BY: TANNER KENNEY
Any and all assumptions made in this paper are offered solely by the author as a subject matter expert and are the result of in-depth research coupled with thoughtful opinions regarding the topics discussed.
Throughout America, energy production, transmission, distribution, and utilization are observed, analyzed, reported on, and regulated in each state and in various ways; they are also inextricably linked with the federal government through climate change-related legislation and regulation, just as every person on Earth is connected to Nature, itself. And, if every action truly has an equal and opposite reaction, the United Sates and the world are about to endure some of the harshest political climates ever seen regarding environmental protection and remediation.
This white paper attempts to analyze the energy- and climate-related stances taken and policy decisions made by President Donald Trump and his Administration (Administration) as well as its supporters and enumerates their potential impacts, including the empirical increase in levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as methane (CH4) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in addition to deleterious compounds like fine particulate matter (FPM).
This process can be attributed directly to the deregulation of various American economic sectors such as energy, land and agriculture, transportation, infrastructure, and beyond. This production also provides recommendations for solving the crises that will inevitably arise from said policy actions in addition to those which have as yet been made. It is also the intention of this paper to express to its readers the threats posed to the world by climate change and how they are further compounded by the deregulation of American energy generation, wildlife protection, and environmental conservation, preservation, and remediation.
This paper also suggests to the reader that the Administration’s actions will cause further damage to American ecosystems, cultures, and beyond and attempts to address the specific consequences a given individual may suffer should these policies continue to be promulgated ad infinitum. Any and all assumptions made in this production are offered solely by the author as an expert in the subject and are the result of in-depth research coupled with genuinely thoughtful opinions regarding the topics discussed.
“During the course of my presidency, I made climate change a top priority because I believe that of all the challenges that we face, this is the one that will define the contours of this century, more dramatically perhaps than any other[.]”– Former President Barack Obama
Actions Taken by President Donald Trump & His Administration
Donald Trump is advancing his mission to destabilize climate change-related regulations and return energy generation policy to previously-dictated standards throughout the United States through myriad appointments and nominations, executive orders, regulatory and policy changes, judicial stacking, and beyond. Thankfully, and despite the fact that Republicans control the House, Senate, and executive branch and have at times used this advantage to create a more conservative Supreme Court (SCOTUS), the Administration’s legislative efforts have been relatively unsuccessful due to the President’s bombastic and, at times, offensive language directed towards colleagues.
Each and every above-referenced instance is enough to cause great concern; however, in sum, they paint a much more worrisome picture of the future. In order for one to truly understand why President Trump’s ‘draining of the swamp’ has been an unmitigated failure, one must also recognize the tools utilized by the Administration to inflict such damage on the environment as well as American culture and the economy without achieving any major Congressional milestones. In order to do so, one must first understand the scope of the problem at-hand, which means addressing the metrics by which previous, current, and future policies have, are, and will be constructed and analyzed for success.
Rule Changes, Appointments, & Regulatory Capture
President Trump has used many of the various tools at his disposal as the Chief Executive of the United States to circumvent traditional legislative paths, including appointments – judicial and administrative – as well as rule changes, policy adjustments, regulatory capture, and beyond to further act on the positions he takes, themselves often changing without warning. These methods are even more effective with a complicit Congress and divided SCOTUS as it considers changing procedural rules to further the Administration’s agenda.
In its first 100, President Trump signed 90 Executive Orders, an astonishingly high number considering that the Administration has only appointed scant few officials whilst 249 have positions – many vital to operating a functional government – are left without a nominee. This is to say nothing of the PR nightmare that some of Trump’s closest allies have created before the culmination of his first year in office which, in and of itself, is to say nothing yet again of the bevy of conflicts of interests within his cabinet and throughout his Administration in regards to economic benefit via the deregulation of a given product, service, industry and/or sector.
Scott Pruitt & Ryan Zinke
The two biggest individual threats to our nation’s ecosystems and, as a result, the world’s rapidly changing climate are (at the time of publication) Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior. It is important for one to remain steadfast in recognizing that these two officials are not merely individual members of the government – they wield a tremendous amount of power, more than most elected officials, and possess the ability to reshape the landscape of environmental regulation, land-use rights and regulations, energy generation, food production, and beyond in the face of increasing GHGs and FPM throughout the nation (see graph).
