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January 11, 2020

Talk about cooking the book(s)

As anticipated, Trump announced his administration’s proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposed changes would reduce the number of infrastructure projects requiring an environmental review and releasing agencies from having to account for cumulative environmental impacts. Under the proposed rules, projects paid for with private investment funds, e.g., the Keystone XL pipeline, would not require an environmental impact statement. Absent the NEPA requirement privately funded projects would not be required to disclose plans to discharge waste into nearby rivers, clear cut forests or otherwise increase greenhouse gas emissions.

The administration has virtually eliminated federal consideration of climate change by freeing agencies from having to account for cumulative environmental impacts. The courts have generally required agencies to account for cumulative climate impact of projects like the federal government's leasing public lands for oil and gas exploration and extraction.

The proposed changes are here. The changes won’t become permanent before the conclusion of a 60-day comment period and conduct of two public hearings.

I had mentioned in the January 8th newsletter that 2020 would see conservative Republicans and fossil fuel companies openly admitting that climate change is real—but hardly changing their opposition to doing anything about it. Evidence of this new normal for denialists was front and center at the NEPA announcement.

Asked by a reporter if he still believed climate change is a hoax, Trump said nothing (about it) was a hoax. He assured everyone that it was a very serious subject and that he doesn’t just want clean air and water-- I want the cleanest air with the cleanest water.

Trump went on to quote an unnamed book that called him an environmentalist—saying that he had the book in his other office and that he would bring it to the next news conference, perhaps. According to the New York Times

The White House later confirmed that the 2016 book in question is Ed Russo's self-published "Donald J. Trump: An Environmental Hero." According to its summary, the book chronicles Russo's time "as an environmental advisor for Trump and his many business interests." Who exactly is Russo? E&E News reports he's a Trump loyalist who previously "turned down a job as Trump's White House environmental adviser."

According to Russo, Trump "realizes that just let the open market play out, and we're going to get rid of all the dirty, filthy, disgusting fuel sources that we've had to use."

Until that happens, Trump seems content to do whatever he can to let oil and gas companies build out pipelines to their hearts’ content. If the new NEPA rules stick, private companies willing to pay for the pipelines would be freed from NEPA regulations.

Trump has twice before issued a presidential permit allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to be constructed. The pipeline has been started and suspended multiple times over ten years because of the opposition of environmental groups, Native American activists, and others.

Because the Keystone line crosses into the US from Canada, the US State Department is thought to have the power to approve the project. In 2017, however, a federal court halted the project because State failed to consider the environmental, climate, and cultural implications of the project.

Trump’s issuance of the executive order in March 2019—claiming his authority over foreign affairs—was an effort to insulate the project from court oversight. The proposed exemption of privately funded energy infrastructure projects from NEPA could keep the federal government out of it entirely.

Readers will undoubtedly find in the future that traditional fossil fuel interests and Trumplicans will tout the NEPA changes as an opportunity to speed the permitting and construction of new clean energy power projects. Although there is truth to the claim, an exception to NEPA for clean energy power and storage projects could accomplish the same without letting oil and gas pipelines off the hook. Moreover, there is a big difference between trying to expedite the review process and the federal government's doing nothing to safeguard the environment.

On a day when Trump announced his plans to “expedite” environmental reviews of federal energy infrastructure projects, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released its proposed framework of an integrated energy/environment climate defense plan. (See below for more details).

Readers should note that I’ll be releasing articles on the framework over the next few weeks.

Net-zero fifty. House Democrats outlined their vision for sweeping climate legislation—offering a first look at a bill that would push the U.S. to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The measure includes a requirement that utilities work toward 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050, a mandate that includes a clean energy credit trading system. The transportation sector would also have to be emissions-free by that deadline, as the Environmental Protection Agency ratchets up increasingly tight vehicle standards. And buildings and industry would also have to clean up their act, using materials from more environmentally friendly sources while meeting tighter building codes.

States would play an active role in developing plans to ensure their economies meet the national standard.

And funding it all would be a first-of-its-kind National Climate Bank, mobilizing private and public funding to boost technological innovation as well as projects to bolster against the effects of climate change. (See also below) (The Hill)

  • A full text of a draft bill will be released later this month, according to Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who is chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
  • The framework includes both cap-and-trade mechanisms and a national clean energy standard.

Bye partisan? House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats unveiled a framework for comprehensive climate legislation that they say includes tested policy approaches that can both prompt robust emissions cuts and garner political consensus, at least within their own party. However, no Republicans were asked to contribute to the proposed framework.

Energy and Commerce Committee chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) told reporters that he was not especially concerned about what Republicans [on and off the Committee] thought about the proposed framework. “We would love to have Republicans, but it’s hard when there’s so many climate deniers.”

  • What the Committee released was a draft framework. It is not a piece of proposed legislation.
  • Called the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future, or the Clean Future Act, the framework includes some new climate policy programs that would in some ways mirror existing federal and state authorities. It even includes some Republican-championed ideas, such as energy efficiency provisions.
  •  The framework is being heralded as a bipartisan plan despite it having been put together by the Committee’s Democrats without input from the Republicans.

