Trump Administration Continues Attempts to Unravel U.S. Environmental Protections Put in Place Over Many Years – Now, Shareholder Proxy Resolution Actions on Climate Issues Also In Focus For Investors…

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

We should not have been surprised: in 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that among his first steps when in the Oval Office would be the tearing up of his predecessor’s commitment to join the family of nations in addressing climate change challenges. 

In late-December 2015 in Paris, with almost 200 nations coming to agreement on tackling climate change issues, the United States of America with President Barack Obama presiding signed on to the “Paris Agreement” (or Accord) for sovereign nations and private, public and social sector organizations come together to work to prevent further damage to the planet.

The goal is to limit damage and stop global temperatures from rising about 2-degrees Centigrade, the issues agreed to. 

As the largest economy, of course the United States of America has a key role to play in addressing climate change.  Needed: the political will, close collaboration among private, public and social sectors — and funding for the transition to a low-carbon economy (which many US cities and companies are already addressing).

So where is the USA? 

On June 1st 2017 now-President Trump followed through on the promise made and said that the U.S.A. would begin the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, joining the 13 nations that have not formally ratified the agreement by the end of 2018 (such as Russia, North Korea, Turkey and Iran).  

Entering 2019, 197 nations have ratified the Agreement.

A series of actions followed President Trump’s Paris Agreement announcement – many changes in policy at US EPA and other agencies — most of which served to attempt to weaken long-existing environmental protections, critics charged.

The latest move to put on your radar:  In April, President Trump signed an Executive Order that addresses “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth”.

[Energy] Infrastructure needs – a bipartisan issue – are very much in focus in the president’s recent EO.  But not the right kind to suit climate change action advocates. 

Important: The EO addressed continued administration promotion and encouraging of coal, oil and natural gas production; developing infrastructure for transport of these resources; cutting “regulatory uncertainties”; review of Clean Water Act requirements; and updating of the DOT safety regulations for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities.

Critics and supporters of these actions will of course line up on both sides of the issues.

There are things to like and to dislike for both sides in the president’s continuing actions related to environmental protections that are already in place.

And then there is the big issue in the EO:  a possible attempt to limit shareholder advocacy to encourage, persuade, pressure companies to address ESG issues.

Section 5 of the EO“Environment, Social and Governance Issues; Proxy Firms; and Financing of Energy Projects Through the U.S. Capital Markets.” 

The EO language addresses the issue of Materiality as the US Supreme Court advises.  Is ESG strategy, performance and outcome material for fiduciaries? Many in the mainstream investment community believe the answer is YES!

Within 180 days of the order signing, the Secretary of the Department of Labor will complete a review existing DOL guidance on fiduciary responsibilities for investor proxy voting to determine whether such guidance should be rescinded, replaced, or modified to “ensure consistency with current law and policies that promote long-term growth and maximize return on ERISA plan assets”. 

(Think of the impact on fiduciaries of the recommendations to be made by the DOL, such as public employee pension plans.) 

The Obama Administration in 2016 issued a DOL Interpretive Bulletin many see as a “green light” for fiduciaries to consider when incorporating ESG analysis and portfolio decision-making.  The Trump EO seems to pose a direct threat to that guidance.

We can expect to see sustainable & responsible investors marshal forces to aggressively push back against any changes that the Trump/DOL forces might advance to weaken the ability of shareholders – fiduciaries, the owners of the companies! – to influence corporate strategies and actions (or lack of action) on climate change risks and opportunities.  Especially through their actions in the annual corporate proxy ballot process and in engagements. 

You’ll want to stay tuned to this and the other issues addressed in the Executive Order.  We’ll have more to report to you in future issues of the newsletter.

Click here to President Trump’s April 10, 2019 Executive Order.

Facts or not?  Click here if you would like to fact check the president’s comments on withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

We are still in!  For the reaction of top US companies to the Trump announcement on pulling out of the Paris Accord, check The Guardiancoverage of the day.

