Trump meets with ND senator Heitkamp to discuss possible environmental policy role

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota met with President-elect Donald J. Trump Friday a day after Reuters reported that she is under consideration as the next secretary of energy or secretary of interior.

According to a report published by The Hill, Heitkamp and Trump discussed coal and oil pipelines, among other issues, during the afternoon rendezvous.

First elected by a slim margin in 2012, the former state attorney general and Environmental Protection Agency staff lawyer likely faces a tough race to keep her seat in the Senate come 2018.

If nominated and confirmed to a position in Trump’s cabinet, the state’s Republican governor would appoint a replacement to take her place in the Senate.

Heitkamp issued a statement after the meeting with Trump but declined to say whether a cabinet nomination was offered.

Trump, in NYT interview, appears to backtrack on promise to exit Paris Agreement

President-elect Donald J. Trump may be re-thinking his earlier statements that promised a U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

During a Tuesday interview with reporters and editors at the New York Times, Trump said that he has an “open mind” about the landmark international deal to address accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

I’m looking at it very closely,” the New York real estate developer and reality TV star said in the interview.

Some foreign leaders have pushed back in response to Trump’s earlier comments.

China’s leading negotiator on climate change issues, Xie Zhenhua, criticized the President-elect before the general election occurred.

Zhenhua told Reuters on Nov. 1 that “a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends.”

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has also cautioned Trump about any hasty repudiation of the Paris Agreement. In an editorial co-authored with President Barack Obama and published in the German newspaper Wirtschaftswoche, Merkel emphasized that  American cooperation with its allies is crucial to both domestic and international prosperity.

“Today we find ourselves at a crossroads—the future is upon us, and we will never return to a pre-globalization economy,” Merkel and Obama wrote. “Germans and Americans we must seize the opportunity to shape globalization based on our values and our ideas. We owe it to our industries and our peoples—indeed, to the global community—to broaden and deepen our cooperation.”

Several hundred corporations and significant investors have also taken Trump to task for his expressed willingness to scuttle the Paris Agreement. An open letter released earlier this month urged Trump to consider that the the deal could well lead to “trillions” of dollars in profit as the world undergoes an energy transformation.

“We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy,” the statement said. “Cost-effective and innovative solutions can help us achieve these objectives. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”

The Paris Agreement, which was finalized in Dec. 2015, is not a treaty. As an executive agreement between the U.S. President and the leaders of other nations, it did not require ratification by the U.S. Senate. A future President can lawfully terminate the agreement anytime he or she desires to do so.

 

House clears “midnight rules” bill; would allow wholesale rejection of all regs issued in last year of presidency

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow Congress to reject all federal regulations finalized since January in one fell swoop.

Labeled the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2016, H.R. 5982 would allow the 115th Congress to sidestep the current requirement that each regulation that is the subject of an override attempt be the subject of a separate resolution.

So-called “midnight rules” are regulations that an administration completes during the time between a presidential election in November and the inauguration of a new President on the following January 20.

Sometimes these late regulations are used by an outgoing administration to assure that its policy initiatives can endure for a time. The Administrative Procedure Act requires that agencies develop a new factual record before they may repeal or significantly modify existing rules.

Most midnight rules are not controversial, though. A 2012 study by the Administrative Conference of the United States concluded that are “relatively routine matters not implicating new policy initiatives by incumbent administrations” and that the “majority of the rules appear to be the result of finishing tasks that were initiated before the Presidential transition period or the result of deadlines outside the agency’s control (such as year-end statutory or court-ordered deadlines).”

The Congressional Review Act, enacted into law in 1996, permits Congress to reject regulations in a process that bypasses the usual risks of legislative gamesmanship in the U.S. Senate.

Under the CRA, amendments to a resolution that rejects a “major” federal regulation are not permitted. No holds by individual senators, and no filibusters by opponents of a resolution that would eliminate a federal regulation, are allowed.

Congress has 60 days following the date on which both chambers of Congress have received a notice that a regulation has been issued in which to pass a CRA resolution that disapproves it. The 60 day-long clock resets at the beginning of a new Congress if the regulation was issued during the final 60 “session” days, in the case of the Senate, or the final 60 “legislative” days in the case of the House of Representatives, of the preceding Congress.

Although opponents of various regulations have introduced dozens of CRA resolutions in the 20 years since enactment of that statute, it has been invoked only one time. An Occupational Health & Safety Administration rule that addressed ergonomics, which the Clinton administration had finalized in November 2000, was turned away in 2001.