U.S. GHG Indicator
Thus, it is essential that one understands the potential actions that these administrations may take given their previously-underexplored scope-of-power. The primary threats posed by these individuals are manifold – they both wield tremendous amounts of power regarding their respective organizations and are supported by a complicit Congress that seeks constant approval from the Administration. This scenario allows for a climate wherein Pruitt and Zinke act with impunity, spending lavishly on travel and unnecessary accoutrements.
The Environmental Protection Agency
The role currently played by the EPA mirrors that of President Barack Obama’s Administration (Obama Administration) in that the executive branch utilizes the regulatory agency to impose policies and regulations that work to advance the political motivations of the party elected to oversee the organization. During the Obama Administration, the EPA was used to enforce regulations that would reduce GHGs through a variety of tools such as the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Programs like these have not only had a positive impact on the health of countless Americans, but brought economic benefits with them, as well.
“It’s one of the dirtiest places in America. Former residents of Tar Creek, Oklahoma, want to know why Trump’s EPA chief didn’t prosecute allegations of wrongdoing during a federal buyout program.” – Politico
Previously, this process was predictable in nature as previous administrations relied on traditionally-held standards or consensus opinions provided by candidates and approved by the national party. However, the Administration has taken the drastic steps of attempting to erase the legacy of the outgoing leadership, entirely: Since the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the department, the Administration has acted brazenly and unpredictably to reverse longstanding policies, regulations, and stances that positively impact the welfare of all Americans.
Moreover, and through his administrators, the President has dedicated his executive powers to – among other dubious choices – bar agencies from hiring new employees, even laying-off staff members dedicated to protecting the environment, causing many others to quit or retire early. This is to say nothing of the false promises made by Trump both during his campaign and throughout his presidency.
As of December 6th, 2017, the EPA website displays the above-referenced banner atop a browser’s window – in doing so, the EPA has telegraphed its attempts to remove Obama-era policies from its public-facing outlets. In order to access content published prior to this date, you must navigate to an entirely separate archive which displays the banner bellow, informing you of the fact that you are no longer navigating the EPA website:
Clean Power Plan & Landfill Methane Outreach Program
The phrase “jobs, jobs, jobs” has long been a powerful tool utilized by political candidates and elected officials, often referring to a persona’s platform or party’s mission-statement rather than a specific campaign promise, but President Trump’s declaration of coal jobs returning in droves following the repeal of the Clean Power Plan has been stymied by his own party. The CPP is one of the most important and far-reaching regulatory actions taken in American history.
Following the footsteps of the successful Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) – itself aimed at reducing GHG emissions at landfills and recycling facilities throughout the nation by guiding a CH4 capture, storage, and utilization program – the CPP demonstrated a concerted, bi-partisan effort to continue the process of climate purification through the reduction of GHG emissions stemming from fossil fuel power plants (these most often took the form of centralized, coal-fired power plants). The effectiveness of LMOP, itself, is also threatened as its GHG reduction-capabilities may be compromised by proposed rule-changes within the EPA.
The scaling-back of the CPP, let alone its elimination, could have dire effects on the health of millions of Americans (see graph), most often having the greatest impact on the most vulnerable populations throughout the country, including the poor, elderly, and infirmed. This is clearly an unacceptable trade for the vast majority of people involved in the transaction, and will be bad for business, regardless of the Administration’s claims. The very same goes for the Department of the Interior and its assertion that the privatization of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments.
The health effects of climate change in America
The Department of The Interior
- National Monuments & Parks: Oil, Gas, & Agriculture
Of great concern to all American citizens should be that of our national monuments as well as the national parks they are located within. In recent days, the Administration followed through with the first step in its proposal to drastically reduce the size of national monuments and parks by signing-away two million acres of public lands at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The Administration’s decision came as a surprise to some, but when given Rep. Jason Chaffetz failed bid to do the same earlier in the year, it is evident that the decision was made to clear legislative hurdles that previously prevented the seizure.
“Environmentalists and some native nations say Mr. Trump’s decision will destroy the national heritage and threaten some 100,000 sites of archaeological importance in the monument’s desert landscapes.” – The New York Times
In doing so, President Trump has signaled his desire to sign-away public lands for private profits in order to further enrich his campaign donors in the region – many of whom own land for energy exploration and agricultural and mining purposes. Unfortunately, actions such as these may become commonplace in American politics under President Trump as Congress has shown no sign of a backbone in regard to preventing executive orders from seizing public lands. This practice will not change under this Administration without tremendously vocal opposition as the potential impact of oil and gas (O&G) exploration on untapped, protected lands is astronomical, potentially the greatest on Earth.
“Both the Trump administration and the Utah congressional delegation have tried to frame the contraction of the monuments as a restoration of states’ and individuals’ rights.” – What Native Americans Stand to Lose if Trump Opens Up Public Lands for Business
Proposed Elephant Trophy Rule Reversal
In perhaps its most shameful act to-date, and merely one example of President Trump’s environmental ignorance, takes the form of executive overreach via the proposed rule-change that would have allowed for Americans to import elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe. Mercifully, the Administration decided to scrap its plan after a massive public outcry that included extremely vocal leaders on both sides of the aisle decrying the decision – however, we must remain vigilant in our opposition to lifting the ban as the Administration has not yet put the issue to rest permanently.
To better understand the necessity for the ban, one must understand that the encouragement of elephant hunting, alone, is enough to overcome the positive economic and conservation effects brought to the region. And while these positions are not lifetime appointments, the impact either individual may have on their respective administration will be strong, at the very least, in setting precedents by flaunting long-held conventions of fiscal responsibility and environmental conservation.
However, their combined impact may extend beyond that of the sum of the individual positions – their trajectories appear to be aimed at providing the energy sector with the greatest ease of expansion legally allowed whilst shunning the efforts of genuinely ethical hunters to protect endangered species in the United States and abroad. Lastly, I must reference Secretary of Energy Rick Perry – his impact will be large, but may be mitigated by his ineffectiveness due to a lack of genuine prior experience.
Thankfully, in the United States, the exploration of fossil fuels has become so costly for the vast majority of corporations that a recent auction of Alaskan land held by the federal government for 900 separate plots of land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska drew only 7 bids from the same consortium for a total of 1252mi. out of an available 16,100. Furthermore, and in relatively the same span of time, employment in the renewable energy sector has skyrocketed, due in-part to financial and regulatory assistance from the federal government.
However, this is still a great deal of work to be done regarding the cleanliness and efficiency of energy production and usage in the United States of America as nearly 1/3 of its entire GHG emissions stem from energy production whist the remainder is incredibly energy-intensive (see graph).
Sources of American GHGs
Sadly, as is the case with the elephant trophy rule, the Administration is poised to eliminate the previously-successful programs aimed at reducing American GHG emissions across the board. Fortunately, the momentum generated by these Obama-era policies have carried over to this Administration to the point where any de-incentivization may be wholly meaningless. However, the continued exploration for O&G through the combination of traditional methods and advanced technologies will inherently increase American GHG emissions.
As the world’s largest economy, it is a moral imperative that more be done in order to prevent the nation from continuing to pollute disproportionately without a legally-binding plan-of-action to reduce GHG emissions throughout all industries and sectors. Without a concerted effort to rejoin the pact, we are setting a dangerous example that, should a party disagree with the economic or political structure of a GHG reduction-mechanism, that party may then leave the agreement – sans repercussion – to continue polluting.
Prior to discussing the Administration’s role in global energy policy, one must understand the complex interconnection of sovereign nations through their reliance on international power grids. As the United States relies on Canada for renewable hydroelectric power, Venezuela relies on the U.S. to refine its crude oil, many South American nations rely on Brazil for a variety of energy services, the EU relies upon Russia vis-à-vis natural gas, and beyond. From nuclear power and rooftop solar panels in Germany to gravity-powered water filtration systems and wood-fired cooking stoves in rural Africa, individuals throughout the world rely on a bevy of energy technologies to provide them more efficient and healthier solutions on a daily basis.
But these delicate tapestries are under attack by President Trump as he seeks to undermine the global status quo and utilize the recent American energy resurgence to promote products, services, solutions, and technologies that would benefit close allies of the Administration. In doing so, President Trump puts those in the most vulnerable of environments – healthy or otherwise – in danger of great bodily harm as they are most often located in underdeveloped and/or poverty-stricken nations that simply do not have the capital to protect themselves against climate change, which is to say nothing of the international hunger crisis.
First Impact: Climate Change in Coastal Cities & High-Altitude Populations
Sadly, in this year, alone, the U.S. has already endured two of the most economically and environmentally devastating hurricanes ever recorded. These types of events appear to show no signs of relenting, either, and they place the world’s most vulnerable of populations at grave risk – those in coastal regions and low-lying areas where flooding is commonplace (see graph) such as Puerto Rico as well as high-altitude environments where oxygen is limited, and the effects of air pollution are more evident such as La Paz, Bolivia. Thankfully, local and federal governments throughout the world have recognized this as a major threat to sustainability, in general, and have implemented measures such as car-free days to mitigate existing damage and reduce future GHG emissions.
Climate Change Indicators – Coastal Flooding in the U.S.
At this juncture, it is vital to recall that some, perhaps many, of the policy changes made and proposed by the Administration may not create negative impacts for many and for some time, hence it is important to not get ‘lost in the weeds’ by focusing on each and every action taken as potentially ‘back-breaking.’ However, they must not be overlooked as these policy maneuvers comprise the house of cards that the Administration is assembling but many have, and they include:
- EPA Proposes to Rescind Clean Power Plan
- FHWA Proposes to Rescind Greenhouse Gas Reporting Requirements for State and Regional Highway Planners
- Unified Agenda Lists Planned Deregulatory Actions
- Administration Disbands Climate Science Advisory Committee
- President Issues Executive Order To Expedite Infrastructure Reviews, Revoke Flood Management Standard
Regarding the Flood Management Standard, the delayed impact of this decision is more obvious and an egregious mistake, as well – the historic flooding of Houston during Hurricane Harvey caused unprecedented economic damage, and the full effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico are yet to be seen. Therefore, it is actions like these that, when assembled, create a major threat to the sustainability of American ecosystems and economies, regardless of their political affiliations.
While it is very difficult to spin the news regarding certain aspects of climate change as a positive, it does occur – many are celebrating the opening of new Arctic shipping routes to deliver products. Others, most notably O&G conglomerates, are anticipating the ability to explore for natural resources in environments previously unimaginable. This is an untenable scenario to be anticipating and all global citizens should vocalize their displeasure with the status quo in regards to energy provision and demand sustainable generation in concert with environmental conservation and remediation.
Conclusions & Recommendations
In order to mitigate the damage done by the Administration to the United States’ international reputation relating to climate change, citizens, government workers, and elected officials must work together and take action in order to promote progressive and sustainable climate and energy policies on the federal, state, and local levels. These actions could include:
Regulatory & Policy Proscriptions
- Taxation of large fossil fuel-consumers
- Taxation of excessive water-consumers and air-polluters
- Expansion of anti-fracking policies such as those in New York State and the State of California
- Prioritization of the utilization of clean power, regardless of its source
- Prioritization of energy storage in regions with historical outages
Legislative & Legal Remedies
- Regulation of safe and clean drinking water for all American communities
- Reduction of the utilization of coal for energy generation
- Prevention of asbestos for fire safety purposes
- Increased environmental and cultural protections for indigenous populations
- Eradication of FPM from diesel vehicles
Sadly, the current Administration has proven time and time again that it will not change its position to circumvent even the gravest of threats, let alone listen to advice from aides, governmental agencies, NGOs, the private sector, and beyond. The time is now to take action through civic engagement in order to make our voices heard regarding the necessity for environmental protection and remediation in Washington, D.C. as states have witnessed their autonomy and sovereignty diminished as the Republican-led federal government continues to work against the traditional GOP platform of protecting the rights of states to govern their citizens as they see fit.
Moving forward, lawmakers’ and citizens’ highest priority should be that of securing the nation’s elections. The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections has revealed information that could permanently damage American trust in the ability of the federal government to prevent international espionage at all levels. Should order be restored to the nation’s election systems, the priorities of environmentalists and conservatives, alike, should be that of preventing a similar scandal from ever occurring again. This process will ensure that all Americans voices are heard at an equal volume and weighted by political leaders accordingly.
In places where this is either not the case or said speech is often overlooked, such as on Native American lands, the answer to this question is as simple as understanding the facts as they pertain to the individual issues, themselves. Once one can grasp the scope of a given event’s impact, then that person is prepared to take action in the form of civic engagement.
Whether that takes the form of making a donation to a foundation, attending a rally, or calling one’s governmental representatives, there exists a multitude of channels to engage with elected and appointed officials. And right now, at this very moment, is the perfect time for conservationists with traditionally conservative economic viewpoints to assume leadership roles in the Republican National Committee while it is fractured and disoriented.
Throughout the U.S., Americans can promote environmental conservation through traditional methods such as calling their elected state officials to support existing and proposed regulations. It will be vital to do this during comment periods as the public record must recognize such input in perpetuity.
Non-traditional methods of environmental activism can come in the form of leveraging one’s own Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) in the burgeoning sustainability sector. Individuals can vocalize their support of the environment through the brands they choose to purchase from, causes they support financially, and canvassing for organizations.
The benefits of environmental conservation and remediation are manifold in both nature and practice as sustainably-focused actions often bring about economic growth and technological advancements in addition to health benefits which can be seen throughout the nation, such as in the quality of water delivered to residents of New York State.
The local-level is perhaps the most fitting arena for citizens to unite and promote sustainable energy and climate policies as the impact of environmental degradation is felt simultaneously by a given leadership and the populous it is intended to protect. This prevents the isolation of governing bodies from its citizenry and often fosters bipartisan agreement, which be seen in even the most conservative of populations. Local discourse often has a large impact on state politics, as well, and can be seen throughout California as a years-long drought has led to the outbreak of record wildfires, themselves posing a danger to the environment through the firefighting tactics of self-preservation, and caused citizens to vocalize their opposition to manufacturers of bottled water and over-consuming neighbors, alike.
Supporting the equal taxation of water-usage may be beneficial to those living in water shortage-threatened climates similar to those seen throughout Southern California currently enduring record wildfires in order to prevent passing the burden onto the coming generations and, inevitably, the most vulnerable members of a population.
As the number of nations that rely on renewable sources of energy to heat and light homes and drive economies grows, the sources of the ‘fuel’ that powers these installations must be variable to prevent intermittency (e.g. solar PV, CSP, wind, renewable natural gas (RNG), and beyond). Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, governments must ensure that the lowest-priced kWh is delivered to customers through aggressive, progressive energy policy in addition to diversifying the suppliers of the technologies and services chosen for any given scenario.
These tactics can prevent an over-reliance on a singular technology and/or vendor and the utilization of waste streams through the production of RNG can help to reduce landfill and recycling facility-congestion and prevent future waste. Doing so will allow for a more sustainable approach to the exploration for energy resources as the planet’s changing climates begin to melt sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, thereby reducing the economic demand for Arctic shipping routes.
Additionally, energy storage technologies should be prioritized in nations with large populations located in coastal and/or high-altitude climates as they may set examples for major cities in even highly developed nations that have as yet to allow for such installations. And while the United States has long been the beacon of energy ingenuity throughout the world, there exists a bevy of examples to point to with vastly different use-cases such as the sustainable village of Feldheim, Germany, the Kalundborg Symbiosis industrial park, and, as of this writing, the entire nation of Costa Rica.
Kalundborg Symbiosis – Denmark
How Can We Help?
Tantamount to the creation of renewable energy installations in the United States and throughout the rest of the world must be the advocacy, promotion, and permeation of such technologies through a wider lens than that of clean energy provision. The reliance upon outdated and inefficient energy infrastructure can and will result in dire consequences for members of a given service area’s most vulnerable populations.
And while the promulgation of sustainability in the energy, climate, waste, and sectors beyond is vital to the sustainability of humanity, is also just as important to recognize role of compromise in the process, in both policy and legislation. Energy-heavy sectors such as healthcare, transportation, and infrastructure may bare the greatest burden in terms of GHG emissions, globally, but they also provide humankind with the quality of life it currently enjoys. As such, it is vital to support emerging economies with sustainability technologies, allowing them to leapfrog the mistakes made by more developed municipalities, nations, and regions.
Therefore, it is vital to support conservation efforts in all its forms, both small and large – from local relief efforts to international organizations to supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and beyond – to become fully-engaged in the process of combating climate change, beginning with the overhaul of energy production and consumption. And the only path forward leading to the achievement of the lofty goals set forth in this production is that of civic engagement – forming communities that support sustainability, learning from and educating one another, navigating and proposing innovative policies and solutions, and advocating for increased protections at all levels on a daily basis.
Die Natur braucht uns nicht / aber wir brauchen die natur
Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.