At year end 2018, this was the roundup of countries in/and not.

For commentaries published by G&A Institute on the Sustainability Update blog related to the above matters, check out it here.

Check out our Top Story for details on President Trump’s recent EO.

This Week’s Top Stories

Trump Order Takes Aim at Shareholders Pushing Companies to Address Climate Change
(Wednesday – April 77, 2019) Source: Climate Liability News – President Trump has ordered a review of the influence of proxy advisory firms on investments in the fossil fuel industry, a mot that…

We Are “Out” of the Paris Accord — Really? What a Year! Signs of Great Progress in the Trump Denial Era

June 1, 2018

By Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

It was just one year ago – ah,, but it seems much longer…

WASHINGTON — The New York Times – June 1, 2017: “President Trump announced on Thursday that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, weakening efforts to combat global warming and embracing isolationist voices in his White House who argued that the agreement was a pernicious threat to the economy and American sovereignty.

In a speech from the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump said the landmark 2015 pact imposed wildly unfair environmental standards on American businesses and workers. He vowed to stand with the people of the United States against what he called a “draconian” international deal.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the president said, drawing support from members of his Republican Party but widespread condemnation from political leaders, business executives and environmentalists around the globe.”

What was to follow?

A Year of Significant Progress!

Today — interesting perspectives are shared in The Washington Post on where we are one year after President Donald Trump “withdrew” from the Paris Climate Accord. The United States of America is the first – and perhaps will be the only – nation to join and then withdraw the Agreement. Sort of.

Participation in the agreement for the USA runs to year 2020 so we are “still in” (officially).  The withdrawal process will take the next three years.

By that time, there might be a new occupant in the White House. 

This nation is still in by examination of various other factors that are explained by writer Chris Mooney in the WaPo. (He covers climate change, energy and the environment, reported from the Paris negotiations in 2015, and has published four books on the the subjects he covers.)

The key points we took away from Mooney’s excellent wrap up today:

  • The Trump Administration still has no consistent message about climate change,  and no clear policy, except for the antics of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, with his slash & burn attacks on environmental and climate-related regulations.
  • There is a positive development: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine embraced climate science.  (See notes at end.)
  • There has been unrelenting attack on President Barack Obama’s skilled moves to protect the country – and the planet! – such as the Clean Power Plan.
  • But, while the White House is the cheerleader for the coal industry, market forces reward renewable energy and natural gas as powerful drivers for change.
  • Other countries are sticking with the Paris Accord, but some of those countries may find it challenging to stay the course without U.S. leadership (says John Sterman of MIT).

BackgroundThe Obama Administration agreed in Paris with many other nations to the goals of a 26%-to-28% reduction of emissions below the 2005 levels — and today the U.S. and the whole world is off that metric, writes Chris Mooney.

Even if the commitments were realized, there would be a temperature rise of 3.3 degrees Celsius (almost 6% F) over time (according to MIT’s Sterman). So the USA would have to do even more than agreed-to in Paris. (The USA is the world’s second largest GhG emitter.)

Where are we? According to the Climate Action Tracker produced by NewClimate Institute and Ecofys, the USA is on track for an 11% to 13% decrease by year 2025, which is about halfway to the Obama Administration pledge.

What may interfere: the move to rollback auto fuel efficiency standards; an analysis by Rhodium Group projects adding 100 million tons (annually) by year 2035 for auto emissions alone if the rollbacks move forward.

The good news – from the “We Are Still In” front: the states of Virginia and New Jersey are making moves to cut emissions and the states of Colorado and California are developing new electric vehicle policies.

Vicky Arroyo (director of the Georgetown Climate Center is quoted:   At least we are not losing the momentum that was feared (one year ago today).

Kate Larsen, who directs climate change research at the Rhodium Group, thinks that the country is on track to meet or even exceed the Obama-era Clean Power Plan goals — thanks to the use of lower-cost renewable fuel sources and natural gas.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States are “hardly set to explode” and the country is moving toward lower GhG emissions over time, writes Mooney.

