Trump Anti-Planet Agenda Doomed
April 3, 2017
“In a fight between you and the world, bet on the world.” — Franz Kafka.
Executive proclamations based on Alternative facts historically not awesome.
On the road to 1900, Trump’s Steam powered Time-Trolley will need a very large Cow catcher.
Relying on “alternative facts” provided by the coal industry, President Trump has falsely portrayed these crucial climate policies as job-killing regulatory burdens. A White House “fact sheet” cites a coal lobby–funded “analysis” that claims that the Clean Power Plan would significantly increase electricity prices.
Trump cannot bring coal industry jobs back, as coal baron Robert Murray himself has warned. Coal companies are filing for bankruptcy, exports are down, and the capital flight toward other generation resources will continue unabated. Coal cannot compete with cheaper and cleaner renewable energy that is rapidly coming on line. Trump’s Executive Order will not reverse any of these trends. Trump should instead focus on programs that ensure the benefits of the clean energy economy extend to communities that have relied on fossil fuels, in the form of good-paying, family-sustaining, long-term jobs.
Neither President Trump nor his political appointees can undo safeguards such as the Clean Power Plan, the Carbon Pollution Standards, and the EPA and Department of Interior’s oil and gas regulations by executive fiat. Any changes that this administration wants to make to these rules will have to go through a legally mandated process, including publishing a proposed rule, soliciting public comments, and publishing a final rule that both addresses those comments and justifies any major change in the agency’s positions.
The agency will have a very difficult time justifying a departure from the existing standards, which were the result of the most thorough and extended public comment process the EPA has ever undertaken. In the case of the Clean Power Plan, the agency spent months reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders, conducted three public hearings around the country, and considered input and responded to 4.3 million comments. The agency cannot simply rescind these regulations without issuing a legally adequate replacement that makes meaningful reductions in climate pollution. Indeed, the Supreme Court has held on three separate occasions that the EPA has a duty to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
O.K., Mr. President, let’s assume for a second that climate change is a hoax. Do you believe in math? There are now 7.5 billion people on the planet, and there will be 8.5 billion by 2030, according to the United Nations population bureau — and most will want to drive like us, eat protein like us and live in houses like us. And if they do, we’ll eat up, burn up, smoke up and choke up the planet — and devour our fisheries, coral reefs, rivers and forests — at a pace we’ve never seen before. Major cities in India and China already can’t breathe; wait for when there are another billion people.
That means that clean power, clean water, clean air, clean transportation and energy-efficient buildings will have to be the next great global industry, whether or not there is climate change. The demand will be huge.
So what is China doing? Its new five-year plan is a rush to electric cars, batteries, nuclear, wind, solar and energy efficiency — and a cap-and-tradesystem for carbon. Trump’s plan? More coal and oil. Hello? How can America be great if we don’t dominate the next great global industry — clean power?
The U.S. state leading in clean energy innovations is California, which also has the highest vehicle emissions standards and the strictest building efficiency codes. Result: California alone has far more advanced energy jobs than there are coal miners in America, and the pay is better and the work is healthier. In January 2016, CNNMoney reported that nationally the U.S. “solar industry work force is bigger than that of oil and gas construction, and nearly three times the size of the entire coal mining work force.”
“More than half the electric vehicles sold in the U.S. are sold in California,” said Hal Harvey, C.E.O. of Energy Innovation. “If there are two jurisdictions hellbent on transformation, it is China and California. There have been 200 million E.V.s sold in China already. They’re called electric bicycles, which cost about $400 — quiet, not contributing to congestion or pollution, and affordable.”
Brothers Terry and Steve Brockhaus, along with Steve’s sons Jeff and Jon, typically reap corn from these fields, but as a slight westerly breeze picked up, Steve Brockhaus looked southward over the last remaining rows of the 2016 corn crop to the purveyors of their newest cash crop: four 1.7-megawatt General Electric wind turbines.
“I’m surprised on days like today when it seems like there’s hardly any wind on the ground and they’re still turning,” Steve Brockhaus said.
And the land-lease payments of about $32,000 that landed in the Brockhaus farm coffers from Omaha-based Bluestem Energy Solutions in January are a welcome source of income as millions of American farmers struggle through yet another year of cratered commodity prices.
Wind energy, the fastest-growing source of electricity in the U.S., is transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the federal government gave land to homesteaders 150 years ago. As commodity prices threaten to reach decade lows and farmers struggle to meet debt payments, wind has saved family farms across a wide swath of the heartland.
The Brockhauses about four years ago got out of the cattle business, and they sold off all their hogs the following year. The family farm is by no means in trouble, but livestock prices became too volatile and fell too low, said Steve.
“There ain’t no money in them,” he said. “I’d take turbines any day.”
In states neighboring Nebraska where wind development is in relatively nascent stages, crop and livestock producers also have woken up to the benefits of wind.
The money that Richard Wilson earns from leasing his land for about 35 turbines run by the Golden West Wind Energy Center outside Colorado Springs, Colorado, has kept him from having to sell off pieces of the 6,000-acre cattle and wheat ranch his family has owned since 1948.
“We weren’t making enough money to sustain ourselves,” he said. “Now we’re in a position where we can operate our farm for another generation, at least.”
Less than a month into the Trump administration, Ted Thomas told his colleagues that everything was not as peachy as it may have seemed.
“In the past three weeks, to me as a Republican appointed by a Republican governor, I’m not reassured by the progress the Congress and the administration are making,” Thomas said at a meeting of electricity regulators. “If they don’t get it together, we’re going to have a different administration in four years, and that’s when folks might wish they had the Clean Power Plan.”
Thomas is chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, which regulates the 24 electricity utilities that operate in the state. His quote attracted national attention because it was, in effect, exactly what climate advocates wanted to hear: that the disappearance of the Clean Power Plan would not alter states’ plans to remove coal power plants from their fleets.
I talked to Thomas last month in anticipation of Trump reviewing and weakening the Clean Power Plan. “I have a unique position that I think is in the center, that is almost solitary,” he told me. “In that, A, I offered a declaration in support of the litigation against the Clean Power Plan; B, I publicly criticized Senator McConnell’s ‘just say no’ strategy; C, I think that carbon emissions are correlated with global temperature increase, and humans are causing enough of it that it’s a public policy problem; but D, I also think that identifying a problem isn’t enough. You have to identify a solution and have a straightforward problem about what it costs.”
Thomas is also a career Republican. “I’m a former Republican legislator, who was appointed by a Republican governor, and I was actually a former Republican political consultant,” he told me. “So I’m fairly established as a Republican.” (He was also budget director when Mike Huckabee was the state’s governor.) He agrees with Bill Gates that the best solution to climate change is ultimately technological. “We need technology—which thrives in market capitalism, so we need that—but we need the right policies that accommodate whatever emerges as the price winner,” he said.
But he also has a distinct view of carbon-dioxide emissions—or at least a view closer to the long-term actuarial analysis of utility companies. Because a future Congress or White House will likely impose a policy like the Clean Power Plan, carbon dioxide is a price risk, he says. If he doesn’t move coal out of the fleet now, Arkansas customers may have to pay more for electricity in the future.