Washington Post Energy & Environment
EPA chief pushing government wide effort to question climate change science
By Brady Dennis, Juliet Eilperin July 1, 2017
The Trump administration is debating whether to launch a government wide effort to question the science of climate change, an effort that critics say is an attempt to undermine the long-established consensus human activity is fueling the Earth’s rising temperatures.
The move, driven by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, has sparked a debate among top Trump administration officials over whether to pursue such a strategy.
A senior White House official, who asked for anonymity because no final decision has been made, said that while Pruitt has expressed interest in the idea, “there are no formal plans within the administration to do anything about it at this time.”
Pruitt first publicly raised the idea of setting up a “red team-blue team” effort to conduct exercises to test the idea that human activity is the main driver of recent climate change in an interview with Breitbart in early June.
“What the American people deserve, I think, is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” Pruitt said in an interview with Breitbart’s Joel Pollack.
But officials are discussing whether the initiative would stretch across numerous federal agencies that rely on such science, according to multiple Trump administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement has been made.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who once described the science behind human-caused climate change as a “contrived phony mess,” also is involved in the effort, two officials said.
At a White House briefing this week, Perry said, “The people who say the science is settled, it’s done — if you don’t believe that you’re a skeptic, a Luddite. I don’t buy that. I don’t think there is — I mean, this is America. Have a conversation. Let’s come out of the shadows of hiding behind your political statements and let’s talk about it. What’s wrong with that? And I’m full well — I can be convinced, but let’s talk about it.”
The idea, according to one senior administration official, is “to get other federal agencies involved in this exercise on the state of climate science” to examine “what we know, where there are holes, and what we actually don’t know.”
Other agencies could include the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and NASA, according to the official, all of which conduct climate research in some capacity.
EPA officials on Friday declined to comment, and DOE could not immediately be reached for comment.
A plethora of scientific assessments over the years have concluded that human activity — such as the burning of fossil fuels — is driving climate change, and it poses grave risks to the environment and to human health. In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that it is “extremely likely” that, since the 1950s, humans and their greenhouse gas emissions have been the “dominant cause” of the planet’s warming trend.
But that conclusion, shared by the vast majority of experts in the United States and around the world, has done little to stop Pruitt, Perry and other administration officials from raising doubts.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, says he is not convinced carbon dioxide from human activity is the main driver of climate change and wants Congress to weigh in on whether CO2 should be regulated.
The idea of a “red-team blue-team” exercise stems in part from a Wall Street Journal commentary by New York University professor Steven Koonin. E&E News on Friday reported that Pruitt intended to formalize the “red team, blue team” effort to challenge mainstream climate science. But should Perry and other agency leaders join the effort, the move would embed the Trump administration’s approach to climate science across the government in a very public way.
Kelly Levin, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute’s major emerging economies objective, wrote in a blog post last month that the kind of adversarial process Pruitt is advocating is better suited for policy debates than for scientific findings. Scientific arguments, she wrote, are mediated through a peer-review process in which experts in the same field evaluate one another’s work.
“Scientific understanding, unlike proposals for what to do about a given problem, is well established through the scientific method,” wrote Levin, noting that 97 percent of peer-reviewed papers on climate change support the idea that humans play a contributing factor. “If skeptics want their voices heard in scientific discourse, they should try to get their findings published in the peer-reviewed literature. They would then be assessed on their merits through peer review.”
Some members of EPA’s scientific rank-and-file, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, questioned Pruitt’s plan.
“It’s an obvious attempt to cast doubt on climate science under the guise of a common sense-sounding process,” said one EPA employee who focuses on climate issues. “But of course, we already have a process for scrutiny of the science — the peer review process is a much more robust assessment of scientific integrity than a childish color war.”
The employee called the effort “incredibly insulting” and said the red team-blue team idea “is a weaker process than we already have in place for peer review and scientific assessment.”
The efforts to question the existing science on climate change has raised questions within the government and among industry officials about whether Pruitt intends to try to roll back the EPA’s 2009 “endangerment finding,” which determined that greenhouse gases posed a risk to public health and created the basis for Obama-era regulations on emissions from power plants, automobiles and other sources.
