Clean Energy and the Environment: In the Crosshairs
Public Enmity Number 1
(for high crimes and misdemeanors)
It is no secret President Trump has had clean energy and environmental regulations in his sights at least for as long as he has been running for president. As president, Trump has begun to make good on his promises to roll back federal environmental and clean energy policies and programs. These are among the only promises he has kept during his first ten months in office.
The reason he has kept these particular vows is that he can--alone and without interference from Congress. Much of the Obama-era climate legacy rests upon executive orders. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Waters Rule of the United States (WOTUS), for example, are based upon legislation but drafted by directive.
Presidential orders and memoranda have the standing of law for only as long as the executive author is in the Oval Office. They are an effective but vulnerable means for a president to set national policy in the shade of an opposition Congress. It is as true for Trump as it was for Obama.
Trump’s presidency is coming under increasing attack from establishment politicians. To lighten its load, in an attempt to right the ship, he will step up his attacks on clean energy and the environment.
I am not a psychiatrist, so I can’t really speak to why Trump is Trump. As a veteran observer of politics and people, however, I can tell with near certainty he is the type of politician who seeks elective office to validate himself. A President who has no higher calling threatens the nation and the foundation on which it is built.
There is growing speculation President Trump will be leaving office before the end of his four-year term--either voluntarily or with help from his cabinet or the Congress. Before cries of joy and sighs of relief are uttered, consider how the prospect of his leaving office could cause the worsening of an already bad situation.
This article is not as much about the means of his departure, although discussed, as it is about his motives and what it may mean for clean energy technologies and the environment.
Opinions differ as to what will spark his departure. The three most apparent prompts are impeachment, the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and voluntary retirement. Two Democratic members of the House have already filed impeachment articles, while a third is waiting in the wings.
Representative Al Green (D-TX) used Trump’s comments about National Football League players who chose to show concern for race discrimination and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem:
Mr. Speaker, I rise to denounce these comments that have been made because they have brought discourse to a new low…this is a level of indecency that is unbecoming the presidency.
…I rise to say to the world that this is not what America is all about…I will stand here in the well of Congress, an…will call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America. (emphasis added)
Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) chose to file his motion for different reasons. According to the statement he released:
… Ignorance accompanied by a refusal to learn. Lack of impulse control, accompanied by a refusal to have his staff control his impulses. We’re no longer surprised by any action, no matter how far below the dignity of the office—and no matter how dangerous to the country.
…the Constitution does not provide for the removal of a President for impulsive, ignorant incompetence. It does provide for the removal of a President for High Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Introducing Articles of Impeachment will have two possible outcomes. First, I have slight hope it will inspire an ‘intervention’ in the White House. If Impeachment is real, if they actually see Articles, perhaps we will see incompetency replaced by care.
I author Articles of Impeachment not to change our national policy. I served with Mike Pence in Congress for twelve years, and I disagree with him on just about everything. I never dreamed I would author a measure that would put him in the White House. (emphasis added)
A third member of the House, Steve Cohen (D-TN), is intending to file impeachment articles. Unlike Sherman and Green, he is hoping to get between seven and ten co-sponsors—Democrat and Republican—before introducing his motion.
Mr. Cohen announced his intention following the President’s comments about the murder and injury of counter-protesters to the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Congressman is quoted as saying: I have other Republicans, just like Senator Bob Corker suggested, who have told me on a constant basis that they know this man is not balanced, he is not capable of continuing to lead us, including Freedom Party people, who said 'I don’t know how long we can stand this.’ (emphasis added)
Impeachment of a president is a long and contentious process shared by the House and the Senate. It begins with the introduction of a motion in the House and referrals to the Committees on Rules and the Judiciary for investigation. Should the committees report the resolution out, it then requires the vote of a simple majority of the full House on whether to bring the charge.
If the charge is approved, the matter is sent to the Senate for trial. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required for conviction. Only two presidents have ever been impeached by the House—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted by the Senate.
Steve Bannon recently made news with the prediction that Trump stands no better than a 30 percent chance of serving out his first term. Bannon was forced off Trump’s payroll by General Kelly. Kelly, as chief of staff, has been brought in to restore some semblance of order and decorum in the White House, following the departure of Preibus and the comings and goings of the Mooch.
Bannon, now back at the helm of the alt-right daily Breitbart News, has declared what can only be called a right-wing jihad against establishment Republicans. Despite his leaving the White House, Bannon remains a force behind the president.
