Notwithstanding the “unprecedented influence they enjoy in the Trump administration”, the cabal of climate deniers and fossil lobbyists who gathered in New Orleans last week for the Heartland Institute’s second America First conference “found plenty of reasons for dread,” InsideClimate News reports after attending the live-streamed event.
“Contrarian scientists, policy professionals, and lawyers affiliated with conservative interests contemplated the spread of the climate action agenda as if it were a malignancy,” InsideClimate states. “With carbon tax proposals floating, climate lawsuits advancing, big corporations embracing the need for action, and states and cities getting into the act, many of those gathered grappled with the reality that a fossil future was not secure—despite a largely pliant White House and Congress.”
A key item on their hit list: the 2009 endangerment finding by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gas emissions are harmful to public health and safety. “That determination, affirmed by the Supreme Court, is what empowers the agency to regulate global warming pollution,” InsideClimate notes. “But the acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said he considers the endangerment finding ‘settled law’ and does not wish to revisit it.”
“Complete nonsense,” retorted Atlanta lawyer Harry Macdougald during the Heartland conference. “It is a direct threat to the president’s energy dominance agenda. And the next Democratic administration—and there will be one—will turn the screws.”
Yet even Wheeler’s more ideologically-driven predecessor, Scott Pruitt, was loathe to go after the endangerment finding while he was in office, Greentech Media reported at the time. “A direct attack on the endangerment finding would be a likely loser,” wrote Josiah Neeley, energy director for the R Street Institute, last September. “To repeal the finding, the agency would have to go through ‘notice and comment,’” he observed, giving the public and subject specialists an opportunity to critique the proposed action. The EPA “must then provide a reasonable response to these critiques in formulating its final decision.”
That wouldn’t be easy, given the overwhelming scientific consensus that rising levels of human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the primary factor destabilizing the climate, and the support of the majority of Americans for the Paris Agreement. “What’s more,” Neeley wrote, “any decision the EPA makes on the matter is certain to end up in court. And judges are unlikely to side against the weight of scientific opinion on the matter.”
The band of extremists at the Heartland gathering also shared their “exasperation with corporations that have decided to take climate action on their own—or at least have refused to challenge the consensus science that human activity is the driver for global warming,” ICN states.
“A number of regulated utilities across the country—no reason to name names, but there are about a dozen of them—have announced they are going to …reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 from their generating fleet, which is the Barack Obama plan and the Hillary Clinton plan,” said Heartland Senior Fellow Frederick Palmer, a member of the U.S. National Coal Council and former vice president with coal giant Peabody Energy.
“It’s as if Donald Trump wasn’t elected president of the United States as far as they are concerned.”
As if to illustrate the point, Utility Dive reports that the “beautiful friendship” between utilities and solar is growing fast. “Utilities of all kinds and in many places are accelerating from zero to 100 on solar in response to record-low prices,” said Smart Electric Power Alliance Research Manager Daisy Chung, author of a new study that points to higher penetration rates for renewable electricity.
“By 2050, we’re painting a picture of an electricity system utterly reshaped around cheap wind, solar, and batteries,” added Seb Henbest, lead author of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance New Energy Outlook.
Back at the Heartland conference, institute co-founder Joseph Bast took aim at General Motors CEO Mary Barra’s vision of “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion,” earning a laugh with his response that “that is impossible, and it’s absolutely ludicrous. Zero of each of those things mean zero cars. It means zero respect for people’s personal choices of transportation. It would mean a devastating impact on the economy.”
He added that “big companies are willing to throw their customers under the bus when it comes to appearing to be green or when it comes to appeasing an administration,” referring to auto manufacturers’ participation in Obama-era fuel economy standards. When Trump came along, automakers lobbied the new administration to loosen the new rules. But they were aghast when Pruitt and the White House pushed to drastically undercut the tailpipe emissions rule and challenge California’s right to set its own fuel economy standards. It was a move the more pragmatic Wheeler opposed, and has now put Trump on a course to a likely Supreme Court challenge from 19 states and the District of Columbia.