Two people with knowledge of the “red-team blue-team” undertaking — one inside the Trump administration and one lobbyist — said its purpose was not explicitly to help target the agency’s 2009 finding that emissions of greenhouse gases linked to climate change constitute as pollutants under the Clean Air Act, though that idea is still under discussion among administration officials
President Trump questioned the link between human activity multiple times during the 2016 campaign, though he has not addressed the issue directly since his inauguration. In his most recent remarks, in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace in December, Trump said that “nobody really knows” if climate change is real.
After the president announced a month ago that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, multiple reporters have asked White House officials to clarify the president’s views on climate science. But they have declined to do so.
Pruitt’s EPA also took down an agency website in late April that was focused on climate change and highlighted the scientific consensus that it is caused by humans.
Steven Mufson contributed to this report.
Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health issues.
Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post’s senior national affairs correspondent, covering how the new administration is transforming a range of U.S. policies and the federal government itself. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
EPA chief works closely with industry, not environmentalists
Coral Davenport, The New York Times July 1, 2017
WASHINGTON — In the four months since he took office as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) administrator, Scott Pruitt has moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history, according to experts in environmental law.
Pruitt’s supporters, including President Donald Trump, have hailed his moves as an uprooting of the administrative state and a clearing of onerous regulations that have stymied U.S. business. Environmental advocates have watched in horror as Pruitt has worked to disable the authority of the agency charged with protecting the nation’s air, water and public health.
But both sides agree: While much of Trump’s policy agenda is mired in legal and legislative delays, hampered by poor execution and overshadowed by the Russia investigations, the EPA is acting. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who built a career out of suing the agency he now leads, is moving effectively to dismantle the regulations and international agreements that stood as a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s legacy.
“Just the number of environmental rollbacks in this time frame is astounding,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. “Pruitt has come in with a real mission. He is much more organized, much more focused than the other Cabinet-level officials, who have not really taken charge of their agencies.”
Since February, Pruitt has filed a proposal of intent to undo or weaken Obama’s climate-change regulations, known as the Clean Power Plan. In late June, he filed a legal plan to repeal an Obama-era rule curbing pollution in the nation’s waterways. He delayed a rule that would require fossil-fuel companies to rein in leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells. He delayed the date by which companies must comply with a rule to prevent explosions and spills at chemical plants. And he reversed a ban on the use of a pesticide that the EPA’s scientists have said is linked to damage of children’s nervous systems.
In a sign of Pruitt’s influence in the White House and the high regard in which Trump holds him, he will take a leading role in devising the legal path to withdraw from the 194-nation Paris agreement on climate change, a job that would typically fall to lawyers at the State Department.
He is doing all this largely without the input of the 15,000 career employees at the agency he heads, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former EPA senior career staff members.
“I have been consistently informed by multiple career people at EPA that Administrator Pruitt is not meeting with them before making decisions like rolling back these major regulations,” said James J. Jones, who had worked at the agency since the Reagan administration before retiring in January. Jones, an expert in chemical and pesticide pollution, was appointed by Obama as the EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety in his final years at the agency.
Instead, Pruitt has outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general, a network he worked with closely as the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association. Since 2013, the group has collected $4.2 million from fossil fuel-related companies like Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Murray Energy and Southern Co., businesses that also worked closely with Pruitt in many of the 14 lawsuits he had filed against the EPA.
Within the agency, Pruitt relies on the counsel of a small network of political appointees, including a number of former lobbyists and senior industry officials. For example, he tapped Nancy Beck, previously a policy director for the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of companies such as Dow and DuPont, to oversee the EPA office charged with enforcing regulations on hazardous chemicals.
“It amounts to a corporate takeover of the agency, in its decision- and policy making functions,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group.
Pruitt, 49, sees himself as a champion of states’ rights, pressing to diminish the intrusive authority of an overbearing federal agency. Hanging near the fireplace on the wood-paneled walls of his office is a portrait of President James Monroe, who opposed ratifying the Constitution because he said it gave too much power to the federal government.
