The Environmental Implications Of A Trump Presidency

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump applauds after singing the National Anthem during a rally at the Anaheim Convention Center, Wednesday, May 25, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JAE C. HONG
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump applauds after singing the National Anthem during a rally at the Anaheim Convention Center, Wednesday, May 25, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JAE C. HONG

If Donald Trump becomes the next president of the United States, well, many things will happen. The stock market could crash. U.S. allies could have to reimagine their relationships with America. The population of Canada would get a bump.

He will also have to decide what he would actually do with U.S. energy and climate policy. He’s already offered some rhetoric about saving coal jobs, denying climate science, and bashing renewable energy. But on Thursday he is expected to reveal his agenda in keynote speech at an oil expo in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“I have no idea what Trump thinks about climate change,” said Alex Bozmoski, strategy and policy director at the conservative environmental group RepublicEn. “Donald Trump as the standard-bearer for the Republican Party is a pontificator’s paradise because there’s no connection between what he says and what he does.”

For the most part, Trump’s views have been predominantly expressed on Twitter — largely about how cold weather in the winter meant mainstream climate science was a joke, and how much he disliked wind turbines.

“Building a clean energy economy takes more than 140 characters,” Tom Steyer, president of NextGen Climate said on a Wednesday press call. Trump isn’t alone in this effort to foil a clean energy economy, he said — he leads a party that has embraced polluters, tried to block the EPA’s anti-pollution efforts.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) was recently announced as Trump’s energy advisor. Cramer likes fossil fuel extraction, dislikes environmental regulations, and says mainstream climate science is based on “fraudulent science.” Trump’s speech to the oil industry in North Dakota may provide further clarity.

But what would a President Trump’s real-world options be when it comes to changing current energy and climate policy?

Stopping Environmental Executive Action

The Obama Administration has one main option in response to a GOP-controlled legislative body that is by nearly all accounts the most anti-environment congress in history. It can enforce current laws on the books in new ways, issuing rules and executive orders to cut pollution and boost sustainable solutions around the government and nation. These have been successful in many ways LIST

This is also the easiest way for a new president to reverse Obama’s progress on the environment.

Brad Johnson, executive director of Climate Hawks Vote, said that Trump is not a conventional candidate. “He says he would bomb countries and take their oil. That’s what he would do. He says that global warming is a Chinese hoax — he would treat scientists and environmentalists as threats to the state.”

Johnson said Trump “would take extreme executive action,” easily dismantling Obama’s executive actions.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, however, that it would be difficult for the next president to undo all the formal rulemaking, especially as the markets and industry have already begun to adjust to cleaner energy.

Scrapping the EPA, Let Alone the Clean Power Plan

When a presidential candidate says they will eliminate the EPA, calling it a “disgrace,” a serious consideration of his environmental policy gets a little screwy.

“Trump has said explicitly that he wants to eliminate the EPA so there is no speculation on how far he would try to go,” Holly Shulman, a Sierra Club spokesperson, told ThinkProgress. Most Americans across the political spectrum support the EPA’s safeguards, she said, and coal is on its way out. “Donald Trump can talk about eliminating the EPA until his face turns blue but the market won’t support it,” Shulman said.

If he doesn’t have the votes to shut down the EPA, perhaps he could use a stunt like that to get everyone to quit

What of President Obama’s signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan? Trump could potentially slow down or stop the rule, which regulates carbon pollution from the power sector through a flexible arrangement with each state. It’s currently being fought in court, with oral arguments scheduled for September 27.

Rhea Suh, president of the NRDC Action Fund, said on a Wednesday press call that Trump could have EPA withdraw the Clean Power Plan altogether, he could fight it in court, and he could assure the states that their plans would not be enforced stronglym if at all. Suh noted that delaying regulations like methane standards and clean vehicle standards “would be in essence a defeat” given how quickly emissions need to drop.

Trump responded in an American Energy Alliance (AEA) questionnaire that he would review the EPA’s “endangerment finding” which undergirds the premise that greenhouse gases are able to be regulated under the Clean Air Act if they endager public health and welfare. The Supreme Court said the Bush administration had to regulate carbon dioxide under the Act if the EPA found such a threat. In 2009, it did exactly that, and from there the administration has regulated carbon pollution from vehicles and the power sector to comply with the law. Reviewing the endangerment finding could threaten that work.

