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/

Climate Change Risk? Nah – The Deniers & Destroyers Are At Work – White House Attempts to Roll Back Obama Legacy

Deniers/Destroyers are at work – at US EPA — the White House — hoping/wishing for rollback of rich Obama legacy positions on climate change issues…

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

March 28, 2017

In classic-CNN style we bring you !!!BREAKING NEWS!!! – the Climate Change Deniers and Environmental Regulatory Protection Destroyers are at work in Washington DC today.

You’ve heard the news by now: President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator E. Scott Pruitt are preening and pompously strutting as they announce the important beginnings of what they want (and hope!) to be the rollback of important environmental and public health protections of the Obama Administration … you know, the “job killers” that were at work putting coal miners out of business.

At least that’s some of the twisting, grasping, pretzel-elian logic that underpins the actions taken today (which in turn tells the Trump loyal voting base that yes, still another campaign promise is being carried out on their behalf).

During his early months in office, President Barack Obama signed important Executive Orders that addressed climate change issues and global warming challenges — and please here do note that these and other Presidential EOs are always based on (1) the existing statutes enacted by Congress and (2) the authority of the Office of the President.

You remember some of the key statutes involved in these issues  — The Clean Air Act (CAA); The Clean Water Act; (CWA) the foundations laid by the all-empowering National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) …and other landmark legislation sensibly reached on a bipartisan basis over the decades since American rivers burst into flames.

Today, President Donald Trump signed [a very brief] EO with a flourish — the “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” Executive Order.

The action orders the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to begin the [legal] process of un-doing or re-doing the nation’s Clean Power Plan, the keystone to President Obama’s actions to address global warming. (Or “climate change” if one is skittish about being on the side of the angels on this issues.)

Here is what today’s EO covers:

  • Executive (cabinet) departments and agencies will begin reviewing regulations that potentially burden the development/or use of domestic energy sources — and then suspend, revise or rescind those that “unduly burden” the development of domestic energy resources…beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest.
  • All [Federal] agencies should take appropriate actions to promote clean air (!) and clean water (!) for the American People — oh, while following the law and the role of the Congress and the States concerning these matters. (One hopes this includes Flint, Michigan residents. We can hear great, cogent arguments in the Federal courts about all of this.)
  • Costs are to be considered — regarding “environmental improvements for the American People” — as, when “necessary and appropriate” environmental regulations are to be complied with…and the benefits must be greater than the cost.

This is encouraging, if only that it is stated to provide cover for legal challenges: Environmental regulations will be developed through transparent processes that employ the best available peer-reviewed science and economics!

  • All Federal agencies are to review actions that are described in the Trump Executive Order and then submit to the [White House] staffed departments and the Vice President their plan(s) to carry out the review for their agency.

Here’s The Important Deny/Destroy Actions

By swipe of pen, the President revoked these important cornerstones of the Obama Administration climate change legacy:

  • Executive Order 13653 (November 1, 2013) – “Preparing the U.S. for the Impacts of Climate Change.”
  • President Memorandum (June 25, 2013) – “Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards.”
  • Presidential Memorandum (November 3, 2015) – “Mitigating Impact on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment.”
  • Presidential Memorandum (September 21, 2016) – “Climate Change and National Security.”
  • Report of the Executive Office of the President (June 2013) – “Climate Action Plan.”
  • Report of the Executive Office of the President (March 2014) – “Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.”
  • The Council on Environmental Quality guidance (August 5, 2016) – “Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of GhGs and Effects of Climate Change in NEPA Reviews.”

And The Very Important Clean Power Plan…

  • A review of the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan,” to be suspended, revised or rescinded, or, new rules proposed following the steps necessary. This will affect:
  • The final rules of the Clean Power Plan (October 23, 2015) – “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generation Units”;
  • Final Rules (October 23, 2015) – “Standards of Performance for GhGs from New, Modified and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units;
  • Proposed Rule (October 23, 2015) – “Federal Plan Requirements for GhGs Emissions from Electric Utility Generating Units Constructed before January 8, 2015”; “Model Trading Rules: Amendments to Framework Regulations”.
  • The Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases – convened by the Council of Economic Advisors and the Director, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — is disbanded, and the documents that established the “social cost of carbon” no longer represent public policy.

