Tag Archives: energy

Trump Expected to Sign Executive Orders Hitting the EPA

Mother Jones

Scott Pruitt will almost certainly be the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Oklahoma attorney general’s nomination is expected to sail through Senate—possibly as soon as Friday—despite Democrats’ protests that he is unfit to lead an agency that he has repeatedly sued. The administration has already imposed a freeze on the EPA’s social media, halted its rulemaking, and reportedly mandated that all agency research be reviewed by a political appointee before being released to the public. But next week, once Pruitt is sworn in, the real frenzy will begin.

According to Reuters, President Donald Trump plans to sign between two and five environmental executive orders aimed at the EPA and possibly the State Department. The White House is reportedly planning to hold an event at the EPA headquarters, similar the administration’s roll-out of its widely condemn travel ban after Defense Secretary James Mattis took office. While we don’t know what, exactly, next week’s orders will say, Trump is expected to restrict the agency’s regulatory oversight. Based on one administration official’s bluster, the actions could “suck the air” out of the room.

Trump may have hinted at the forthcoming orders in his unwieldy press conference on Thursday. “Some very big things are going to be announced next week,” he said. (He didn’t make clear whether or not he was referring to the EPA.)

Former President Barack Obama’s array of climate regulations, including the Clean Power Plan limiting power plant emissions, are certainly high on conservative activists’ hit list. So too is the landmark Paris climate deal, in which Obama agreed to dramatically cut domestic carbon emissions and provide aide to other countries for clean energy projects and climate adaptation. The EPA’s rule that defines its jurisdiction over wetlands and streams is also a prime target. As attorney general, Pruitt launched lawsuits against a number of these regulations.

“What I would like to see are executive orders on implementing all of President Trump’s main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty,” said Myron Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition and recently returned to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an email to Mother Jones.

H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow the Heartland Institute, which rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, says Trump could start by revisiting the Obama administration’s efforts to calculate a “social cost of carbon“—and by forbidding its use to determine costs and benefits of government regulations. He also wants to see broader restrictions on how the EPA calculates costs and benefits. In particular, Burnett hopes Trump will prohibit the agency from the considering public health co-benefits of regulations—for example, attempts by the EPA to argue that limits on CO2 emissions from power plants also reduce emissions of other dangerous pollutants.

Or Trump could take a cue from Republican Attorneys General Patrick Morrisey (W.V.) and Ken Paxton (Texas), who recommended in December that Trump issue a memorandum directing the EPA to “take no further action to enforce or implement” the Clean Power Plan. (The Supreme Court halted implementation of the rule a year ago while both sides fight it out in federal court).

The holy grail for conservatives would be reversing the agency’s so-called “endangerment finding,” which states that greenhouse gas emissions harm public health and must therefore be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The endangerment finding is the legal underpinning for the bulk of Obama’s climate policies, including the restrictions on vehicle and power plant emissions. Undoing the finding wouldn’t be an easy feat and can’t be accomplished by executive order alone. The endangerment finding isn’t an Obama invention; in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses if it found they harmed public health. Pruitt said during his confirmation hearing that the administration wouldn’t revisit the finding, but he also launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against it in 2010. Neither Ebell nor Burnett expects to see Trump to tackle the endangerment finding just yet.

Environmentalists are already planning their response. Litigation is certainly an option, but it would of course depend on the details of Trump’s executive actions. Several groups, including EarthJustice and Natural Resources Defense Council, have already sued to block Trump’s earlier executive order requiring that every new regulation be offset by scrapping two existing regulations. Their case: The administration can’t arbitrarily ditch regulations just because the president wants fewer of them on the books.

They could be making a similar case soon enough. “A new president has to deal with the record and evidence and findings,” EarthJustice’s lead attorney, Patti Goldman, said. “If you take climate and the endangerment finding, that is a scientific finding that is upheld by the court. That finding has legal impacts. If there’s a directive along those lines, there will have to be a process.”

Of course, anti-EPA Republicans disagree about what is constitutional, which is one reason the agency is in for a tumultuous ride over the next four years. For many conservatives, no EPA at all—or at least one that has no regulatory powers—is the best option. “I read the constitution of the United States, and the word environmental protection does not appear there,” said Heartland’s Burnett. “I don’t see where it’s sanctioned. I think it should go away.” A freshman House Republican recently introduced a bill to do just that, but there’s no sign that it’s going to pass anytime soon.

And while Burnett acknowledges that the EPA probably won’t be vanishing in the near future, he’s been happy with the direction Trump has taken so far. He’s pleased with the president’s moves to restart the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and he’s hopeful that the administration will move toward an EPA with “smaller budgets and a smaller mission, justified by the fact that you’ll have fewer regulations.”

Depending on what Trump does next week, that could be just the beginning.