H.R. 5982 would need to pass the Senate and be signed by the President to become law. The Senate has not yet taken up the measure. Moreover, President Barack Obama has threatened to veto H.R. 5982, which cleared the House Nov. 17 by a 240-179 vote.

“[P]roviding for an arbitrary packaging of rules for an up-or-down vote, as this bill does, is unnecessary,” a statement issued by the Executive Office of the President on Nov. 12 said.

Three House Democrats voted with the majority GOP to pass the bill.

International Energy Agency: Paris Agreement warming goal not likely to be achieved

An international agency that tracks energy policy developments around the world warned Wednesday that national commitments to execute the Paris Agreement on climate change will fail to limit atmospheric warming to a level below 2 degrees Celsius, the agreement’s overall objective.

The International Energy Agency’s 2016 World Energy Report concludes instead that existing Nationally Determined Contributions, the formal term for promises to lower greenhouse gas emissions provided for in the Paris Agreement, would lead to a warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

“[T]he goals of the Paris Agreement require not just a slowdown in growth, but an early peak and decline in emissions,” the agency said in a fact sheet that accompanied the report. “In our main scenario, the entire carbon budget for a 2°C future is used up by the early 2040s.”

The IEA further explained that a limitation of warming to 2 degrees Celsius is “tough,” but that “it can be achieved if policies to accelerate further low carbon technologies and energy efficiency are put in place across all sectors. It would require that carbon emissions peak in the next few years and that the global economy becomes carbon neutral by the end of the century.”

The rate of growth in greenhouse gas emissions will slow, falling from a mean of about 2.4 percent since 2000 to about 0.5 percent per year by 2040.

IEA found that a boom in renewable energy investment is underway. The report concluded that expansion of renewable energy infrastructure in 2015 exceeded that added for electricity generated from coal, oil, and natural gas combustion and nuclear energy during the year.

Wind and solar energy production will account for at least 37 percent of all electricity generated in 2040, the report said.

Meanwhile, development of coal and oil facilities is beginning to show signs of falling off.

While production of oil from sources in the Middle East reached its highest proportion of worldwide output of the fossil fuel in the past 40 years, the number of new oil projects approved by governments around the world has fallen to the lowest level since the 1950s. Meanwhile, demand for oil from the electric power industry and for operation of motor vehicles has begun to fall. Utilities used about 3 million barrels per day less in 2015 than in 2014, while motor vehicle consumption fell by about half a million barrels per day.

On the other hand, oil consumption by freight shippers, airlines, the maritime industry, and petrochemical plants rose last year. In the case of petrochemical plants, demand increased by about 5 million barrels per day, while airlines and freight shippers burned in excess of 3 million barrels per day more than they had in 2014. The maritime industry increased oil used by nearly 2 million barrels per da

None of those industries that experienced increases in oil consumption last year have readily available alternatives to the fossil fuel.

Coal, according to IEA, is on a marked downward trajectory. The report concluded that coal consumption is declining in China, the European Union, and the United States, though India and southeast Asian nations are increasing their reliance on the substance.

Worldwide, coal demand is expected to decline by more than two-thirds from its 1990 level before 2040.

Among fossil fuels, natural gas is the only energy source that is being used more. The report concluded that liquid natural gas is the primary driver of this trend and is the result of greater integration of the fuel into world markets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental group tells Obama administration it will sue over failure to give elephants ESA protection

african-elephant-courtesy-wwf
The number of African elephants has declined from about 3-5 million in 1900 to a few hundred thousand.
Photo courtesy World Wildlife Fund.

An environmental organization has notified the U.S. Department of Interior that it is prepared to sue in 60 days if the Obama administration does not classify two African elephant species as endangered.

The announcement by the Center for Biological Diversity comes about five months after expiration of a deadline set by the Endangered Species Act for a decision on a petition that sought the listing.

“If the current rate of poaching persists, savanna elephants could be extinct in roughly two decades and forest elephants long before that,” Tanya Sanerib, an attorney for the organization, said. “Only by recognizing the true, endangered status of the two species of African elephants can we highlight and address elephants’ plight and threats.”

The June 2015 petition also asked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to formally classify elephants native to Africa into two species: those that are native to equatorial forests (Loxodonta cyclotis) and those that are indigenous to the continent’s vast grasslands (L. africana).

All African elephants are at risk of extinction. According to the Great Elephant Census, a recent effort to estimate the number of the giant mammals now living in the wild on the bulk of the continent, there are less than 400,000 individuals left.

Savannah elephants are being killed so fast by poachers seeking the ivory of their tusks that they could disappear in 15 years. A recent scientific paper that examined the reproductive rate of forest elephants concluded that they, too, face a precarious future:

“The forest elephants Loxodonta cyclotis of Central Africa face the threat of extinction, with recent analysis of census data across their range showing a 62% decrease in their numbers for the period of 2002–2011 coupled with a loss of 30% of their geographical range (Maisels et al. 2013). Modelling of Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) data corroborates this, indicating that forest elephants are experiencing the greatest levels of poaching in Africa with potentially as much as 10–18% of the population killed per year (Wittemyer et al. 2014).

Section 4(b)(3) of the ESA forces FWS (or, in the case of marine organisms, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) to decide, within 90 days, whether a petition for listing is supported by “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.”

The agency then has 12 months to decide whether to add the species to the list of threatened and endangered species.

FWS decided in Feb. 2016 that the CBD petition did meet the scientific prerequisite of ESA section 3. However, the administration has not yet acted on the merits of the petition. One explanation for FWS’s handling of it may be that a decision whether to “uplist” African elephants from threatened to endangered status is not included in the current agency workplan.

Sanerib expressed a belief that the Obama administration has mostly been focused on establishing regulations, called 4d rules after the section of the ESA that authorizes them, to govern trade in elephant ivory and so has not yet prioritized the listing petition.

“I’m not sure that it was necessarily an intentional step by the administration,” she said.

The 4d rule for African elephants, which was finalized on June 6, does largely prohibit the import of ivory into the United States. However, the regulation is not airtight. So-called “de minimis” quantities of ivory are not covered; neither are quantities of ivory that are more than 100 years old, ivory used in certain musical instruments or that is part of some “traveling exhibitions,” law enforcement, or scientific research.

“The U.S. and China have committed to these near-bans on ivory in our domestic markets,” Sanerib explained.

If the African elephant species are listed as endangered, those bans would become far more rigid. Under section 9 of the ESA, essentially all import, export, sale, or transportation of an African elephant, or of its body parts, would be illegal in the United States.

About 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010-2012. The number of elephants in Africa has declined from an estimated three to five million at the end of the nineteenth century.

Sanerib said that she is not sure whether any litigation that aims to force FWS to make a decision about whether to recognize two species of African elephant and grant both endangered status will be filed before the end of the Obama administration.

“Given the need to send notice letters by certified mail, I think it’s incredibly likely that we will be dealing with the Trump administration on this,” she said.

UPDATE, Nov. 18, 2016, 10:48 pm MST: The discussion of the section of the Endangered Species Act provision relating to FWS’ obligations when presented with a petition to list a species was corrected. The author had inaccurately cited the section number of the statute and erred in stating that FWS has 30 days to evaluate a petition.

 

 

Maria Cantwell, Tom Carper to lead Democrats on key Senate environment committees in 115th Congress

U.S. Senate Democrats, meeting this week to name a new minority leader to take over following the impending retirement of Sen. Harry M. Reid of Nevada, have chosen two veteran legislators to be the party’s leaders on the chamber’s two key environmental policy committees.

Sen. Maria E. Cantwell of Washington will be the ranking member on the Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, while Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware will be his party’s senior member of the Committee on Environment & Public Works.

Cantwell, 58, is a veteran politician, having first been elected to public office in 1986. She served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1993-1995 before returning to Congress as a U.S. senator after defeating her Republican predecessor Slade Gorton in 2000.

The former technology company executive has prioritized a comprehensive energy bill and worked with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to move that measure through the Senate during the 114th Congress. That bill, S. 2012, is now in a conference committee following passage of similar legislation by the House of Representatives.

Titled the Energy Policy Modernization Act, S. 2012 would mandate some improvement in the energy efficiency of buildings, encourage renewable energy production by requiring owners of transmission lines and transformers to assure that the electricity grid can accommodate power generated by solar panels and wind turbines, and reduce legal and bureaucratic obstacles to the export of natural gas.

S. 2012 would also permanently renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The conference committee consideration of S. 2012 has not yet been scheduled. With only a few weeks remaining in the 114th Congress, it is not clear whether the measure can be sent to President Barack Obama’s desk before adjournment.

“We are currently focused on whether we can reach agreement on the energy bill in this Congress,” a spokesperson for Cantwell who preferred not to be named said in a statement.

Earlier in her career Cantwell successfully convinced Congress to increase the size of Mt. Rainier National Park, establish the Wild Sky Wilderness in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and forbid oil exploration off Washington’s Pacific coast.

Murkowski will continue to chair the energy and natural resources committee, though Republicans will have either a three- or four seat Senate majority in the upcoming Congress, depending on the outcome of a pending election in Louisiana, instead of the 54 seats in the 100-member chamber they now hold.

Carper, 69, was also first elected to the Senate in 2000. He is a former governor of the First State and also served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1983-1993.

During the 114th Congress Carper voted for a bill that would override Obama’s decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and authorize construction of mammoth fossil fuel project. He also supported a 2013 bill that aimed to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from requiring a Clean Water Act permit for the discharge of registered pesticides into lakes, rivers, and streams.

On the other hand,  Carper has often been a defender of strong environmental protections. For example, in January he voted against a resolution that would have killed EPA’s Waters of the United States rule and also voted “no” on two 2015 Senate resolutions that would have nullified the Obama administration’s electric power plant regulations.

Sen. John A. Barrasso III, R-Wyo., will be the chairman of the environment and public works committee during the 115th Congress.

Barrasso, who first came to the Senate in 2007, has established a reputation as being a firm denier of climate science. In that respect he represents little change from the committee’s current chairman, Oklahoma’s James M. Inhofe.

As of the time this article is published there has been no announcement of the other members of either committee.

UPDATE, Nov. 18, 2016, 11:44 am: A statement by a spokesperson for Sen. Maria Cantwell was added.

Kerry speaks to COP22, says Obama’s progress on U.S. climate policy will endure

kerry-signs-paris-agreement-apr-22-2016-photo-courtesy-un-photo-by-amanda-voisard-cc-by-ny-flickr
U.S. secretary of state John F. Kerry, with his grand-daughter in his arms, signs the Paris Agreement on April 22, 2016.
Photo courtesy United Nations, photo by Amanda Voisard/CC BY-ND (Flickr).

John F. Kerry, the chief diplomat of the United States, reassured world leaders Wednesday that the American commitment to greenhouse gas emission cutbacks would survive the presidency of climate science denier Donald J. Trump.

Kerry’s remarks to an annual gathering of representatives of the nations that have signed the planet’s principal treaty governing climate policy were set against a backdrop of nervousness that, under Trump, the U.S. would renege on its Paris Agreement obligations.

The secretary of state pointed to market trends as the likely bulwark of the country’s progress in rolling back atmospheric pollution by carbon dioxide and other warming gases.

“I’ve met with leaders and innovators in the energy industry all across our nation, and I am excited about the path that they are on,” Kerry said. “America’s wind generation has tripled since 2008 and that will continue, and solar generation has increased 30 times over. And the reason both of those will continue is that the marketplace will dictate that, not the government.”

Kerry also argued that the political momentum for an enduring program of GHG emission cuts is too powerful to stop, pointing out that the evidence of human impacts on the atmosphere and oceans is too great to be ignored:

“Now, I want to acknowledge that since this COP started, obviously, an election took place in my country,” Kerry said. “And I know it has left some here and elsewhere feeling uncertain about the future. I obviously understand that uncertainty. And while I can’t stand here and speculate about what policies our president-elect will pursue, I will tell you this: In the time that I have spent in public life, one of the things I have learned is that some issues look a little bit different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail.”

The secretary of state, who is due to leave office when President Barack Obama’s second term in the White House ends on Jan. 20, 2017, also spoke at length about visits to Greenland and Antarctica and urged Trump, without naming him, to learn from climate scientists.

“[A]bove all, consult with the scientists who have dedicated their entire lives to expanding our understanding of this challenge, and whose work will be in vain unless we sound the alarm loud enough for everyone to hear. No one has a right to make decisions that affect billions of people based on solely ideology or without proper input.

“Anyone who has these conversations, who takes the time to learn from these experts, who gets the full picture of what we’re facing – I believe they can only come to one legitimate decision, and that is to act boldly on climate change and encourage others to do the same.”

Delegates from nearly 200 nations are gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco for the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.