Beyond these specifics, the EO also orders the Secretary of the Interior to review its rules, and any guidance given, and (if appropriate) suspend, revise and rescind these. Included:

  • Final Rule (March 26, 2015) – “Oil and Gas: Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands”;
  • Final Rule (November 4, 2016) – “General Provisions and Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights”;
  • Final Rule (November 14, 2016) – “Management of Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights”;
  • Final Rule (November 18, 2016) – “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation.”

For the record: The EO is intended to (1) promote clean and safe development of “our Nation’s vast” energy sources; (2) avoid regulatory burdens that constrain production, energy growth and job creation; (3) assure the Nation’s geo-political security.

US SIF Weighs In

The influential trade association for sustainable, responsible and impact investing swiftly responded. Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF, commented:

“On behalf of our 300 institutional members, US SIF belies the Administration should be working aggressively to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and that this Executive Order accomplishes the opposite.

“The United States is paying a high economic price from the ravages of severe drought, wildfires and storms associated with increased atmospheric levels of carbon. This is not the time to retreat from the call to protect current and succeeding generations from the catastrophic implications of further, unrestrained climate change.”

In the US SIF biennial survey of sustainable and impact investment assets, it should be noted here that U.S. money managers with US$1.42 trillion in AUM and institutional asset owners with $2.15 trillion in assets consider climate change risk in their investment analysis — that is three times the level in the prior survey in 2014.

Now — Investors – NGOs – State and local governments – social issue activists — business leaders — Federal and State courts — can push back HARD on these moves by the Trump Administration.

Otherwise, it could be drill, baby, drill — dig, baby, dig — and, hey, it’s good for us, we are assured by the Deflector-in-Chief and his merry band of wrongheaded Deniers/Destroyers in the Nation’s capital!

What do you think — what do you have to say? Weigh in our this commentary and share your thoughts – there’s space below to continue the conversation!

“Wolf” Now at the Head of EPA – No Disguises Needed to Fool the Sheep (er, We-the-People)

Is the Wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing? Nah — not to worry about any disguising — the wolf’s intentions were well signaled to us — the Denier/Destroyer-in-Chief at U.S. EPA is doing exactly what we expected him to do….

Remember from childhood days when our parent or caregiver told us the story of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing…” We were being cautioned, in one of the many of our early “life’s lessons,” to be careful about the advice we received, to look beyond the words, to watch people’s actions as well as hearing their words.

Because — often the legendary “wolf” would don sheep’s clothing (hey, that’s a great disguise) to mingle with the innocent flock of sheep (that the ravenous wolf really wanted to feed on). Watch out, sheep — and people!

This tale comes down to us in various forms came from different sources, including the Holy Bible, New Testament, with Jesus warning about false prophets. We’re reminded of this brief moral tale (a perennial fable of sorts that developed over the centuries) as we watched the nominees of the Trump Administration.

What do they have to say to pass muster at the U.S. Senate nominations hearing — and what are their real intentions — what will they in fact do while in office to harm our society?

Well, we don’t have to watch the top wolf there at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. — just down the road from the White House. The new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt let us know with both his past performance and his clearly-stated words his intentions now that he is at the helm of the US EPA ship: he is not a believer that climate change has any relationship to human activities. Like carbon emissions – GhGs to be more accurate.

Administrator Pruitt told his CNBC interviewer on a popular cable program that many investors tune in to: “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so … I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.  (Emphasis ours.)

Pruitt:  “We need to continue the debate…and the review…and the analysis.” CO2 emissions are not the primary cause, the Administrator mused.

Past Actions – Prelude to Future Actions?

Keep in mind here that this is the former Oklahoma Attorney General who sued the EPA some 13 times.

As Huffington Post’s Dominique Mosbergen put it in January 2017: “It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA Administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.”

Oh, and on his Linked In page, pre-EPA AG Pruitt noted he was “…the leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda…”

Commented writer Mosbergen about EPA’s role in our society (and that agenda):

“The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment by issuing regulations and enforcing the nation’s environmental laws. Under President Barack Obama, the EPA created the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants. It also issued new guidance for the Clean Water Act to protect thousands of waterways and wetlands, and introduced measures to limit emissions from heavy-duty trucks and reduce smog and mercury emissions from industrial sources.”

Yes, We Can Expect Changes — Dramatic at That

Now that Administrator Scott Pruit is firmly installed by fellow Senate Republicans at the EPA — we can expect these positive, fact-based actions to rapidly change. For example, here is what his own EPA (the Agency’s official web site) says about this (today):

“Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming…”

And as posted before Election Day in October 2016: “…greenhouse gas emissions have increased the greenhouse effect and caused Earth’s surface temperature to rise. The primary human activity affecting the amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.”

