Donald Trump’s flurry of executive (dis)orders will probably prevent his country from meeting the targets President Barack Obama set under the Paris Climate accord to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. But they likely won’t increase those emissions much, either, and they’ll fail entirely to turn back the economy’s conversion to clean energy.
Last week’s order to begin dismantling Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan “will most certainly lead to the U.S. missing its 2025 Paris agreement commitment,” Renewables Now forecast, “but it will not fully reverse existing trends on renewables or efficient cars.” It cited Climate Action Tracker (CAT) in concluding that if the order were carried out in full, U.S. emissions would remain at their current levels until 2030. America’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) commitment under Paris agreement envisions a 13% decrease in emissions by then.
On Monday, the Interior Department said it would restore coal companies’ ability to “short-change” U.S. taxpayers out of royalty returns they receive on the fossil fuel mineral extracted from public lands, the Denver Post reported.
“Rules in place since the 1980s,” the outlet explained, “allowed [mining] companies to sell their fuel to affiliates, and pay royalties to the government on that price, then turn around and sell the coal at higher prices, often overseas.” The Obama administration instituted a new rule that would have based royalties “on the price paid by an outside entity, rather than an interim sale to an affiliated company.”
The Interior Department scrapped the new rule, restoring the old. “Conservationists criticized the move,” the Post wrote, “calling it a ‘sweetheart deal’ for the industry that will deprive states of much-needed revenues.”
Meanwhile Trump’s lightning-rod pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, may have run afoul of his own agency’s guidelines on scientific integrity. As Mashable tells the story, which first broke on Reuters, the policy obliges “all agency employees—including political appointees like Pruitt”—to “not knowingly misrepresent, exaggerate, or downplay areas of scientific uncertainty associated with policy decisions.”
Prompted by the Sierra Club, Mashable writes, the EPA’s scientific integrity office is reviewing whether Pruitt broke those rules when he told CNBC last month that he “would not agree that [human activity] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” His comments contradicted the EPA’s own scientists, as well as its website.
Through a spokesperson, Pruitt offered “no apologies for having a candid dialogue about climate science and common-sense regulations that will protect our environment, without creating unnecessary regulatory burdens that kill jobs.”
Pruitt’s scientific intransigence may be killing something else, however: morale among the Environmental Protection Agency’s professional staff.
“The administration is moving as quickly as it can to diminish the place,” the Los Angeles times observes, “with plans to cripple the EPA science office, stop the agency’s climate change work, cut its Superfund program in half, and outright eliminate 50 programs, down to the voluntary Energy Star stickers that help consumers locate efficient appliances. [It] has openly accused the agency of producing junk science, pursuing a political agenda, and abusing its authority.”
Unsurprisingly, “the dim outlook is weighing heavily on its 15,000 scientists, engineers, investigators, and other employees, many of whom perceive their life’s work to be under assault from within,” the Times reports. One official with three decades of service to the EPA told the paper, “it is very hard to be here right now. There might have been slow progress on things like climate change under Bush-Cheney, but [the Trump administration is] battling with basic scientific facts. I have never seen anything like it.”
Even the agency’s first-ever administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, who also served in the same role under President Reagan, lamented to the Los Angeles outlet that the agency’s retrenchment “is going to set us back in ways we can’t even predict.”
Meanwhile, the potential consequences of the Trump administration’s draft budget, which makes draconian cuts in most non-war-related U.S. public agencies, continue to emerge.
The Washington Post pointed to one cut at the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) that may cost the country’s innovation economy dearly down the road. Trump’s White House “is aiming a half-billion-dollar cut at the main U.S. hub for renewable energy research—the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy—25% of the agency’s budget, and that’s just for the final five months of this federal fiscal year,” the Post declared. “Even deeper cuts are expected to be sought for 2018.” The little-known office “is credited with helping to drive the rapid expansion of rooftop solar panels, electric vehicle batteries, LED lighting, and more.”
Writing in Renewable Energy World, veteran Washington sustainable business consultant Scott Sklar mocked the administration’s priorities for being “as silly as stalling [the] cellular communications transition in order to save jobs manufacturing rotary and push button telephones.”
Citing DoE statistics, Sklar noted that “renewable energy employment (excluding efficiency) grew by nearly 18%” between 2015 and 2016. By the first quarter of 2016, “3,384,834 Americans were directly employed by the clean energy industry, which includes the energy efficiency, smart grid, and energy storage industries; electric power generation from the entire portfolio of renewable energy; renewable fuels production; and the electric, hybrid, and hydrogen-based vehicle industries.” In the same quarter, a similarly comprehensive figure for direct employment by the fossil-fuel industry was 2,989,844.
Dirtiest Buildings in Town
For its part, the New York Daily News reported that the extended Trump-Kuchner clan now apparently running much of the U.S. government’s international policy is making a further contribution to climate change through the buildings its members own in that city.
“A report from a coalition of labour and environmental activists,” the News wrote, “found that big buildings owned by Trump and his son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner are among the least energy-efficient in the city. Trump Tower uses more energy than 93% of the city’s large residential buildings, the report found, while a building on Fifth Avenue, owned by Kushner, “uses more energy than 85% of large office buildings.”
Washington Post’s political cartoonist Tom Toles, in a rare excursion into prose, summed up his thoughts under the headline: “The Republican assault on climate science is evil, and evil must be fought.”
“Legislation is being readied with the starkly Orwellian name HONEST, whose intent and provisions are cynically and specifically to make climate science harder to use in making policy,” Toles argued in a short, passionate essay. “This is the iron boot of raw power aimed squarely at the face of science and science-informed public policy.”
Its effect on “the climate of earth is the one legacy that will outlast [Trump’s] presidency by, oh, several millennia,” Toles concluded. “It is unacceptable, and they must be stopped.”