EPA announces new plan to weaken Obama-era greenhouse gas rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday plans to roll back a 2015 rule that put strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions coming from coal plants — a tweak the agency is labeling closer to “reality.”

The change will significantly weaken the Obama-era rule in part as an effort to help jump-start new coal plant construction in the U.S.

The proposed revisions to the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) would no longer mandate that plants meet the strict emissions goals of achieving emissions equal to or less than what plants would have achieved with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

The Obama administration at the time saw CCS as a feasible future technology that was important to pulling carbon out of coal plant emissions at their source. Today the technology is not generally used commercially and is pricey.

EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler called the Obama administration’s focus on CCS “disingenuous.”

“Their determination was disingenuous. They knew the tech was not adequately demonstrated, which is what was required under the law. This rule sets high yet achievable standards rooted in reality,” Wheeler said at a press conference at EPA headquarters.

EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum called the old rule “wishful thinking.”

“Today’s actions reflect our approach of defining new, clean coal standards by data and the latest technological information, not wishful thinking,” he said in a statement. “U.S. coal-fired power will be a part of our energy future and our revised standards will ensure that the emissions profiles of new plants continue to improve.”

The new changes would limit coal plant emissions to 1,900 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour produced, a level they say can be met with modern technology including efficient boilers.

The original rule had set the limit at 1,400 pounds.

Despite the higher level of carbon being allowed into the air under EPA’s latest change, Wheeler told reporters that their study found it would “not result in significant [carbon dioxide] changes or costs.”

When asked whether the new rule means the EPA is ignoring the Trump administration’s latest report that declared that effects from climate change would result in unavoidable economic harm to the U.S, Wheeler pushed back.

“We’re not ignoring the government report. We’re still looking at the government report ourselves. We just got a briefing on it this morning from some of our career scientists,” he said.

The report was released two weeks ago.

The EPA chief said the new rule would actually be beneficial to human health because it would provide cheaper electricity to households.

“Having cheap electricity helps human health. If you have cheaper electricity, people are able to afford electricity for their house — that is one aspect of protecting human health,” he said, specifically referring to lower income populations.

[The Hill]

Trump points to French riots to justify pulling out of Paris climate deal

President Trump on Tuesday cited recent riots in France as justification for his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate deal, which he called “fatally flawed.”

“I am glad that my friend @EmmanuelMacron and the protestors in Paris have agreed with the conclusion I reached two years ago. The Paris Agreement is fatally flawed because it raises the price of energy for responsible countries while whitewashing some of the worst polluters in the world,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president argued that he has “been making great strides in improving America’s environment,” but suggested the Paris agreement put the burden for environmentally-friendly policies on American taxpayers.

The president’s tweet came after France on Tuesday delayed plans to implement steep taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline as part of Macron’s effort to reduce emissions.

“No tax is worth putting in danger the unity of the nation,” Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said in announcing the delay.

The announcement was preceded by intense protests in Paris, where demonstrators vandalized monuments and clashed with police, injuring more than 100 people. The protesters had lashed out against the planned fuel tax and, more broadly, Macron’s leadership.

Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement, which includes nearly every country as part of a global effort to combat climate change. The accord does not allow nations to submit exit paperwork until November 2019, and the United States’s departure would not be effective until November 2020.

The president has long voiced skepticism about the existence of climate change, and his administration has undone a number of environmental regulations established during the Obama years.

Trump late last month dismissed the findings of a government report that warned of dire consequences if the country does not address climate change. The president went on to dispute the scientific consensus that human activity contributes to climate change.

[The Hill]

White House seeks to end subsidies for electric cars and renewable energy

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday the Trump administration wants to end subsidies for electric cars and other items, including renewable energy sources.

Asked about plans after General Motors Co (GM.N) announced U.S. plant closings and layoffs last week, Kudlow pointed to the $2,500-to-$7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy plug-in electric vehicles, including those made by GM, under federal law.

“As a matter of our policy, we want to end all of those subsidies,” Kudlow said. “And by the way, other subsidies that were imposed during the Obama administration, we are ending, whether it’s for renewables and so forth.”

