COMMENTARY: Trump EPA transition team dominated by climate science deniers; nation and planet deserve better

When President-elect Donald J. Trump assumes office as the nation’s 45th chief executive in 15 days, he will gain the authority to determine, in large part, the extent to which the nation addresses the growing threat of anthropogenic climate change. His appointees to administer the nation’s Clean Air Act, the only U.S. statute available to force a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, will be in a position to continue the country’s recent progress in transitioning away from a destructive dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas for energy.

Unfortunately, the personnel entrusted by Trump to manage the transition to a new administration at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have instead demonstrated an eagerness to deny scientific knowledge about the impacts of human fossil fuel use on the planet’s atmosphere and oceans.

The chairperson of Trump’s EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, personifies the ignorance and stubbornness of the men and women who have invaded EPA’s offices in an apparent quest to turn the country’s anti-pollution agency into a booster of the fossil fuel industries.

Ebell, 63 and lacking any education or experience as a scientist, is fanatical in his denial of climate science. He has accused climatologists of being a “gang” that has “cooked the data.” He has said that the principal conclusions of climate science, namely that the atmosphere of our planet is warming and the oceans are acidifying, are “myths.” He has called advocates for a shift to clean energy “the forces of darkness,” intent upon “turning off the lights” on the rest of humanity.

Nor does Ebell’s hostility to knowledge end with climate science. He thinks EPA is too hard on pesticides, too. Ebell apparently endorses the fringe view that those compounds pose no significant health risks to humans and that they help wildlife, Rachel Carson and Silent Spring notwithstanding.

But Ebell is not the only anti-science radical who is even now plotting how to turn EPA into a cheerleader for more carbon dioxide and methane pollution and more pesticide poisoning of animals and man.

Amy Oliver Cooke, for example, is a former talk-show host who has said that her goal is “irritating the extreme eco-left.” Cooke works for the right-wing Independence Institute in Colorado, where she constantly cozies up to right-wing extremists in the Colorado General Assembly. Her Twitter feed is full of paens to fossil fuels, linking their use with patriotism, and attacks windmills as unaesthetic and useless decorations.

She then goes even further in her slavish devotion to the energy sources that are methodically damaging the planet’s hospitability to life. Cooke labels herself an “energy feminist,” as if helping to lower humanity’s capacity to grow food, increase floods in some areas and drought in others, and decimate biodiversity is something that represents womanhood at its enlightened best.

Then there’s Harlan Watson, a long-time Republican Congressional staff member and favorite of Exxon-Mobil.

Watson, who holds a doctorate in physics and a masters degree in economics, apparently never let his considerable education get in the way of obstructing an effective national climate change agenda. In 2005, as a State Department official, he told representatives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change gathered in Montreal that the U.S. saw no reason to do anything about greenhouse gas emissions. That followed appearances at other international conferences aimed at building cooperation in the quest to reduce the warming pollution of carbon dioxide.

Watson last worked as an actual scientist in January 1980, according to his LinkedIn profile. At that time, the clear and present danger of climate change was not as evident as it is now, or even as it had become by the time he became deputy assistant secretary of interior in 1989. Watson has worked for a whole slew of Republicans, in fact, including F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.

Sensenbrenner, the former Wisconsin representative, is known for his steadfast opposition to any international agreement to address climate change. A 2009 guide to Congressional staff quoted Watson as being in sync with Sensenbrenner’s stubborn refusal to address reality: it quoted Watson as saying that the Kyoto Agreement of 1998 was “a bad deal” for the United States. One must wonder whether Watson will broadcasting hostility toward the Paris Agreement to anyone in the new administration who will listen.

Next up is Christopher C. Horner, a lawyer with enough pretension to write not just one, but three, books that tell climate scientists they are all wrong. Those books, possibly facilitated with the help of the financial bounty showered on Horner by coal companies, have all been published by the conservative pillar Regnery. None acknowledge the cold – or should I say hot – reality of climate change: that humans are causing it, that it will severely impact our civilization, and that the extinction of all life on this planet is a possibility if we persist in our refusal to address it.

Horner seems to think it appropriate to use his education and license to practice law as tools to harass scientists, too. The eminent climatologist Michael Mann said in 2015 that Horner “has been instrumental in orchestrating the attacks on climate scientists over the past decade in the form of vexatious and frivolous [Freedom of Information Act] demands [and] efforts to force scientists to turn over all of their personal email.”

Just for good measure, Horner has also gone after Dr. James Hansen with a blizzard of unfounded slanders.