They feel the Bern. The youth climate movement demanding a Green New Deal thinks Bernie Sanders is the guy to make it happen.

The Sunrise Movement announced it is backing Sanders with a tweet Thursday. In a longer statement, the group says their endorsement comes after a six-week-long consideration process, during which they determined Sanders would provide “the best political terrain” to enact a Green New Deal. The movement also praised Sanders’ “consistency” on climate change across his political career.

Sunrise stressed their endorsement for Sanders wasn’t an “indictment” on other candidates — a line that was directed in large part to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sanders’ progressive rival.

  • The Sunrise Movement endorsement adds to an already impressive list of progressive individuals and organizations in an out of the climate community.
  • Even if Sanders doesn’t become the Democratic nominee, he and his core constituency will have a lot to say about the Party’s chances in the November elections.
  • Sanders is a threat to the Democratic establishment in much the same way that Trump threatened the Republican establishment.
  • The Democrats cannot afford to lose Sanders’ supporters in the general elections.
  • By the same token, moderate Democrats are nervous of playing into Trump’s hands when he rails against the social-democratic wing of the party—accusing them of being “socialist” traitors.
  • The duel between Democratic moderates and socialists will be fought through the 2020 elections.

U-Store. The Energy Department (USDOE) hopes to leverage its wide expertise better to spur advances in energy storage, drive them into the market and ensure U.S. industry reaps the benefits.

With the roll-out of its "Energy Storage Grand Challenge" program, the department wants to "create and sustain global leadership in energy storage utilization and exports, with a secure domestic manufacturing supply chain that does not depend on foreign sources of critical materials, by 2030.

Industry is wrong. Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL), the senior Republican on the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate, won’t be supporting bipartisan legislation to address greenhouse gas refrigerants. (hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs)

Shimkus’ opposition comes despite near-unanimous support for the legislation from appliance manufacturers and chemical makers and an already strong bipartisan backing, more than 30 co-sponsors, for the Senate companion bill.

“Without the proposed law, American businesses are left in an uncertain position in a highly competitive global market for next-generation fluorocarbon technologies,” said Kevin Fay, director of the industry group Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy.

  • An industry-backed study in 2018 said phasing down HFCs, as the bill would do, could create 33,000 new manufacturing jobs in the U.S.
  • It is another instance in which conservative Republicans place a higher value on no environmental regulation than the industry that would be impacted.
  • Shimkus reflects the Trump administration’s reluctance to join other nations in their effort to control greenhouse gases. HFCs are covered by the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

Water, water everywhere. Massive flooding, particularly in the Midwest, was the extreme weather event with the biggest impact in 2019, according to new climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Flooding in Missouri, Arkansas, and the Mississippi River basin alone cost $20 billion, nearly half of the U.S. total disaster costs last year, NOAA said in a news release Wednesday. 2019 was also the second-wettest year since 1973.

Lights out? As tensions between the United States and Iran rise, observers say the Middle Eastern nation is likely considering a reprisal attack on critical domestic infrastructure — putting the utility sector square in the "crosshairs" of international conflict.

Cybersecurity experts say Iran wants to avoid a "shooting war" and, over the years, has developed its cyber capabilities to the point where an attack on several sectors is possible.

Iran's capabilities are not equal to the U.S. or Russia but are more along the lines of North Korea, according to experts. And the country has a history of taking action. 

In 2016, Iran executed a cyberattack on a New York dam. Before that, in 2014, the nation levied a cyberattack on the Las Vegas Sands casino.

"Heavy industry, oil and gas, electrical generation, and the attached grid infrastructure, as well as other critical infrastructure, are all caught in the crosshairs as of this moment." According to Richard Henderson, the head of Lastline’s global threat intelligence unit.

Joel Stronberg's picture

Thank Joel for the Post!

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Ben Schultz's picture
Ben Schultz on Jan 13, 2020 1:43 pm GMT

The amount of doublespeak from Trump is enough to make George Orwell's skeleton facepalm. We're seeing similarly impotent things with the current government in Australia, unfortunately.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 13, 2020 4:32 pm GMT

With the roll-out of its "Energy Storage Grand Challenge" program, the department wants to "create and sustain global leadership in energy storage utilization and exports, with a secure domestic manufacturing supply chain that does not depend on foreign sources of critical materials, by 2030.

There's a limit to this goal, is there not? Does the U.S.  have availability of some of the rare earth materials needed, or is this instead going to look to pivot storage tech away from needing those materials?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 14, 2020 2:13 am GMT

Joel, not sure which is worse: 1) Trump's blatant denial of climate change, or 2) Democrats' promotion of another "net-zero" plan.

Like renewable energy credits (RECs), net-zero plans are like credit cards for carbon - borrow now, pay later. Except each payment never quite cancels outstanding debt, and leftovers get added to the credit balance. At 18% interest.

As appealing as it is for our consumption-driven society, the inevitable result of credit dependency is bankruptcy - but with climate, there's no room for negotiation, no Chapter 11. Putting climate responsibility "on the card" is a recipe for disaster.

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