Asked about a timeline, he said: “It’s just all going to end in the near future. I don’t know whether it will end in 2020 or 2021.”

The tax credits are capped by Congress at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer, after which the subsidy phases out. GM has said it expects to hit the threshold by the end of 2018, which means under the current law, its tax credit scheme would end in 2020. Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) said in July it had hit the threshold. Other automakers may not hit the cap for several years.

Experts say the White House cannot change the cap unilaterally. U.S. President Donald Trump last week threatened to eliminate subsidies for GM in retaliation for the company’s decision.

Kudlow made clear any changes in subsidies would not just affect GM. “I think legally you just can’t,” he said.

Democrats will take control of the U.S. House in January and are unlikely to agree to end subsidies for electric cars and many have been pushing for additional incentives.

Tesla and GM have lobbied Congress for months to lift the cap on electric vehicles or make other changes, but face an uphill battle make changes before the current Congress expires.

In October, Senator Dean Heller proposed lifting the current cap on electric vehicles eligible for tax credits but phase out the credit for the entire industry in 2022. Two other senators in September proposed lifting the per manufacturer credit and extending the benefit for 10 years.

Also in October, Senator John Barrasso a Republican who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, proposed legislation to end the EV tax credit entirely.

[Raw Story]

Donald Trump Retweets Claim That Paris Protesters Are Chanting ‘We Want Trump.’ They’re Not

President Donald Trump retweeted a post Tuesday making several inaccurate claims about the ongoing protests that have rocked Paris and other parts of France.

The original tweet was written by Charlie Kirk, founder and president of the right-wing nonprofit Turning Point USA. In his post, Kirk claimed, “There are riots in socialist France because of radical leftist fuel taxes.” He added that “Europe is burning” and that the demonstrations are a middle-class rebellion against “cultural Marxism.”

“‘We want Trump’ being chanted through the streets of Paris,” he concluded.

Although protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate against fuel taxes—which were promoted as a way of combating climate change—as well as other price hikes, the criticism of President Emmanuel Macron is actually the opposite of what Kirk and other right-wing commentators have claimed. Opposition political leaders have actually called for increased taxes on the wealthy, while demonstrators have taken to the streets against rising costs, as they’ve seen some of their social support curbed by the government.

Kirk’s claim that people are chanting “We want Trump” appears to be based on a trending video of demonstrators appearing to mock the U.S. president. The video circulating on social media does not appear to have been filmed in Paris or even in France but in London, possibly during anti-Trump demonstrations earlier this year. Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh also claimed that French demonstrators were chanting “We want Trump.”

However, French residents told Newsweekthat the suggestions were laughable, as there were signs lining roads calling Macron a “capitalist pig.” Demonstrators are also calling for higher taxes on the rich and to redistribute wealth in the country, they said.

France 24’s White House correspondent Philip Crowther slammed Trump for retweeting the false claims made by Kirk. “Lies being retweeted by the President: Europe is obviously not burning, and ‘We want Trump’ is not being chanted through the streets of Paris,” he wrote. “Also, the fuel taxes are not radical leftist and France is not socialist. Any other lies?”

[Newsweek]

Trump’s pick for EPA already rolling back climate change protections

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who is now acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was a “driving force” behind the agenda of Sen. James Inhofe, who called climate change a “hoax,” according to people familiar with Wheeler’s work for the senator.

President Donald Trump has said he intends to nominate Wheeler as the head of the EPA, and in the past five months as acting administrator, Wheeler has moved aggressively to roll back key environmental regulations, prompting critics and environmentalists to say he is fast confirming their worst fears for the agency’s future.

Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, is an outspoken climate change skeptic who was at different times chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe told CNN last year the EPA was “brainwashing our kids,” and famously once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to demonstrate his belief that global warming isn’t real.

Inhofe said in a 2003 Senate speech, “I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax,” adding, “the claim that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science.”

Wheeler worked for Inhofe for 14 years, and was his chief counsel and staff director. In that role, Wheeler would have overseen hearings Inhofe held and approved reports Inhofe issued claiming humans have no direct impact on climate change, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. In videos of committee hearings at the time, Wheeler is often seen whispering in Inhofe’s ear and handing him paperwork. In the 2008 “Almanac of the Unelected,” Wheeler’s job is described as “to work on (Inhofe’s) agenda for the committee.”

At a Washington Post forum last week, Wheeler said, “I believe … that man does … have an impact on the climate. That CO2 has an impact on the climate and we do take that seriously.” At the same forum, he admitted he had not read the climate change report released by his agency, which outlined dire warnings of the impact of global warming.

Elizabeth Gore, who was chief of staff for Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and is now a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, told CNN that Wheeler “was very high profile, he was a driving force behind Inhofe’s very dangerous agenda to attack climate change and undermine the policies that would protect us from carbon pollution.”

Wheeler declined CNN’s request for an interview, but in a statement the EPA said in part that the activing administrator, “has made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions … that humans have an impact on the climate.” An EPA official also said, “Mr. Wheeler was deeply honored to work for Senator Inhofe in several capacities, however Mr. Wheeler did not write and was not the architect of the Senator’s climate science speeches.”

Wheeler is one of six top EPA officials who either worked directly for Inhofe or on the Senate’s Energy and Public Works Committee. Others are Wheeler’s chief of staff, his principal deputy assistant administrator, his assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, a senior adviser for policy and an associate administrator for policy. An EPA official said the staffers started working at EPA before Wheeler arrived.

Wheeler moved to the EPA’S top slot in July after then-Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign amid numerous investigations, including questions surrounding his altering of federal documents, over-spending, use of security and other numerous scandals.

Like his former boss, Wheeler is seen to be focused on reversing regulations that protect the nation’s air and water and instead promoting the wishes of the industries impacted by those regulations. Critics fear that Wheeler, who works quietly behind the scenes and knows how to get things done in Washington, is more dangerous to the nation’s health than the scandal-plagued Pruitt ever was.

Michael Gerrard, faculty director of Columbia Law School’s Climate Deregulation Tracker, which follows government deregulation, believes Wheeler will be more successful at reversing environmental protections, “because he understands the administrative and legal process better and he does not have all the craziness of Pruitt’s personal proclivities that got in the way of his effectiveness.”

From 2009 until he joined the EPA last year, Wheeler was a lobbyist for energy, mining and coal companies. Bob Murray, the powerful CEO of Murray Energy, paid Wheeler’s lobbying firm nearly $3 million to, among other things, help the coal baron get access to major decision makers, such as a meeting in March 2017 with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

When Trump was elected, Murray Energy drafted an “action plan” for the Trump administration, essentially a wish list to get the Environmental Protection Agency off the coal industry’s back.

“Not a whole lot has changed from Pruitt to Wheeler,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who has demanded the inspector general investigate Murray’s wish list and Wheeler’s ties to industry. “Now more than ever, Trump’s EPA takes its marching orders from fossil fuel and other polluting industries. While Wheeler may not try to finagle a fast food franchise for his wife, he’s no different from Pruitt when it comes to shilling for industry and pushing whatever policies they want.”

The EPA said in a statement, “Mr. Wheeler did not lobby the Trump EPA while working for Murray Energy nor did he did work on the action plan or receive a copy of the memo.”

But in the five months since Wheeler has taken over, the EPA has pulled back on regulating the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, coal plants and motor vehicles.

Gerrard told CNN, “Wheeler is carrying out a wish-list of the industry lobbyists who wanted to shut down the environmental regulations, as he himself was a lobbyist with exactly the same objective. But now he is in the driver’s seat.”

In August, the EPA published the “Affordable Clean Energy” plan, designed to replace the Clean Power Plan, which was the Obama administration’s key measure to address climate change. The new rule sets far less stringent emission guidelines.

That same month, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a proposed rule to weaken car emissions and fuel economy standards. And in September, the EPA published a proposed rule weakening methane emission standards for some oil and gas production and changing requirements on leak repairs.

At the Washington Post forum, Wheeler said the Trump administration deserves credit for a decline in carbon emissions. “In the first year of the Trump administration, we’ve seen a 2.7% reduction in CO2 from 2016 to 2017,” he said.

Asked to name three EPA policies that are contributing to cleaner air, Wheeler struggled to answer. “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give three off the top of my head,” he said. Of the three he later listed, two are proposed regulations that would dial-back back Obama-era rules that aimed to reduce pollution.

[CNN]

Sarah Sanders: Climate change report ‘not based on facts’

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday dismissed the findings of a government report that warned of the impending consequences of climate change, claiming it’s “not based on facts.”

“The president’s certainly leading on what matters most in this process, and that’s on having clean air, clean water,” Sanders told reporters at a press briefing. “In fact, the United States continues to be a leader on that front.”

Sanders disputed the report’s findings, claiming it’s “not based on facts” and arguing that modeling the climate “is never exact.” She did not indicate that Trump would call on world leaders at this week’s Group of 20 summit to address the report’s findings.

“We think that this is the most extreme version and it’s not based on facts,” she said. “It’s not data driven. We’d like to see something that is more data driven. It’s based on modeling, which is extremely hard to do when you’re talking about the climate.”

The report was developed by multiple federal agencies. A version of it is mandated to be released every four years under the National Climate Assessment from the multiagency Global Change Research Program.

The hundreds of government and external scientists involved in the research concluded that climate change could cost the United States billions of dollars annually within decades if greenhouse gases aren’t dramatically reduced, and could worsen environmental disasters like wildfires and flooding. Its findings aligned with those of the broader scientific community.

Trump downplayed the report’s findings, telling reporters on Monday’s that he doesn’t “believe” its warnings about the economic impacts of climate change.

The president has long voiced skepticism about the existence of climate change.

Democrats criticized that the report was released on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, saying the timing was meant to bury it. They renewed calls for the use of renewable energy sources and other policies that could mitigate the effects of climate change.

Republican lawmakers have largely acknowledged that the climate is changing but have offered few concrete solutions to address the problem. Some lawmakers have emphasized the need to find innovations that would not adversely affect the economy.

[The Hill]

Trump on dire warnings in climate report: ‘I don’t believe it’

President Trump said Monday that he doesn’t “believe” the findings of a major report his administration released forecasting dire consequences to the United States from climate change.

“Yeah, I don’t believe it,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a campaign rally for Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith (R) in Mississippi, when asked about the predictions of economic devastation.

“I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,” Trump said of the report.

The report, part of the fourth congressionally-mandated National Climate Assessment from the multi-agency Global Change Research Program, came out Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and a major shopping day for the United States. That led critics to charge that Trump was trying to bury the findings.

The hundreds of government and external scientists involved in the research concluded that climate change could cost the United States billions of dollars annually within decades if greenhouse gases aren’t dramatically reduced.

“Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century,” it found.

The conclusions generally align with the scientific consensus on climate change, including that human activity, via greenhouse gases, is the chief cause of global warming and its impacts.

Trump has been outspoken in doubting the scientific consensus on climate. He tweeted in 2012 that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

His environmental policy since taking office last year has followed that skepticism. Through the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, he has sought to significantly roll back or repeal nearly every climate policy former President Obama put into place, including greenhouse gas rules for power plants, cars and oil and natural gas drillers.

Trump’s position that he doesn’t “believe” the report aligns with some other Republicans who sought to discredit its findings.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that scientists involved in the research were motivated to get to their conclusions by money. He did not provide any evidence to back the claim.

“If there was no climate change, we’d have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive,” he said.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) also charged that scientists were motivated by money.

“Through the entire report, there’s no dissenting opinion. They went out and picked out people that would say what their conclusions they already wrote before they did the report,” he said Monday on CNN. “It’s flawed, it’s ridiculous, and frankly, embarrassing.”

[The Hill]

Media

 

 

 

Trump confuses climate change with weather

Donald Trump has once again confused the weather with climate change after suggesting chilly weather headed towards the US means global warming is not real.

“Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?” Mr Trump tweeted on Wednesday evening.

The US president was apparently referring to possible record low temperaturesforecast for northeastern US this weekend.

Mr Trump’s claim echoed another tweet from a year ago, in which he said America would benefit from “a little bit of that good old global warming” when much of the US was inundated with snow.

The 72-year-old has long denied the scientific consensus on climate change, claiming in 2012 the phenomenon was a Chinese hoax intended to hurt American exports.

Scientists generally prefer the term “climate change” to “global warming” because the effects of humans emitting heat-trapping greenhouse gases are more likely to manifest as extreme weather events rather than temperature increases alone.

[The Independent]

Trump Promotes New Book From Adviser Who Falsely Claims to be a Psychologist, Lawyer: ‘Great Read!’

Donald Trump is back on Twitter, this time to help promote the new book released by his 2020 re-election advisory council member: Gina Loudon.

Loudon’s book, Mad Politics: Keeping Your Sanity in a World Gone Crazy, sings the president’s praises while touting her qualifications as a “seasoned psychological analyst” and a “twice pedigreed Master and Ph.D.” Now that her book is hitting the shelves, Trump is adding it to his recommended reading list.

As Mediaite has noted on multiple occasions, Loudon’s credentials and professional claims are highly-questionable to say the least.

Even though Loudon has a Ph.D in “human and organization systems” from online school Fielding Graduate University, she lacks an actual doctorate in psychology, and she has said that she relies on “gut instinct” rather than clinical training. She’s also pretending to be a lawyer now, judging by the fact that she doesn’t have a law degree, yet travelled to Florida recently to involve herself in the squabbles over the midterm election recount in Broward County.

Loudon’s (lack of) qualifications aside, this is far from the first time Trump has promoted books written by his political allies, so this is hardly out of the ordinary for him.

[Mediaite]

Donald Trump heads to California, again blaming fires on forest management

President Donald Trump headed to California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest US wildfire in a century, as confusion continued over how many people remain unaccounted for.

Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and said they were trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors and many others over comments he made two days after the disaster on Twitter, then reiterated on the eve of his visit.

In an interview scheduled for broadcast on Fox News Sunday, Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, “This should have been all raked out.”

Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management.”

Before boarding Air Force One to California on Saturday morning, Trump was asked about forest management again and repeated his stance. “Everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing … It should’ve been done many years ago,” he said.

Those comments, and those in his Fox interview, echoed his initial reaction to the fires on 10 November when he blamed the wildfires on poor forest management and threatened then to withhold federal payments. His words caused widespread outrage, though Trump subsequently approved a federal disaster declaration and he has since repeatedly praised the work of first responders, including just before leaving Washington DC.

“I want to be with the firefighters and the Fema first responders,” Trump said.

California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president on his trip to the fire-ravaged region in the north of the state. Governor Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump’s visit, declaring it was time “to pull together for the people of California”.

The blaze that started 8 November all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people.

This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors with his comments.

“If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you’re going to be accepted? You’re not going to have a parade,” Maggie Crowder of Magalia said this week outside an informal shelter at a Walmart store in Chico.

But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: “I think by maybe seeing it he’s going to be like ‘Oh, my goodness,’ and it might start opening people’s eyes.”

Authorities attribute the death toll in part to the speed with which flames raced through the town of 27,000, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned hours after the blaze erupted, the California department of forestry and fire protection said. Thousands of additional structures are still threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, work to contain and suppress the flames.

The big rise in the number of missing is because of a detailed review of emergency calls and missing people reports, and the extension of the search for victims.

More than 5,500 fire personnel are still battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 sq km) and was 50% contained, officials said.

Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50mph (80km/h) and low humidity. Rain was forecast for midweek, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.

Officials acknowledge that the huge number of missing could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names. The roster also probably includes many people who fled the blaze and do not realize they have been reported missing.

[The Guardian]

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