Bannon’s predicted vehicle for Trump’s departure is the 25th Amendment of the Constitution:
Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress
may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office
as Acting President.
The Amendment was ratified in 1967 after President Kennedy’s assassination. Shockingly the U.S. Constitution did not previously establish the line of succession should a president become disabled, dysfunctional or dead. The Amendment was added to effectuate a peaceful and measured transfer of power.
The 25th Amendment can be invoked in a number of circumstances, e.g., when a president is wounded by an assassin’s bullet, undergoing surgery or suffering a debilitating illness. Poetically, the reason cited these days for the possibility of Trump’s departure—either temporarily or permanently—is Trump being Trump.
The rambling, contentious and confrontational manner that earned The Donald the presidency may be the same traits responsible for evicting him from the Oval Office. There is the third, if less likely, option of Trump’s voluntarily deciding to return to reality TV.
What are the odds of any of this happening in 2017 or beyond? Ladbrokes, a UK online bookmaker, is willing to give 20/1 that The Donald will be gone before the end of the year. The odds drop to 5/2 for his being replaced in 2018. At those rates, a C-note will return respectively $2100 and $350.
There is good reason for Ladbrokes to have set this year’s odds at 20/1. The more likely scenario is Trump will stay on at least through the 2018 mid-term elections. For as long as he is in the Oval Office and Republicans control Congress, clean energy technologies and the environment will face escalating dangers.
The more pressure and criticism leveled at Trump by establishment politicians of either party, the more aggressively he will attack the clean energy and environmental sectors in defense of his presidency and his ego. With Bannon out of the White House and on the prowl and the continued failure of the Congress to enact any of his agenda, Trump is guaranteed of facing ongoing pressure and criticism.
We have seen on an almost daily basis that The Donald meets any opposition or criticism with invective and defense of self.
In responding to a speech by Senator McCain (R-AZ,) given just after his receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, the President warned I'm being very, very nice but at some point, I fight back, and it won't be pretty.
What did the Senator say to engender Trump’s turgid response?
To fear the world, we have [organized] and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of Earth for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
Trump took offense and not for the first time that day did he defend himself.
During an impromptu press conference, Trump was asked about the criticism of his not having contacted the families of four recently fallen soldiers. He responded by saying it was a hard thing for him to do (emotionally). He went on to add the traditional way if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls…I like to call when it’s appropriate when I’m able to do it.
His claim about Obama was proven wrong and further fueled the criticisms. In response, The Donald did what The Donald does; he doubled down and blamed others.
What does this have to do with clean energy and the environment? Everything.
Trump has already exhibited enmity to environmental regulation as a reflection of his feelings towards President Obama, a belief that such rules kill jobs and an unfettered faith in industry to do what’s right for America.
The President’s use of clean energy and the environment as a shield to defend his presidency goes beyond belief and faith. It is a matter of convenience and control.
Trump is vulnerable and defensive about accusations he is an incompetent dealmaker. He has yet to secure a victory on any core agenda item he promised his supporters. He has been belittled over his support of Luther Strange and the success of Roy Moore in the Alabama Republican primary to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions on becoming U.S. Attorney General.
Trump, at the behest of Senate Majority leader McConnell (R-KY) and others, backed Strange in the contest against Moore. Strange is the embodiment of an establishment Republican, and just the type of politician Bannon loathes and has dedicated himself to defeat.
Moore, on the other hand, is the model of an outsider’s outsider—at least everywhere perhaps but in Alabama. Moore has been twice removed as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
The first time was for defying a federal court order to remove a granite monument to the Ten Commandments outside the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery. He was tossed again in 2016 when he instructed state judges to disregard a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
Alabama Supreme Court justices are elected for six-year terms. Having lost his judgeship, Moore was free to run for the seat left open by Sessions.
Moore’s victory is more than just an example of an oddball politician making good—more than a quirk. It reflects the fight for the Republican Party and how it will govern for as long as it remains the majority party or, for that matter, the Party of Lincoln. It is in danger of becoming the Party of Bannon.
Trump hates losing. He blames McConnell and others for having caused him to bet on the wrong horse. It will not be forgotten.
Bannon has said he is ‘declaring war on the Republican establishment’ and that he intends to lead a ‘populist nationalist conservative revolt,’ to clear the way in Congress for Trump’s stalled legislative agenda. Bannon bragged ‘there’s a coalition coming together that is going to challenge every Republican incumbent except for Ted Cruz.’ Ted Cruz, really?