But. What the Trump announcement did last year on June 1 was to create fog about US national policy regarding climate change. The thing we all have to face: the slow progress exhibited and achieving climate change goals (those coming out of Paris) are not compatible.

The WaPo commentary is at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/06/01/trump-withdrew-from-the-paris-climate-plan-a-year-ago-heres-what-has-changed/?utm_term=.782d3cb38b3f&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Counterpoint!

The EDF – a/k/a Environmental Defense Fund – today trumpeted the Year of Climate Progress (since June 1 2018).

EDF members and environmentalists immediately began the counter-attack in June 2017 and in EDF’s words, that led to a year of extraordinary climate progress. The organization presents a timeline on line.  Highlights:

  • June 5, 2018 – EDF helps launch a coalition of organizations, businesses and state and local civic and political leaders to pledge “We Are Still In!” – today there are 2,700 leaders participating.
  • On to July 2017 – California Governor Jerry Brown signs into law an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program out to 2030.  The state is the sixth largest economy in all of the world!
  • September – North of the border, Ontario Province links its cap-and-trade program to the California-Quebec carbon market, creating a huge market covering 580 million tons of emissions. Sister province British Columbia intends to increase its carbon tax for April 2018 through 2021.
  • Nine Northeastern US States in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative complete their second program review and agree to reduce emissions by 30% from 2020 to 2030.
  • Halfway around the world in December 2017 China announced its national carbon market (to be largest in the world); this will start with electric power and expand to seven other industrial sectors. (So much for the Trumpian claim China is doing nothing to meet Paris Accord conditions.)
  • We move further into 2018 and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejects the DOE coal and nuclear proposal.
  • Despite shouts and threats and Trumpian boasting, the U.S. Congress adopts the 2018 budget in March 2018 that leaves the EPA budget mostly intact (EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wanted to cut the agency’s budget by 30%. Other environmental / energy agencies see budget increases.)
  • April – the UN’s International Maritime Organization adopts a climate plan to lower emissions from container ships, bulk and oil carriers, by at least 50% below 2008 levels by 2050.
  • Also in April — In the key industrial State of Ohio, the Public Utilities Commission approves AEP’s Electric Security Plan – this, EDF points out, will enhance and diversify the state economy, unlock millions in funding, provide customers with clean energy options and overall, will reduce pollution.
  • Next door, in April, the Illinois Commerce Commission approves the state’s Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan to have a pathway for electric utilities to produce 25% of power from renewable sources by 2025 and put incentives in play for development of wind and power.
  • April — EDF President Fred Krupp gives a TED Talk, outlining the plan to launch methane-detecting satellites in orbit above Earth to map and measure oil and gas methane emissions. The data and information gathered will help countries and companies spot problems, identify savings opportunities and measure progress.
  • April sure was a busy month – Canada issued policies to cut oil and gas emissions by 40% to 45% at new and existing facilities. This was part of a pledge made in 2016 (when President Obama was in office) for the USA, Canada and Mexico to decreased such emissions in North America by that amount by 2025.
  • On to May – and recently-elected New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy – a former Goldman Sachs exec – signed into law the plan to cut GhG emissions by almost half by 2030 (hey, that’s twice what the Clean Power Plan would have required!). The Garden State will require 50% of NJ electric needs to be met from renewable sources.
  • And on to May – ExxonMobil announced plans to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 15% and flared gas volume by 25% — worldwide – by 2020.

Yes – a remarkable year, kicked off on June 1st 2017 by a vindictive head of state set on reversing the significant progress made under his predecessors.

But many individuals, companies, investors, civic organizations, NGOs proclaimed: We are still in.  The movement represents city halls, board room, college campuses, investors, and more…interests representing US$6.2 trillion (one-sixth of the entire American economy) have signed on to the We Are Still In declaration — https://www.wearestillin.com/we-are-still-declaration

Have you?