Pruitt pushed that message in his first speech to the agency’s staff. “Congress has been very prescriptive in providing, in many instances, a very robust role, an important role of the states,” he said. He did not mention public health or climate change.
Since then, Pruitt has begun what he calls his “back to basics” agenda for the EPA, one he has described to multiple people as an effort to rein in the regulatory efforts of the Obama era, which focused on invisible greenhouse gases from tailpipes and smokestacks. Instead, Pruitt has said, he wants to focus on “tangible” pollution — for example, the Superfund program, which cleans up hazardous waste at old industrial sites.
“I am making it a priority to ensure contaminated sites get cleaned up,” he said. “We will be more hands-on.” (His proposed budget for 2018, however, would cut the Superfund program by about 25 percent.)
Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, who worked closely with Pruitt when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general to sue the EPA, said he was pleased that Pruitt’s new job hadn’t changed him. On March 1, Paxton met with Pruitt to request that the agency withdraw a rule requiring energy companies to collect data on emissions of methane from oil and gas wells. Paxton delivered the letter with the signatures of 11 attorneys general, laying out the case for walking back the rule.
“I personally handed him the letter, and the next day the rule was personally withdrawn,” Paxton said.
Meanwhile, the agency’s career scientists and legal experts say they have been largely cut out of the process. Senior staff members with decades of experience in environmental law and science said they had been consulted rarely on the agency’s major decisions to undo environmental protections.
Pruitt’s main source of counsel on industry regulations appears to be the industries he regulates. An excerpt from his calendar for Feb. 21 to March 31, acquired through the Freedom of Information Act by the energy trade publication E & E News, details multiple meetings with chief executives and lobbyists from oil, gas, chemical, agribusiness and other industries regulated by the EPA, as well as with Pruitt’s personally appointed political staff — but few meetings with career employees or environmental groups.
Leaders of at least three major environmental and public-health groups — the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and the American Lung Association — have had meetings with Pruitt, they said. EPA officials said he had also met with advocacy groups such as the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, the National Medical Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American, and the National Environmental Health Association.
But the influence of those groups, which have pushed to retain environmental rules, appears to be outweighed by the counsel of industry groups.
Germany produced record 35 percent of power from renewables in first half
Reuters July 1, 2017
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany raised the proportion of its power produced by renewable energy to 35 percent in the first half of 2017 from 33 percent the previous year, according to the BEE renewable energy association.
Germany is aiming to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022. Its renewable energy has been rising steadily over the last two decades thanks in part to the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) which was reformed this year to cut renewable energy costs for consumers.
Germany has been getting up to 85 percent of its electricity from renewable sources on certain sunny, windy days this year.
The BEE reported on Sunday the overall share of wind, hydro and solar power in the country’s electricity mix climbed to a record 35 percent in the first half.
The government has pledged to move to a decarbonized economy by the middle of the century and has set a target of 80 percent renewables for gross power consumption by 2050.
It aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in 2020 from 1990 levels and 95 percent by 2050.
(Reporting by Markus Wacket; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)
The Planet Is in Our Hands: Countering Trump’s Climate Crimes
Curtis Johnson, Truthout Op-Ed July 01, 2017
In light of the tremendous stakes of the climate crisis for the future of life on Earth, Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord was a monstrous act. It came after previous acts by the regime to gut climate and other environmental protections, undermine the Endangered Species Act and protections for wildlife, open public lands and the oceans to further exploitation of fossil fuels, put science-deniers who are hostile to protecting the environment and the public in charge of key government environmental positions, suppress climate research and scrub climate change information from government websites.
Taken together, Trump’s order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which would have cut emissions from US power plants, and his Paris decision mean that instead of US greenhouse gas emissions falling, they will likely remain at the level they are, or even rise. The result? Worsening an already growing climate cataclysm. Trump’s actions are predicted by scientists to make it that much more difficult to prevent the world from breaching temperature limits needed to prevent dangerous climate change. The longer that deep cuts in emissions are avoided, the more serious the damage will be, and the less likely climate disaster can be prevented.
Trump’s decision may also mean that other countries are less likely to meet their Paris goals, despite statements from some that they remain committed to the accord.
Given these impacts, Trump’s decisions on climate and the environment should be called what they are: crimes against the planet, against life and against human beings.