I believe Trump will once again join forces with Breitbart and far-right populists to protect his reputation and his presidency. He will embrace the Roy Moore’s of the Republican Party.
Trump’s political roots are not planted in the Republican establishment. They are anchored in Bannon’s brand of populism. To maintain his core support, the President needs to continue railing against mainstream Republicans, blaming them for his failures.
Words are not enough. If, however, Trump cannot win in Congress, how then will he overcome charges of weakness? He will do what he has already done. He’lll rattle his saber against enemies foreign and domestic, unleashing the powers of his office to attack the vulnerable.
There are few programs and policies at the federal level more vulnerable than those that are climate related. Trump has ample opportunities to continue his assault on environmental regulations and the clean energy industry.
There is little reason to believe President Trump will listen and acquiesce to the many mainstream voices—Republican and Democrat—calling on him to reject the recommendation of the U.S. International Trade Commission to levy a tariff on imported solar equipment mainly coming into the country from China, South Korea, and Mexico.
The proposed tariff would double the cost of U.S. solar installations. It would, however, allow Trump publicly to proclaim that he has:
Candidate Trump will continue to woo ultra-conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation and Freedom Partners by encouraging Republican lawmakers to resist the efforts of Washington’s swamp-lobbyists to carve out federal subsidies, tax credits, and loan guarantees for solar, wind and other clean energy and efficiency products and technologies from proposed tax reform legislation.
The group Freedom Partners (FP) is reputed to serve as an outlet for the ideas and funds of the Koch Brothers. The Brothers are renowned for their advocacy of the ultraconservative agenda, including support for fossil fuels and the denial of climate change.
FP’s website targets the Clean Power Plan and other environmental regulations, calling them an anathema to American business. It was opposed to and lobbied for the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord.
Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the umbrella organization, recently launched the website NoMoreCorporateWelfare.com to engage its constituency and Congress in the tax reform debate. The site explicitly calls out the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions. The group accuses them of jeopardizing tax reform and rigging the system by asking for special credits.
Although the Koch Brothers were cool to Trump’s candidacy, they are long-time supporters of Vice President Pence. They are in practice allies of President Trump, both through Pence and their endorsement of the conservative agenda.
Trump’s and Pence’s courting of the Koch Brothers is also likely to mean White House support of Congressional efforts to resist efforts by the clean energy and environmental communities to carve out incentives in any proposed tax reform legislation. Whether current production and investment credits for wind and solar are in jeopardy remains to be seen. It bears watching.
Tariffs and taxes are not Trump’s only targets. As chief executive, he will continue directing federal agencies to erase from their websites and reports even the suggestion that global warming is real and caused by human activity. Enforcement of anti-climate orders and policies is a matter of personnel.
The Donald has already packed his cabinet with opponents of environmental and clean energy regulations and policies. Trump is now making new appointments at the sub-cabinet level. In recent weeks, for example, he has nominated:
William Wehrum for the EPA’s top clean air post. He is a retread from the George W. Bush administration with a deep doctrinal dislike of clean air regulations.
Kathleen Hartnett-White to head the White House Council on Environmental Policy. According to DESMOG, she has said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ignores natural causes of climate change. She has also argued that Carbon Dioxide has been wrongfully regulated as a pollutant.
Michael Dourson as the assistant administrator of the EPA office in charge of reviewing chemicals used in various agricultural, industrial and residential applications. Dourson is a scientist who has worked for many in the chemical industry, including Koch Industries and Monsanto.
Organizations representing millions of Americans have expressed concern or opposition to Dourson including groups representing pediatricians, firefighters, and farm workers. Numerous other national, state and local public health, environmental, labor, reproductive and business organizations also are on record opposing his appointment.
Will the predictions of Trump’s premature departure from the presidency come to pass? Who knows? For Trump, there is no price too great to pay to soothe his wounded ego. That he uses the currency of the country’s well-being and standing in the world is of little importance to him.
Are the harms he does to Nature and the nation by failing to regulate harmful emissions, choosing surrogates who refuse to believe or to act on the preponderance of scientific information and are willing to hide the truth a high crime and misdemeanor? I doubt it.
It is not to say that the die is cast. It is incumbent upon all who would defend the climate to take a lesson from the Book of Donald—DOUBLE DOWN!
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.