Question: Will these posts be up there next Monday morning?

These EPA positions are based in part on the National Research Council work — “Advancing the Science of Climate Warming,” published by National Academies Press.

We should keep watch on all of the EPA information channels to see the interference of the new leadership in the good work of the Agency.  Watch for fake news, of course, and counter that with FACTS.  Science is cool as reference point.

Watch for missing news — up there today – gone in the morning — too much information for the sheep.

Other Governments on the Move

Beyond the EPA Washington DC offices, of course other governments believe in environmental protection — and climate change measures!  (Think”  Paris Accord, COP 21 – now in danger in the Administrator’s hand.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in February 2017 the above after the COP 21 Paris gathering of the world’s government leaders: “The selection of the authors for the IPCC’s 1.5oC report is the first step in the critical journey started at COP 21. This special report will facilitate this important journey by assessing the available science and highlighting the policy options available to support the achievement of a climate safe, equitable and sustainable world,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of Working Group II.”

Assessments of climate change by the IPCC, drawing on the work of hundreds of scientists from all over the world, enable policymakers at all levels of government in many nationsto take sound, evidence-based decisions.

They represent extraordinary value as the authors volunteer their time and expertise. The running costs of the Secretariat, including the organization of meetings and travel costs of delegates from developing countries and countries with economies in transition, are covered through the IPCC Trust Fund…”

Can we now expect that the U.S.A. — with EPA in the lead — will be absent from study and deliberations? Withdraw financial and other support from the IPCC organization?  Deny the outcomes of any research?  (Hmmm….we have to have more studies…”)

That’s what classic deniers/destroyers do in public policy circles — create & sow doubt, deny agencies their funding, change staff to hire more kool-aid drinkers, destroy enforcement capabilities  — and remove “climate change” or “global warming”references  from official web sites.

As the Republican Governor of Florida recently did — the state agencies can’t use such references (climate change?  what’s that?).

Never mind that parts of his state will be underwater with seas rising — including Mar-a-Lago, the “other” White House sitting quite near the beautiful ocean’s edge!.  Much of the Florida expensive waterfronts will move considerably far inland toward Disney World and the I-4 corridor as the oceans warm, ice shelfs recede and glaciers in Antarctica melt…and…and…

OK — we were and are warned — the dangerous wolf is in the head office and not in disguise at the EPA and the sheep (we, The People) will surely be the victims of his wrongheaded and dangerous strategies and tactics as long as he is in control.

We hear you, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:  “When it comes to climate change, the evidence is robust and overwhelmingly clear that the cost of inaction is unacceptably high.”   We miss you, for sure!

Coal’s Future Getting Darker

The support for coal  throughout the world is in great flux.  There are negative messages flying about driven by the desire to decrease the impact on climate change and the overall environment by decreasing the use of this high carbon fuel.

Today’s story in Eco Business.com  — Coal at risk as global lenders drop financing on climate  — focuses on the financing of future coal power plants and related coal projects:  “First it was President Barack Obama pledging in June that the government would no longer finance overseas coal plants through the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Next it was the World Bank, then the European Investment Bank, dropping support for coal projects. Those banks have pumped more than US$10 billion into such initiatives in the past five years.”  

The Guardian (UK) also has a pointed story that only adds to the confusion.  This gamble on carbon and the climate could trigger a new financial crisis.    “At a time when governments are supposedly preparing for a global climate change deal that will cut carbon emissionsenergy multinationals are investing in carbon assets like there’s no tomorrow.”

While the future of coal has been shaky for years, there was no viable cost-effective  substitute until fracking caused the boom in natural gas production.  A classic battle is looming  between efforts to  protect the environment and the loss of an industry and jobs.  While there are deniers, the conflict is growing.U.S. is not waging ‘war on coal’: Energy Secretary Moniz .

Balance these events with efforts by representatives of “coal producing states” fighting for an industry that supplies thousands of jobs in their home communities.  W.Va. entourage meets with new EPA director .  While coal-fired power plants in the US just may go the way of the dinosaurs in the near future. Usage around the world is not expected to decrease as rapidly and might even increase, especially in emerging economies.

The coal issue is a perfect example of  what will become an increasing conflict between a greener more sustainable energy policy and job protection for the status quo.  We will be watching these issues very closely. For coal interests it is not over until it is over!