Notes:

The New York Times story by Michael Shear, June 1 2017 is at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/trump-paris-climate-agreement.html

The American Institute of Physics info on NASA, embrace of climate change consensus: https://www.aip.org/fyi/2018/bridenstine-embraces-nasa-science-climate-change-consensus

We Are Still In information at: https://www.wearestillin.com/

How Tariffs Will Affect the State of Solar in the U.S.A. in 2018

Guest Column – By Kyle Pennell

The year 2018 did not start off well for the solar industry in the United States. In January, US President Donald Trump signed into law a 30% tariff on all imported solar panels, sending the entire renewable energy world into a controlled panic.

While the White House has repeatedly stated that this move is intended to help U.S. solar manufacturers who cannot compete with pricing coming out of China and India, there are many industry experts and environmentalists who have expressed a bleak outlook for the next several years of U.S. solar advancement.

What effect will Trump’s tariffs have on an industry that has been steadily growing since the 1970’s? What fortune, good or bad, will come from this ruling throughout 2018?

Trend: Foreign Producers Moving to the US

When signing the tariffs into law, President Trump stated that it was his hope to see foreign solar manufacturers move some of their production efforts to the United States. Jinko, a large Chinese solar company, seemed to take note of that, announcing plans to build a new plant in the US.(Jinko has an American subsidiary.)

Jinko announced in January 2018 that its board of directors have green-lit this U.S.-based plant’s construction, while subtly suggesting that their decision was a result of the tariff. They said in a prepared statement that the company “continues to closely monitor treatment of imports of solar cells and modules under the U.S. trade laws.”

Manufacturing products in the United States would allow Jinko the flexibility to avoid paying the tariff while continuing to affordably supply US installers with their products.

President Trump has been very vocal about his belief that the tariffs he has imposed on both imported solar panels and washing machines will coax more foreign companies into moving production state-side.

Foreign Countries Will Seek Compensation

The Trump Administration’s tariffs seem to have earned the ire of the global solar industry, with countries throughout Europe and Asia making official complaints with the World Trade Organization and seeking compensation from the US for what they believe is a WTO violation.

The Chinese government has filed an official WTO complaint against the United States, citing WTO provisions that they allege the U.S. has violated. It wasn’t long before the European Union followed suit, sending the United States a demand for compensation talks.

While the EU has not officially accused the US government of breaking WTO rules, it is seeking financial compensation on behalf of member-state Germany, a major solar hardware exporter.

There are some who fear that these filings could be the first step in an all-out trade war against the Trump Administration and the United States economy and business sector as a whole.

Thousands of American Jobs Will Be Lost

While the White House has touted these tariffs as a positive move for the American solar manufacturing industry, there are many who believe that this could spell the beginning of the end for the renewable power efforts in the United States — at least for the immediate future.

“Solar” is one of the fastest growing employment industries in the United States. The industry creates jobs at a rate 17% higher than the national average. The solar industry’s growth has been tied for years with the solar learning curve, which tells us that when prices fall by 20%, installations rise by 20%.

The Solar Energies Industry Association spoke out against these tariffs, alleging that increasing the cost of solar installations will slow the industry’s acceleration and lose upwards of 23,000 American jobs.

The SEIA went on to say that large investors will cancel projects that would have injected billions of dollars into renewable energy as a result of price hikes. It stands to reason that huge solar companies would look elsewhere for their expansions, where costs are limited, and incentives abound.

The SEIA was proven correct in their assumption, when the U.S. energy company SunPower postponed a planned $20 million expansion of its factories soon after the tariffs were announced.

Sun Power was seeking to grow its business in the California and Texas markets, but as a company that relies primarily on affordable hardware from the Philippines, this job creating environmentally-friendly expansion became economically-unwise.

“We have to stop our $20 million investment because the tariffs start before we know if we’re excluded,” SunPower CEO Tom Werner said in an interview with Reuters. “It’s not hypothetical. These were positions that we were recruiting for that we are going to stop.”

