (CAA) including specifying in detail how such analyses must be conducted. In early January, Trump’s EPA finalized a rule to improve the transparency and public scrutiny of the science used to justify regulations.
The Obama administration justified most of its climate policies based on claims they would save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Almost all the supposed benefits of the regulations resulted from double counting: counting benefits of restrictions on pollutants such as PM and ozone as if they were new benefits from limiting emissions of nontoxic carbon dioxide. Other purported benefits of carbon dioxide restrictions flowed from including benefits to people in foreign countries while limiting the cost calculations to those accruing within the borders of the United States. Under the EPA’s recently finalized BCA rule, all new CAA rules must be accompanied by a BCA which must include a statement of the largest annual impact on the general economy or any disproportionately affected industry, group, or geographic region.
In addition, each new CAA-related regulation must contain a preamble explaining what problem the proposed rule is supposed to address and what considerations and research were used to make the decision, plus a separate report with a plain-language preamble explaining what welfare and public health benefits EPA believes the rule will deliver and what costs it will impose. BCAs, under the new procedures, will distinguish between benefits flowing directly from the rule and “co-benefits” (ancillary, indirect benefits resulting from other CAA requirements), and they will separate domestic benefits from any benefits the rule produces for people in other countries, reporting both.
Because Trump’s EPA affirmed and locked in the current ozone and PM standards for the next five years, and affected communities and industries are already laboring under them, the Biden administration should find it exceedingly difficult to claim “new” co-benefits from tighter restrictions on these two regulated pollutants in any carbon-dioxide restrictions it proposes.
Under the final transparency rule the EPA enacted on January 5, the Biden administration will be required to be more transparent than any administration in history concerning the science used to justify new climate regulations. The rule establishes requirements for the independent peer review of pivotal science. In addition, when proposing a significant regulatory action, the agency now must clearly identify the research used to inform the rule, specifying which studies it relied upon to make the rule.
The rule also requires the EPA to give greater consideration to studies for which the underlying dose-response data is available for independent validation and public examination. Studies may also be considered if the data is available only on a restricted basis for review and retesting. In cases where EPA’s administrator determines a particular study or set of studies is vital to properly understanding the dose-response mechanism, even if the data from the study or studies is not available for public or even restricted review and retesting, he or she has discretion to allow the EPA to use the research to shape and justify a regulation, but the administrator must clearly state why the research was used despite the lack of transparency.
Each of the policies described here was in the works long before any votes were cast in the 2020 presidential election. As such, and given that Trump thought he would win reelection—and to all appearances still believes he did—the rules were intended to further Trump’s efforts to promote American greatness and independence, not to thwart Joe Biden from implementing his climate agenda. In fact, these rules by themselves cannot stop Biden from attempting to impose whatever climate policies he thinks he can get away with. What these policies do, however, is make Biden’s efforts more transparent and set boundaries based on the law and public scrutiny.
The Biden administration will have to rescind or otherwise overcome these policies before imposing the types of energy rationing and restrictions on personal freedom his energy and climate proposals proclaim to be necessary and justified to fight climate change. I wish him bad luck in those efforts.
— H. Sterling Burnett
IN THIS ISSUE …
WEATHER-RELATED DEATHS FALL BY 99 PERCENT … GEOTHERMAL ACTIVITY DRIVES GREENLAND GLACIAL DECLINE … YEAR-END REVIEW SHOWS 10 PREDICTED CLIMATE DISASTERS THAT WEREN’T
WEATHER-RELATED DEATHS FALL BY 99 PERCENT
Human deaths related to climate or weather events have dropped by more than 99 percent since 1920, reports Bjorn Lomborg, Ph.D., president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, citing the newest available data from the International Disaster Database tracked and collected by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in the School of Public Health at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium.
Back in the 1920s, the death count from climate-related disasters was 485,000 on average every year. In the last full decade, 2010-2019, the average was 18,357 dead per year or 96 percent lower. In the first year of the new decade, 2020, the preliminary number of dead was even lower at 8,086—98 percent lower than the 1920s average.
But because the world’s population also quadrupled at the same time, the climate-related *death risk* has dropped even faster. The death risk is the probability of you dying in any one year. In the 1920s, it was 243 out of a million people that would die from climate-related disasters.
In the 2010s, the risk was just 2.5 per million people—a drop of 99 percent. Now, in 2020, the preliminary number is 1 per million—99.6 percent lower.
As my Heartland Institute colleague Anthony Watts writes in discussing Lomborg’s report, “This is clearly the opposite of what climate alarmists have been screaming about, but that is because we’re been exposed to a constant stream of ‘disaster TV’ on cable news and Internet news outlets telling us daily about yet another new disaster, which invariably gets blamed on ‘climate change.’”