In 2009 he said on national television that Hansen “clearly abused his platform provided to him by the taxpayer, principally by the way he’s been exposed of manipulating and revising data with the strange coincidence of him always found on the side of exaggerating the warming.” Among the many other rhetorical broadsides he has aimed at honorable scientists, he has even accused Hansen of committing a crime: In 2011 he wrote that Hansen evaded his income tax obligations, a claim with no evidence at all to back it up.

Of course, not one word in any of those attacks on scientists is factually accurate.

Another extremist, anti-science “think tank” – the Heritage Foundation – is also represented among the Trumpsters that will soon take over EPA.

David W. Kreutzer wrote in a Sept. 2016 “backgrounder” co-authored with Kevin D. Dayaratna and Nicolas D. Loris that he thinks it’s time for the U.S. to “unleash” oil and gas production. That would seem to put him in tune with Mr. Trump’s oft-stated commitment to lessen or eliminate barriers to more fossil fuel activity in the United States.

Kreutzer is quite specific about how he would do that. He has said that Trump “should open all federal waters and federal lands that are not part of the national park system or congressionally designated areas to exploration and production for all of America’s natural resources.”

I added the emphasis in that statement because that one word – “all” – highlights the extremism in this opinion. Kreutzer seems to believe that even national monuments, marine preserves, and areas of the continental shelf that Presidents have withdrawn from energy exploration should be made available to the oil industry.

But that’s not all. Kreutzer also believes, if one takes his Sept. 2016 “backgrounder” seriously, that “Congress should require the Department of the Interior to conduct lease sales if a commercial interest exists.”

Again, I have added emphasis to the word “require.” If the Republican-dominated 115th Congress takes this advice, and Trump signs a bill that writes it into the U.S. code, we would see rigs along every part of the American coast, even in areas where it is aesthetically or biologically unsound to engage in drilling and even in areas where energy exploration would likely be catastrophically unsafe.

Oh, yes, there is at least one more example of Kreutzer’s over-the-top view about how to encourage even more fossil fuel production: He wants Washington to give states the authority to decide whether energy exploration can occur on federal lands within their borders. I’m sure that we’d see a whole lot of responsible consideration of environmental impacts in madly pro-fossil fuel states like Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska!

Just in case you have any doubt that Kreutzer is a climate science denier, note his comments in an interview with Steve Scully of C-SPAN last year. “Global warming is for real in that we’ve had global warming since the end of the last Ice Age,” Kreutzer said.

Now comes David Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute. That’s an organization with clear and extensive financial ties to the fossil fuel-loving, climate science-denying, billionaire Koch brothers.

Stevenson has a bachelors degree in agricultural economics. This apparently qualifies him, at least in his own ideologue mind, to declare (as he did in Nov. 2015) that health-protective air quality regulations in Delaware are unnecessary and that the First State’s commitment to enforcing them makes it an “outlaw” agency.

George Sugiyama is another of Trump’s EPA minions.

A former chief counsel (and, therefore, close advisor) to Congress’ most infamous climate science denier, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Sugiyama has also worked as a lobbyist for the National Mining Association.

Finally, there’s the college kid. Austin Lipari brings no apparent expertise in environmental law or policy, no obvious background in environmental health or toxicology, no known knowledge of climatology or any other scientific field that EPA considers as it applies the nation’s pollution laws.

Lipari does bring to the table membership in the Federalist Society, though. Apparently sympathy for a paranoid certainty that federal environmental laws are a threat to everyone’s freedom to get rich, a view trumpeted by that right-wing lawyer organization, is all it takes to be given a seat at the EPA destruction table.

I do not address here the awesome flaws of the man Trump has chosen to lead EPA – Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt. Suffice to say, Pruitt shares the ignorant, selfish attitude aimed at further filling the coffers of oil and coal companies, their executives, and investors, and which will do great harm to the rest of the American people, that is exhibited by the band of radicals assigned to the agency transition team.

The American people did not vote for this hostile takeover of the environmental policy-setting arena. They did not choose climate science denial, hostility to the public health and economic benefits of clean air, clean water, safe pesticides, and non-toxic industrial sites. They did not say that the future of this planet’s biosphere, the prosperity of our civilization, and the relationships among nations should be handed over to a band of belligerent enemies of knowledge.

Unfortunately, and despite the fact that a man who received only 46 percent of the popular vote should seriously consider the views of those who oppose him, we appear headed for the most severe crisis in federal environmental policy since the era of environmental law began in the 1960s. What timing, too, as scientists have made clear that the world must force an enduring decline in fossil fuel emissions within just a few years if it is to avoid the truly horrific consequences that human-caused warming of the atmosphere and oceans will otherwise cause.