“America First” — the Planet and People Be Damned
Trump justified his decision in the most selfish and chauvinist of terms:
This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.
He went on to claim that the Paris accord would have meant massive loss of jobs and shuttering of coal plants in the US, while other countries like China and India expanded their own, and other unacceptable economic losses. Trump thinly lied that he wants to renegotiate the agreement to make it “more fair” to the US and that the US would remain “the world’s leader on environmental issues.”
Firstly, it must be said, there is no country on the Earth more responsible for climate change and its depredations on species and humans than the US. The US is today the second largest contributor to greenhouse emissions. China now produces more greenhouse gases than the US, but US emissions per person are more than those in China and India combined. This doesn’t even include the fact that much production in China and India contributing to emissions is done for the international market, essentially for the benefit of the wealthier countries.
Additionally, the US is far in the lead of any other country in producing the largest portion of greenhouse emissions over time that have built up. It’s responsible for fully 20 percent of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. But Trump and his people don’t care anything about this. They don’t care about what damage has been and is being done, or the responsibility of the US to alleviate the destruction for which it is responsible. In fact, as part of this decision, Trump said he would stop US contributions to the Green Climate Fund, the UN-sponsored program to assist poorer countries to develop by investing in cleaner energy technologies. Instead, Trump says all that matters is what is an “advantage for America.” So, in essence, what damage the US emissions have already caused, and what happens going forward to the rest of humanity or the species of the planet, are of no consequence. That’s not acceptable.
Some critics of Trump say the decision to pull from the accord “will only hurt the US” and its standing in the world, and so the US should stay in for this reason. But people in this country should not identify their own interests as the same as those who hold power in this country, which are in fact opposed to the interests of the majority of people here and throughout the world.
Further, Trump completely misunderstands (or is just trying to cover up) that the Paris accords and goals for each country were set by each country on a voluntary basis. Whether and how they are met is also completely voluntary. Some call this the “beauty” of the agreement, but it is actually one of the big problems with the accord, because all of these countries are only making steps they precisely think won’t harm their own “economic and national interests” too much, whether the planet can stand it or not.
So, under this voluntary agreement, there was no forced shuttering of factories or job losses by any country on any other country, including on the US. This is entirely false and meant to create a dangerous and vengeful “we’re the victim” narrative. And let’s be truthful; Trump does not care about the lives of coal miners. And it is not other countries that are eliminating coal jobs, but the workings of the capitalist market itself (of which Trump is a personification), principally the outcompeting of coal by natural gas production — yet another destructive fossil fuel. Trump’s figures for his “argument,” like most everything else from this president, are just falsehoods. In this case, they are based on cherry-picking worst-case scenarios from studies commissioned by a group known as the American Council for Capital Formation, which is composed of some of the largest fossil fuel and other pro-business interests. (Point by point fact-checking and refutations on Trump’s justifications have been done elsewhere; one of the best is here.)
Further, any country or leader who can only promise jobs for people (like increasing coal mining jobs) that would contribute further to the destruction of the natural world that all species and humans need to survive and thrive is entirely illegitimate.
A very important point that needs to be made in all of this is that Trump’s Paris decision is not just a big “screw you” to the planet and the people worldwide, it is also a further “doubling down” on attempts to consolidate a fascist form of government. It doesn’t stand alone, and can’t be understood correctly apart from the moves by this regime and its allies on every level to silence the press, to attack the rule of law, to attack protest and democratic rights, enforce a vicious white supremacy and misogyny, unleash vile deportations and hatred toward immigrants, and threaten the world, even former allies under the signboard of “America First.”
It’s a further attempt to coalesce an unthinking, anti-scientific, anti-evidence, “post-truth” and vicious ethos as the ruling norm, where reason, concern for others (besides white Americans) and critical thinking are seen as weak, and worthy of not just disdain, but destruction. Trump’s Paris decision came in the same week that white supremacist, brown-shirt types wielding knives on both coasts targeted people of color and then killed them or others who stood up for them. Trump’s Paris decision resonated with these types of fascist elements throughout our society.