Those positions that SunPower stopped recruiting for are the first casualties of the Trump tariffs, but if the SEIA is to be believed, they will not be the last.

Questionable Motives, Questionable Future

President Trump has been a huge supporter of the domestic coal mining industry. During his successful 2016 presidential election bid, candidate Trump touted his support of “beautiful clean coal”, going as far as to bring it up once more in his January 2018 State of the Union address.

Many observers are tying this tariff to Trump’s unwavering support for fossil fuel power and are alleging that the president is seeking to wound the renewable industry to protect coal mining and fossil fuel power production.

Time Magazine even went as far as to call it “…the largest blow he’s dealt to renewable energy yet.”

But no matter what the president’s reasoning was, solar is a $28 billion industry which relies on foreign components for 80% of its manufacturing needs. Problems are going to arise.

While the world has benefited greatly from fossil fuel energy, the environment has suffered. It’s important to remember that technological evolution is the forefather or progress.

Examples abound: The rotary wired phone gave way to the cell phone. Blockbuster Video fell victim to streaming services. And we believe that fossil fuel power is destined to fall to renewable energy.

By blocking the advancement of solar, the U.S. federal government and the President of the United States are holding back the real potential of American energy efforts.

Thanks to Kyle Pennell from PowerScout (a home solar marketplace that lets consumers compare multiple quotes for home solar) for contributing this article.

  • Information: powerscout.com
    Email: kyle.pennell@powerscout.com

 

Where Are We Now With Climate Change Solutions After the G20 Meeting and the Trump White House Abandonment of COP 21/Paris Agreement?

All eyes were on Hamburg, Germany last week as the leaders of the “G20″ nations** gathered. High on the agenda was climate change and sustainable development.  Mixed messages came out of the gathering, but as Jens-Peter Saul explains in our first Top story, even if governments can’t agree in such gatherings, private industry is moving forward in providing climate change solutions.

These include solar and wind power, which investors are finding attractive these days. Low-carbon organizations and networks are attracting new members and partners.  Where? — in the USA, North Africa, Europe, China and elsewhere.  So, says the author of the HuffPo piece, while having visionary political leaders is important, response companies with strong commitment to clients and the society can also boost the sustainability agenda and provide solutions to address climate change challenges.

Author JP Saul is CEO of the Ramboll Group, a leading engineering and design firm based in Denmark. The company’s global work is across Buildings, Transport, Urban Design, Water, Environmental, and Health.  Ramboll Group helps to create more resilient cities, it says, helping municipalities to adopt to climate change.

At the end of the G20 meeting, the media were reporting…”G20 Ends on Anxious Note as World Leaders Remark on Trump’s Climate Defiance…”
There’s more on this for you in Top Story #2 — G&A Institute Chair and Chief Strategist Hank Boerner is interviewed by Forbes columnist Chris Skroupa on the stance of the Federal government regarding the progress made at COP 21 in Paris and now the way forward for the United States as the Trump White House abandons the Paris Agreement.

There is great hope for the USA to continue making progress toward the 2-degree goals of COP 21 thanks to the efforts of the public sector (states, cities, municipalities); large and small corporations; trade associations; and especially investors.

Top Stories This Week…

Boosting global sustainability is not dependent on G20
(Wednesday – July 05, 2017)
Source: Huff Post – Germany’s plan to boost climate and sustainable development at the G20 summit in Hamburg next weekend is arguably crumbling. But that does not mean that the climate and sustainability agendas are crumbling.

Climate Change — What Now With The White House Abandoning The Paris Agreement?
(June 10, 2017)
Source: Christopher P. Skroupa, Forbes – 
Hank Boerner: In the Paris meetings, the United States voluntarily agreed to cut Greenhouse Gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels and to commit up to $3 billion in various aid to poor countries by 2020. A small amount of money overall, we could say, and thanks to many actions already taken, we are cutting our greenhouse gas (GhGs) emissions as a nation.