RepublicEn’s Bozmoski was skeptical of this move. “If he doesn’t have the votes to shut down the EPA, perhaps he could use a stunt like that to get everyone to quit,” he told ThinkProgress. “It feels sinister to instruct civil servants and scientists to anchor the policy of the U.S. to wildly-discredited, un-empirical junk science.”

If Trump can’t shut down the EPA, he will still do his best to stop it from doing much. Asked about regulating carbon pollution, Trump characterized the Obama administration’s actions as “an overreach that punishes rather than helps Americans” in the AEA questionnaire. He then went further. “Under my administration, all EPA rules will be reviewed. Any regulation that imposes undue costs on business enterprises will be eliminated.”

He did not define what “undue cost” meant.

Renegotiating Paris

“If Donald Trump is elected, he would be the first climate-denying head of state in the world,” the Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune said on a Wednesday press call.

Trump has said he would seek to renegotiate the “one-sided,” “bad,” Paris climate agreement, ignoring the fact that the agreement is one-sided in favor of the United States, not against it. The rest of the planet has agreed to cut emissions, which will help to save Trump specifically from ruin, as someone who owns a lot of coastal property.

“The laws of physics are not very negotiable,” James Murphy, senior counsel at the National Wildlife Federation, told ThinkProgress. He said that whether Trump would renegotiate the agreement or completely renege on it is immaterial to the fact that the United States should not walk away from the obligations it made at Paris.

Could Trump actually renegotiate the agreement? The future head of the U.N. climate office, Patricia Espinosa, said “it would not be easy.” Yet unless the agreement gets locked in this year, he could certainly slow the process down or move to take America out of it as the Bush administration did with the Kyoto Protocol 16 years ago. This could lead to similar defections from other countries.

“Trump is proposing we negotiate away American global leadership,” Sierra Club’s Shulman said. “What he said is ridiculous and would do irreparable damage to our role in the world. Trump’s comments show how little he understands about conducting foreign policy.”

Given how little regard Trump appears to hold for international agreements and U.S. allies, this may not hold much sway in a Trump administration.

Carbon and Energy in a Tax Compromise?

Cramer, Trump’s energy adviser, made some waves last week when he said he advised Trump that he should consider a carbon tax as a replacement for the Clean Power Plan.

Trump replied on Twitter that reports that he might consider a carbon tax were false:

Indeed, Trump replied in the AEA questionnaire that he would not support a carbon tax, nor the administration’s social cost of carbon .

It’s possible a carbon tax could get folded into a broader tax compromise, but people say that all the time and it never happens. Trump could be different — his anti-corporate rhetoric alarmed the fossil fuel industry earlier in the campaign. Trump is expected to lay out a broadly fossil-fuel-friendly plan in his North Dakota speech, however.

“Trump believes that when oil spills occur ‘you clean them up’ and called the push to develop renewable energy a ‘big mistake’ and ‘an expensive way of making treehuggers feel good about themselves,’” Shulman said. “The current GOP drive to subsidize fossil fuels at the expense of renewables would continue under a President Trump.”

Extract, Baby, Extract

Trump has promised to bring back coal jobs when campaigning in West Virginia. Which is a problem when most of the coal jobs that have been lost were due to decisions made by the industry to mechanize their workforce. And the market is simply moving away from coal to natural gas and renewable energy. It’s unclear what Trump would do on this, other than blow smoke.

That doesn’t mean the coal industry isn’t on board with a candidate who is alarmingly unfamiliar with the energy sector.

When coal executive Bob Murray suggested Trump allow more LNG terminals to export more natural gas, Trump had a question for Murray. “What’s LNG?” Liquefied natural gas terminals are the only way to transport natural gas overseas, which would reduce the domestic natural gas supply glut and, at least to the coal industry, make coal more competitive. A president promising to bring coal jobs back should be familiar with the economic trends affecting coal.

Still, Murray was impressed with Trump. “He’s got his head on right,” Murray concluded after their meeting.