GEOTHERMAL ACTIVITY DRIVES GREENLAND GLACIAL DECLINE
A new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR) by a team of researchers at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan shows geothermal activity is driving much of the glacial loss in Greenland. In particular, the researchers found a flow of hot rocks known as a mantle plume is rising from the core-mantle boundary beneath central Greenland and is melting the ice from below.
The North Atlantic is a very active region for geothermal (subsurface volcanic) activity. Greenland, Iceland, and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago are known locations for active volcanos or geothermal activity. The scientists involved in this research utilized data from a system of seismographs installed on the Greenland ice sheet as part of the Greenland Ice Sheet Monitoring Network, established as a collaboration by scientists representing 11 countries. Using this data, they created detailed 3‐D images of the crust and upper mantle in Greenland to uncover the origins of the geothermal activity in Greenland and any interconnections it had across the North Atlantic and Arctic region. The mapping found Greenland’s geothermal plume rose from the boundary where the solid material of the Earth’s mantle meets the hot liquid core, more than 2,000 miles below the Earth’s surface, and spread through a transition zone beneath Greenland, feeding into other plumes beneath Iceland and Svalbard.
“Knowledge about the Greenland plume will bolster our understanding of volcanic activities in these regions and the problematic issue of global sea-level rising caused by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet,” said Genti Toyokuni, Ph.D., lead author of the JGR study.
This research is important because it shows another critical factor—subsurface geothermal activity—which climate models don’t account for when calculating ice loss from Greenland and associated sea level rise and estimating future sea level rises to be caused by Greenland glacial decline. Climate models attribute ice loss almost entirely to rising carbon dioxide levels and associated surface warming, when in fact mounting evidence indicates subsurface warming is driving much of the glacial decline in Greenland, Antarctica, and elsewhere.
YEAR-END REVIEW SHOWS 10 PREDICTED CLIMATE DISASTERS THAT WEREN’T
Recently, Steve Milloy—a former Trump/Pence EPA transition team member, founder of JunkScience.com, and a board member of The Heartland Institute—compiled a list of ten predictions of climate doom that alarmists claimed would come to pass by 2020. They have all been proven wrong.
Among the 10 wrongheaded predictions Milloy documents are claims that by 2020 the average global temperature would increase by 3 degrees Celsius; Florida’s sea level rise would top two feet, and Pacific Island countries would disappear beneath rising seas. Each of these predictions and others Milloy examines, made by climate researchers and publicized by the mainstream media, proved false.
For instance, in 1987 the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix quoted NASA’s James Hansen stating that “by the year 2020 we will experience an average temperature increase of around three degrees [Celsius], with even greater extremes.” Satellite data, by contrast, show global temperatures have risen by 0.64 degrees Celsius since 1987 (just 21 percent of Hansen’s prediction), and surface data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows an increase of about 0.5 degrees Celsius since 1987 (approximately 17 percent of the temperature increase predicted by Hansen).
The Miami Herald reported in 1986 Jim Titus, a senior researcher with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said sea levels on Florida’s coast would rise by two feet. This projection was woefully off the mark. Milloy notes NOAA reports at Virginia Key, an area of Florida particularly susceptible to sea level rise, sea levels have risen by approximately nine centimeters, or 3.54 inches.
In 2000, Greenpeace released a report predicting global warming “could cause a massive economic decline across at least 13 tiny Pacific nations in the next 20 years” because rising seas would swamp their beaches and warming waters would kill their coral reefs.
“Under the worst-case scenario examined, by 2020 some Melanesian nations would lose from 15 to 20 percent of their gross domestic product, valued at about $1.9 billion to $2.3 billion [in U.S. dollars], while other mainly Polynesian nations are even more vulnerable and could lose between $4 billion and $5 billion due to climate change,” the report warned.
Reporting on the study, the Australian newspaper The Age wrote, “The study shows that the most vulnerable Pacific nations are Tuvalu and Kiribati, … followed by the Cook Islands, Palau, Tonga, and French Polynesia.”
Subsequent research has found most of the island nations studied by Greenpeace have experienced a net increase in their land masses and their fisheries and tourism industries have uniformly improved, making more money, not less. Milloy writes that Tuvalu’s Ministry of Finance reported, “Revenues collected from fisheries access increased from approximately $10 million [Australian dollars] in 2012 to $13.6 million in 2014 to the current situation in which annual revenue is more than $30 million. The 2019 budget reports that Tuvalu has enjoyed an unprecedented six consecutive years of economic growth ‘on the back of increasing revenues from fishing licenses and back-to-back infrastructure projects that were funded and administered by development partners.’”
Kiribati has also enjoyed healthy GDP growth in the past five years. Data shows each of the islands Greenpeace said faced a human-induced climate-change Armageddon in fact has experienced substantial economic growth and relatively high growth rates since 2000.