Trump’s portrayal of a victimized US that has been taken advantage of by the rest of the world and is now being laughed at is chillingly reminiscent of Hitler’s constant assertions that Germany had been betrayed — “stabbed in the back” by foreign enemies and abetted by domestic ones. Let’s not forget how this was a key way the Nazis galvanized the population to unthinking obedience, and to lay down their lives in committing the most atrocious crimes against others. We cannot allow this to be repeated.
All of this raises further the need for mass repudiation, denunciation and resolute resistance to stop Trump and this whole fascist regime, and to force them out before they can do further untold damage.
The Climate Stakes
A November 2016 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicted that if all countries meet their current Paris goals, (including those by the US), the result would still be a 3 degree Celsius temperature rise. So, what is needed is emissions cuts not just meeting the Paris goals, but cuts that would actually prevent temperatures from exceeding a 1.5-degree Celsius rise — a level we are already dangerously close to. This planetary need demands an emergency footing.
Obama set as an aspirational goal for the Paris accord, a US 26-28 percent cut in emissions below 2005 levels by 2025. According to Climate Action Tracker, the US, even with Obama’s policies fully realized, was on track to cut emissions only 10 percent by 2025.
But now even these small cuts that fall far short of the declared US Paris goal, (which wouldn’t cut emissions enough), are being tossed aside by the Trump regime. Trump’s decision to pull out of Paris, to seek to do away with any restrictions on burning of fossil fuels at a time when the necessity of protecting life and people is immediate, makes this president and all his cronies that support this entirely illegitimate and a tremendous danger to the future.
What are the stakes if global temperatures are not kept below the 2-degree Celsius aspirational goal of Paris? Increases beyond this would make it much more likely that the Arctic, Greenland and parts of the Antarctic ice caps, as well as glaciers worldwide — already rapidly melting — will be locked into a death spiral. This could rapidly escalate the release of methane and carbon locked in permafrost and in frozen ocean hydrates, which are already releasing greenhouse emissions with just the approximately 1 degree Celsius warming that has already occurred.
The vast impacts of this — from further transforming the planet’s weather patterns and its climate system, to undermining key planetary ecosystems that sustain life, to sea level rise, to spreading drought and more damaging storms, and to increasing conflict, wars and mass forced migrations (especially impacting the poorest people on the planet) — can only be called catastrophic. When looked at in interaction with extinction of species, transformations of the world’s oceans, the death of coral reefs, habitat destruction and many other related building threats to world ecosystems, it’s clear that such a scenario must be prevented to sustain a livable planet.
Stopping Trump’s Regime, Saving the Planet
Some commentators are arguing that since the EU and other countries are vowing to uphold the Paris accord and meet their climate goals, and that a number of governors and mayors in the US have also said they intend to follow through on cutting emissions in line with original US proposals, that Trump’s decision may not be too harmful. And that because of changes in the viability and lowered cost of new sustainable energy technologies, Trump’s aim to stick with and even expand fossil fuel production is destined to fall by the wayside. This line of thinking says, in effect, that the destructiveness of everything this regime is trying to do (and not do) on climate will just be pushed aside by the sweep of history. I believe this is mistaken and would steer people away from seeing the seriousness of this decision and the need to resist it.
It’s true that wind, solar power and other new sustainable energy technologies are spreading and taking hold in ways not seen previously with the ordinary workings of things. Also, that states or cities actually significantly cutting emissions would be a positive thing. But a much more drastic and rapid transformation of the world’s energy system — a more or less immediate decision to stop extractions of the dirtiest of fossil fuels and an overall plan for rapid elimination of fossil fuel use in general and a switch to general use of sustainable technologies — is really what’s required, given the emergency state of the climate crisis.
This is what’s needed now — not piecemeal or moderate cuts in line with profitability for large capitalist interests. This will not occur by hoping for “the adults in the room” in government to do the right thing, waiting for the next election or by identifying what is needed as what is in line with “US economic interests.” This can only occur by people in the US joining with people around the world — standing up, rising up to save life on our planet, taking the future into our hands. This starts with stopping Trump and his whole administration from carrying out their dangerous direction on this and every front.
Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics.