If the tens of thousands of fires burning in the Amazon and Trump’s disdain for climate science and environmental regulation were not bad enough in their own right, imagine how bad they could be together?
It’s being reported that Brazil’s environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, will be meeting with representatives of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) at EPA headquarters on Sept-ember 19th. CEI is a leading denialist organization whose director for energy and environment, Myron Ebell, headed-up Trump’s EPA transition team.
CEI and company are increasingly alone in their bald denial of climate science and the impacts of global warming. Even organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce are at least willing to acknowledge that the global climate is changing and that human activities contribute to those changes.
Brazil’s recently elected populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a fan-boy of President Trump. As is his usual practice, Trump embraces anyone who strokes his ego:
I have gotten to know President @jairbolsonaro well in our dealings with Brazil. He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy. He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!
According to reports, Bolsonaro told his supporters to call him Captain Chainsaw. He also wears with pride the tag Trump of the Tropics.
This is the second article in the Civil Notion series--Erasing Trump’s Environmental Legacy—about the barriers a Democratic victor in the 2020 presidential election—President X— will face in an effort to put a national climate defense plan on the books.
As I had written in the first article of the series, undoing the damage done by Trump to the environment and the regulatory framework that protects it will prove more difficult—certainly more time consuming—than climate defenders imply in their various policy proposals.
The way forward for any climate defense plan—moderate or progressive—will be cluttered with the flotsam of the Trump administration, e.g., rolled back regulations, extant lawsuits, and the loss of the many experienced government professionals needed to implement a pro-environment agenda.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand President X can wave that will immediately restore critical protections and reverse the damage done to the environment by Trump’s policy actions. For example, the administration’s elimination of efficiency standards covering nearly half the lightbulbs currently on the market will increase annual energy usage by an estimated 80 billion kilowatt-hours—an amount roughly equal to the electricity needed to power all the households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Erasing Trump’s environmental legacy is going to take time. A return to the Obama standard would undoubtedly require a new rulemaking—a time-consuming process that would likely be met with legal challenges once the final rule came into force. (See Figure 1) Rulemaking is a time-intensive process—made longer by lawsuits waiting at the end of it.
Our next President should declare a national emergency on day 1 to address the existential threat to all
life on the planet posed by Climate Change.
Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN)
By declaring a national emergency concerning the southern border of the US, Trump may have unwittingly given the next Democratic president an additional weapon with which to combat climate change. Although previous presidents have declared national emergencies for things like swine flu and preventing business with people or organizations involved in global conflicts or the drug trade, none have sought to use their executive power in quite the same manner as Trump has done with his immigration declaration.
Oddly, both Republicans and Democrats opposed the emergency declaration using much the same language. Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were quick to argue that the declaration was an attempt to circumvent Congress—but suggested that a future Democratic president could use the same trick for a different emergency, i.e., climate change or gun control. To emphasize the point, Senator Sanders made a presidential declaration of a national climate emergency an integral part of his recently released climate defense plan.
Petrochemicals are the 800-pound gorilla that many fail to account for in their climate defense plans. Termed a blind spot of the global energy system by the International Energy Agency (IEA) petrochemicals are a driving force behind the increasing demand for fossil fuels.
Petrochemicals also appear to be one of the driving forces behind Trump’s re-election campaign. In the coming weeks and months, Appalachia coal regions and portions of the Rust Belt will become ground zero in the environmental battle between Trump and contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination and, ultimately, for the presidency. In the end, will it all come down to one word--PLASTICS?
Whether he is willing to admit it or not, Donald John Trump surely understands that coal will never return to market prominence in the power sector—absent some miraculous breakthroughs in combustion and carbon capture technologies. Technologies the Trump ad-ministration has shown little interest in developing.
Although Trump accuses Democrats of having launched a war on coal, the real culprits in terms of coal’s declining demand are market forces, e.g., the price of alternatives, about which even coal-state Republicans have shown little genuine interest in overriding. Having promised renewed prosperity to coal country conservatives, Trump is now on the hook to deliver. These are, after all, his peeps.
Dan Levitan argues in the New Republic that Republican deniers of climate change, who are now on the side of the “angels,” don’t deserve redemption by Democrats unless they own-up to the harms they’ve caused by their earlier denials. Prompting Levitan to write his article was the testimony of Republican pollster Frank Luntz before the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Luntz’s invitation was issued by the chair of the Committee, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). Unlike the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, the Senate group is not a Senate sanctioned organization. It is a self-selecting group of Democratic senators that, according to their web-site, want to examine how climate change is affecting the country and the planet and to mobilize action and support for bold climate solutions. To achieve their goal the Committee is planning to convene a series of hearings through 2019 and 2020 to gather expert testimony from a wide variety of witnesses.
The July 25th hearing was entitled “The Right Thing to Do: Conservatives for Climate Action.” Joining Luntz as witnesses were Kera O’Brien Vice President, Students for Carbon Dividends and Nick Huey, founder of the Climate Campaign and a member of the Utah Chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Both O’Brien and Huey are young conservative Republicans who believe that carbon needs to be taxed.
I have an Article 2 where I have the right to do whatever I want as president
-- Donald Trump
Time is the dearest resource we have in the fight to combat Earth’s warming. Whether there is time enough to avoid the harsh economic and environmental consequences waiting beyond the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold scientists warn is a point of no return mostly depends on what the US and the other nations of the world choose to do about the climate crisis and when they will choose to do it.
Time is the fixed element of the warming response equation. It can neither be manufactured nor stopped. Idle time can’t be saved in a rainy-day account or the loose change jar on your dresser to be used later.