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Trump Expected to Sign Executive Orders Hitting the EPA

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Don’t Blame Oroville on Environmentalists

Mother Jones

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Victor Davis Hanson is a native Californian who hates California because it’s become too brown and too liberal. Today he takes to the LA Times to use the Oroville Dam disaster as a way of riding all his usual hobbyhorses:

The poor condition of the dam is almost too good a metaphor for the condition of the state as a whole; its possible failure is a reflection of California’s civic decline.

….The dam was part of the larger work of a brilliant earlier generation of California planners and lawmakers….The water projects created cheap and clean hydroelectric power…ensured that empty desert acreage on California’s dry west side of the Central Valley could be irrigated…spectacular growth in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin.

….Yet the California Water Project and federal Central Valley Project have been comatose for a half-century….Necessary improvements to Oroville Dam, like reinforced concrete spillways, were never finished….A new generation of Californians — without much memory of floods or what unirrigated California was like before its aqueducts — had the luxury to envision the state’s existing water projects in a radically new light: as environmental errors….Indeed, pressures mounted to tear down rather than build dams. The state — whose basket of income, sales and gas taxes is among the highest in the country — gradually shifted its priorities from the building and expansion of dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, bridges and highways to redistributionist social welfare programs, state employee pensions and an enormous penal archipelago.

LOL. The reason the Oroville Dam wasn’t upgraded ten years ago is because all those salt-of-the-earth farmers that Davis admires didn’t want to pay for the upgrades via higher water rates. Here’s the San Jose Mercury News:

Environmentalists noted Friday that they had tried in 2005 to persuade the federal government to require the state to cover the emergency spillway with concrete. But the agency that was relicensing the dam, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, declined after opposition from the state Department of Water Resources and the State Water Contractors, a group of 27 water agencies who were concerned about the cost.

Hanson should have listened to his initial instincts: the Oroville Dam is too good a metaphor for the condition of the state as a whole:

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Don’t Blame Oroville on Environmentalists

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Wind power is beating the pants off of other renewables.

The industry is growing so fast it could become the largest source of renewable energy on both sides of the Atlantic.

In America, wind power won the top spot for installed generating capacity (putting it ahead of hydroelectric power), according to a new industry report. And in the E.U., wind capacity grew by 8 percent last year, surpassing coal. That puts wind second only to natural gas across the pond.

In the next three years, wind could account for 10 percent of American electricity, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a press release. The industry already employs over 100,000 Americans.

In Europe, wind has hit the 10.4 percent mark, and employs more than 300,000 people, according to an association for wind energy in Europe. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania lead the way for European wind growth. In the U.S., Texas is the windy frontier.

“Low-cost, homegrown wind energy,” Kiernan added in the release, “is something we can all agree on.”

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Wind power is beating the pants off of other renewables.

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Zombie pipelines, an EPA under attack, and that’s just Week One

Did someone say carnage? The environment — and government agencies charged with protecting it — saw a lot of that this week. Still, some headlines mattered more than others. Here’s a rundown of President Trump’s first week in the White House and which actions should worry you the most.

Rise of the zombies:
Pipelines resurrected

What happened? On Tuesday, Trump revived both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. He invited TransCanada to reapply for a border-crossing permit for Keystone — which the company promptly did just two days later — and told the State Department to make a decision on that application within 60 days. (KXL, in case you’ve forgotten, would transport dirty Canadian tar-sands oil across the American farm belt and one of its most important drinking water sources and encourage the further development of one of the most climate-threatening fuel sources on the planet. President Obama rejected it as “not in the national interest.” That’s an understatement.)

Trump also directed the Army Corps of Engineers to hurry up with review and approval of a permit for the disputed segment of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux say threatens their sacred land and water, and to skip additional environmental review if possible. Trump also signed an executive order that would speed up environmental reviews and approvals for other “high-priority infrastructure,” which could include still more pipelines and fossil fuel projects.

How much should you worry? Some. There are still procedural, legal, and financial hurdles in the way of the KXL and DAPL pipelines, but both pipelines are now a lot closer to getting built than they were a week ago. At the same time, environmentalists and Native American activists are riled up and ready to use every possible tool to try to stop the pipelines, from lawsuits to direct action. Obama’s rejection of KXL and reconsideration of DAPL were two of the highest-profile victories for environmental justice and the “keep it in the ground” movement under the previous administration, and activists aren’t going to give those wins up without a monumental fight.

It’s hammer time:
EPA under attack

What happened? The Trump team is hammering particularly hard on the Environmental Protection Agency. At the start of the week, the administration froze EPA grants and contracts, which fund everything from cleanup of toxic sites to testing of air quality, though most grants and contracts have now been unfrozen. The admin is vetting all external meetings and presentations that employees are planning to give over the next three weeks, reviewing studies and data that have already been published by EPA scientists, and has put a “temporary hold” on the release of new scientific information.