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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.

 

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

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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.

 

Paris Agreement takes effect; American presidential winner casts shadow over international effort to fight climate change

The Paris Agreement on climate change took effect on Nov. 4, days before American voters elected as their President a candidate who has promised to abandon the nation’s commitment to fighting climate change.

According to a press release issued by the United Nations on Nov. 5, the accord has become operative faster than any other recent international agreement.

“The speed at which countries have made the Paris’s Agreement’s entry into force possible is unprecedented in recent experience of international agreements and is a powerful confirmation of the importance nations attach to combating climate change and realizing the multitude of opportunities inherent in the Paris Agreement,” Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement.

The agreement, which was reached last December, could not begin to bind the nations that developed it until thirty days from the date on which the number of countries to ratify it reached 55 and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions accounted for by the ratifying countries reached 55 percent of the worldwide total.

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Nations that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are meeting this month in Morocco.

Parties to the UNFCCC are now gathered for their 22nd annual meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco to establish a governing body that will oversee implementation of the Paris Agreement and rules to guide nations in their compliance with it.

The Paris Agreement does not limit national greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, it requires signatory nations to specify Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. INDCs are used to detail each country’s effort to limit the atmospheric temperature increase caused by human activities to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Nations that do not meet their INDC obligation are not penalized.

Since the accord took effect, uncertainty about its future has increased around the world in the aftermath of the U.S. election. Although he did not win the majority of votes cast by Americans, New York real estate developer and reality TV star Donald J. Trump will become the nation’s chief executive because he carried a majority of the state-based votes that will be cast in the country’s archaic Electoral College.

Trump defeated former secretary of state and senator Hillary Clinton, along with a slew of minor party candidates including Libertarian former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, to capture the presidency.

Trump’s comments during the long political campaign leading up to the election indicated that the United States may abandon the Paris Agreement. Trump said in May that he would “cancel” the American commitment to it.

Earlier statements by the Republican businessman, who has no political experience, also indicate that there is a risk that the country which emits the most greenhouse gases might quit the effort to limit them. Trump has said, for example, that he believes climate change is a “hoax” developed and encouraged by China.

Since his election on Nov. 8 Trump has made no public comments about his plans for continued U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement. However, he has chosen a well-known climate science denier, Myron Ebell of the libertarian advocacy group Competitive Enterprise Institute, to manage the transition of personnel and policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump has also indicated that he is considering several oil executives and at least one politician who is adamantly in favor of increasing American fossil fuel production to lead the U.S. Department of Interior, which regulates energy exploration and extraction on public lands and on the continental shelf.

The United States cannot formally leave the Paris Agreement for four years, according to its terms. However, Trump has a number of options for limiting or preventing its impact on the country’s fossil fuel extraction and use. He could, for example, re-characterize the deal as a treaty and submit it to the U.S. Senate, controlled by Republicans, for ratification. Ratification would be unlikely. Trump could, if he desired to land a stronger blow against international climate change diplomacy, pull the United States out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He could also simply ignore the INDCs agreed to by the administration of President Barack Obama, a path that would result in little tangible consequence for the U.S. other than international condemnation.

A Reuters report published Saturday indicates that Trump has not backed down from his stated desire to abandon the Paris Agreement. The article, citing anonymous sources close to the president-elect, said that Trump will move quickly to terminate any American commitment to international climate change policy and programs.

Other nations have continued to act in support of the Paris Agreement since its Nov. 4 effective date.

Australia announced Thursday that it had ratified the accord, joining 108 other nations that have done so.

The country’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said at a press conference that Australia expects to meet its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by 2030.

“Almost a year from the Paris Conference, it is clear the agreement was a watershed, a turning point,” he said. “The adoption of a comprehensive strategy has galvanised the international community and spurred on global action.”

“As you know, we are playing our part with ambitious targets. We are on track to meet and indeed beat our 2020 targets. We will review our climate and energy policies next year to ensure that we meet, as we believe we will and are committed to do, to meet our 2030 targets under the agreement.”

Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, and Italy ratified the Paris Agreement on Nov. 11, Pakistan ratified it on Nov. 10, Japan on Nov. 8, and Gambia on Nov. 7.

Those national decisions followed a string of other ratifications earlier in November: Denmark, Estonia, Gabon, Ireland, Jordan,  Luxembourg, South Korea, Sao Tome and Princepe, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Vietnam all adopted it during the first week of the month.

Eighty-eight countries that are parties to the December 2015 agreement have not yet decided whether to formally adopt it.