Although time past can’t be retrieved, tomorrow’s time can be mortgaged—as it has been by Trump’s efforts to deregulate the nation’s environment and continue its addiction to fossil fuels.
Undoing the damage done by Trump to the environment and the regulatory framework that protects it will prove more difficult—certainly more time consuming—than moderate and progressive climate defenders imply in their various green policy proposals.
The way forward for any climate defense plan—moderate or progressive—is going to be cluttered with the refuse of the Trump administration, e.g., rolled back regulations, extant lawsuits, the lost government offices and programs needed to implement a pro-environment agenda. Cleaning up what Trump and company will leave in their wake is going to take time, as will putting in place a comprehensive climate defense plan.
Major automakers and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have reached an agreement to increase fleet fuel efficiencies to nearly 50 miles per gallon on average by 2026. The companies--Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW of North America—along with California regulators took matters into their own hands, after the Trump administration planned to freeze the standard at the 2020 level.
The companies—willing and able to achieve higher fuel efficiencies—had grown weary of the administration’s unwillingness to negotiate with California in good faith and worried legal challenges to the final federal rule would keep the auto market roiled for two to four more years.
The deal reached between California and the four auto companies is truly extraordinary both in terms of why the deal came about and what it means for the Trump administration. Since Day 1 of the Trump presidency, the auto industry had been hoping to re-negotiate the deal it struck with the Obama administration on auto and light truck fuel efficiency standards (CAFE) for the period 2021 through 2026.
Over the past two and a half years of the Trump administration, the auto industry has learned the meaning of the phrase be careful what you wish for; as it just might come true. The bad news came to industry representatives in late February on a conference call with the White House. They were told that the Administration had cut-off any further conversations with California officials and was going ahead with its proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule that freezing the standards at 2020 levels.
The recent Supreme Court decision in Gundy v US may portend a significant change in the way Congress drafts environmental legislation—indeed how it drafts all legislation—in the future. The recent Supreme Court decision in Gundy v US may portend a significant change in the way Congress drafts environmental legislation—indeed how it drafts all legislation—in the future. The case, brought by a convicted child rapist, challenges sex offender registration requirements. Looking past the lurid details of the case, the question before the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) involves the question of what constitutes a permissible delegation of power from Congress to the executive branch of government.
It is nearly impossible to conceive of any environmental law enacted in the past half-century or more that does not involve a Congressional grant of authority to the executive branch of government. Take, for example, Section 202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act[i] (CAA) that provides:
The [EPA] Administrator shall by regulation prescribe (and from time to time revise) in accordance with the provisions of this section, standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare … . (emphasis added)
The Supreme Court’s interpretation of this and other CAA provisions in the case of Massachusetts v US confirmed the authority of the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG) as qualified air pollutants under the Act. Moreover, the Massachusetts court determined that a finding of endangerment by the Agency obligated it to regulate GHG emissions.
Unless the transition to a clean energy economy is based on unifying politics, this next iteration
will also prove another adventure in pyrrhic rhetoric.
The California Democrat Party held its state convention ten days ago. In addition to organizational business, the 5,000 delegates and guests heard from 14 of the contenders for the right to take on Trump in 2020.
The California convention was described by the Los Angeles Times as a festival of dissent aimed at driving President Trump from office amidst chanting, clapping and occasionally squabbling. Today’s commentary is about the squabbling within the ranks of California’s Democratic Party. It is a squabble playing itself out nationally between union labor and progressive climate activists, and it portends problems for Democrats in the 2020 elections.
As defending against climate change is a priority of the Democratic Party and mostly pandered by the Republican, a Democratic loss in 2020 is a loss for the environment. Four more years of Trump and the entire framework of national environmental protection laws will likely be in total tatters.
Amid the chanting, clapping and soaring oratory in San Francisco was the election of Rusty Hicks as chair of the California Democratic Party. The 39-year old Hicks is a product of organ-ized labor with solid Democratic credentials.
Hicks served in the California Assembly before becoming the political director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO (LA Fed) in 2006 and its president in 2015. Hicks also served as the California Political Director for the 2008 Obama for America campaign. His election is considered a win for the establishment, and his victory owed much to union support.
The LA Fed is the chartered Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO in Los Angeles County. Representing over 300 unions and more than 800,000 workers, the Los Angeles Council is the second largest in the nation
For the purposes of these discussions, let’s all put politics aside and judge the proposals by their content and not their proposer’s party.
--Green New Directions
The 2018 midterm elections swept the Democrats into control of the US House of Representatives and climate change onto the landing pages of most media networks. Since the elections, global heating [i]has continued to be at or near the top of voter priority lists. A recent poll conducted by the communications programs at Yale and George Mason Universities shows that 40 percent of eligible voters now see climate as crucial to whom they’ll vote for in 2020.
Climate polled as a voter priority in previous elections. However, the vouchsafed preference for an aggressive federal environmental agenda never translated into adequate action being taken by either Congress or the president at the time, i.e., G.W. Bush, or Obama. Adequate that is to keep from crossing the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) threshold above which scientists warn the most devastating and likely irreversible impacts will occur.
I grant it’s not easy to protect the environment while simultaneously trying to save the economy and defending the nation against aggressors—foreign and domestic. The problem, of course, is that neither humanity nor the economy stands much chance of being saved if the physical environment becomes so polluted and heated as to make living in it problematic.
This time around, there is little reason to believe that climate will flash and burn in the minds of voters as it has in the past. A new generation of environmental defender has joined with earlier generations to add its voice to the cries for environmental action—a collective voice raised louder than any that has gone before.
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.