Myron Ebell, who until recently led Trump’s EPA transition team, said on Thursday that his “aspirational” goal would be to see the agency’s staff slashed by two-thirds, from about 15,000 people down to 5,000, and that Trump could be expected to cut about $1 billion from the agency’s annual budget of roughly $8 billion. Ebell is not part of the administration, but his views sound like what you’d expect from Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to head EPA.

How much should you worry? A lot. The EPA is responsible for implementing federal laws that protect air and water, and determining what the latest science tells us about protecting human health. The agency is involved in everything from helping to fix the Flint water crisis to overseeing cleanup of toxic sites. Weakening the EPA, let alone eviscerating it, would directly and negatively affect Americans’ health.

404: Climate not found:
Website wipeouts

What happened? On Trump’s first day as president, his administration deleted information on climate change from the White House website and replaced it with a page on Trump’s “America First Energy Plan.” Most climate change mentions were deleted from the State Department’s website, as well. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the Trump team had ordered the EPA to erase the climate change section of its website, but after some bad press, the team backed off, so as of this writing, the section is still up. An EPA webpage on common questions about climate change is gone, though.

How much should you worry? Not that much. “The full contents of the Obama administration’s White House and State Department websites, including working links to climate change reports, have been archived and are readily available to the public,” the New York Times reports, and the EPA’s climate section has been preserved too. But these kinds of moves do make it a little tougher for the public to get accurate information on climate change. More troublingly, they’re an ominous sign of what’s to come. As Trump starts wiping out climate-protecting programs and regulations, that will be the real cause for worry.

History retweets itself:
Social media blackouts

What happened? Hours after the inauguration, Trump ordered the National Park Service to stop using social media because his pride was wounded by an NPS tweet comparing the size of his inauguration crowd to Obama’s in 2008. Over the next few days, gag orders also went out to EPA, the Department of Energy’s renewables team, and the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, telling them to stop communicating with the public via social media, press releases, and/or new website content.

The Twitter restrictions backfired: Former and current National Park Service employees tweeted out climate messages from various official accounts as well as new “alt” accounts, which just served to highlight how uncomfortable the Trump team is with scientific statements about climate change.

How much should you worry? Not that much. The Obama administration put similar restrictions in place right after he took office in 2009, putting communications on hold until they got their people in place at departments and agencies. But once the tweets and press releases do start flowing from the Trump administration, you can expect them to be devoid of #ClimateFacts.

The big chill:
Frozen rules

What happened? On Trump’s first day as president, his administration put a freeze on new or pending regulations. This included 30 EPA regulations; four Energy Department rules that would require portable air conditioners, walk-in freezers, commercial boilers, and other equipment to be more energy efficient; and regulations from other departments governing everything from hazardous waste transportation to endangered species protections.

How much should you worry? Not that much. Obama also froze new and pending regs after he took office in 2009. A number of these rules could still go through; industry supports some of the efficiency ones, for example. But this is just one step in what will be a long process of the Trump team halting and dumping rules it doesn’t like. The EPA will be a particular target. On Tuesday, Trump said environmental regulations are “out of control,” and on Thursday, Ebell said the administration might revisit decades’ worth of EPA rules.

The writing’s on the wall:
Blocking the border

What happened? On Wednesday, Trump issued an executive order kicking off the planning process for building his much-hyped wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is obviously an attack on immigrants. Less obviously, it’s an attack on our climate, threatened species, and fragile ecosystems. Building a 1,300-mile-long, 40-foot-tall wall would require massive amounts of concrete, which would result in a lot of additional greenhouse gas pollution, E&E News points out. And it would exacerbate the problems caused by existing border fences, like blocking the migration of animals such as wolves and jaguars, and triggering flooding.

In building a wall, Trump and his allies would also be ignoring one of the root causes of migration: climate change. We need to be helping people affected by global warming, not creating new ways to shut them out — especially since Americans caused such a big part of the climate problem in the first place.

How much should you worry? Some. There are a lot of stumbling blocks to be overcome before such a huge project could get rolling, but if it does, rare species and their habitats might be permanently devastated, and migrants trying to escape climate chaos and other hardships would suffer.

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Zombie pipelines, an EPA under attack, and that’s just Week One

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Donald Trump Just Replaced the White House Climate Website With…This

Mother Jones

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As Donald Trump was sworn in Friday, the White House website got a major makeover. One of the casualties in the reset: any mention of the need to fight climate change.

The original White House page dedicated to the problem of climate change and former President Barack Obama’s policies to address it is now a broken link: “The requested page ‘/energy/climate-change’ could not be found.”

Instead, the White House website features Trump’s energy talking points from the campaign. The page—titled, “An America First Energy Plan”—makes no mention of climate change, other than to say, “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the US rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”

The page contains only the briefest of mentions of the environment: “Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.”

Here’s the new page:

For reference, Obama’s climate page looked like this:

Update: If you miss the old White House website, it’s archived here.

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Donald Trump Just Replaced the White House Climate Website With…This

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