Trump and the Environment: A Round-Up

Ecomodern Dispatches


November 14, 2016 | Alex Trembath

By Alex Trembath and Emma Brush

Well, that was surprising.

Last week, those of us working in the energy and environment space joined the rest of the world in adjusting to the unexpected election of Donald Trump. Environmental forecasting is always hard, and perhaps only more so in pursuit of predicting what a Trump Administration’s environmental policies will look like.

But some intrepid analysts gave it their best shot anyway. The upshot is … mixed. Will Trump repeal the Clean Power Plan and withdraw from the Paris Agreement? Will he attempt to revitalize coal power in the United States? Will his international trade policies affect the import and deployment of solar, wind, battery, and other clean tech? Will his professed appeal for nuclear power have an impact on the existing fleet, and/or research into next-generation reactors?

We rounded up the hot takes below.

Worst-case scenario:

Elizabeth Kolbert outlines Trump’s campaign claims surrounding climate change (a “hoax”), the Paris climate treaty (“cancel”), the Clean Power Plan (repeal), and the E.P.A. (abolish) and gestures toward the ways in which his administration might actually accomplish each of these goals. The Paris accord may not have been that effective to begin with, she acknowledges, and the force of action may lie beyond treaties and regulations, but there is nevertheless “an awful lot of damage that a Trump Presidency can, and likely will, do.”

David Roberts finds little room for optimism when it comes to the 2-degree target of the Paris accord, coordinated action, or U.S. political leadership on climate. Progress at the state level and in the field of clean energy will continue, he says, but “speed is of the essence, and the best chance for speed is now gone.”

Nick Stockton fears for the Clean Power Plan, the international agreement to limit HFCs, and clean energy tax credits, not to mention U.S. leadership—and even participation—on the global stage.

Taking a cold, hard look:

Nathan Richardson reviews Trump’s likely impact on the Clean Power Plan, which could be discarded either through neglect or revision (although either would likely involve long legislative battles); the Clean Air Act, which will probably not undergo revisions, but certainly could; additional regulations, which are more likely to be weakly enforced rather than reversed; the Paris Agreement, with which the U.S. might simply refuse to comply; and the E.P.A., which might be hamstrung in a number of ways.

Paul Voosen evaluates Trump’s potential steps on climate action, observing that the administration might very well undermine the U.S. ratification of the Paris Agreement, E.P.A. regulations, and various federal agencies. States and cities may nevertheless continue to lead when it comes to clean energy and resilience, he says.

Chris Mooney delves into the details of Trump’s pledge to renege on the Paris accord, which would deliver a significant blow to the symbolic and actual impact of the historic agreement, he finds.

Gavin Bade looks to “what we know about the President-elect” in an effort to anticipate the future of the power sector under Trump. A swath of regulations, most notably the CPP, appear to be in danger; renewable energy subsidies are less so but remain uncertain; and fossil fuel production is likely to increase, whether through offshore drilling or the expansion of oil and gas pipelines. But most worrisome, says Bade, “is the paradigm shift that Trump’s election represents for the power sector”—the disruption of the decarbonization narrative that has held much sway among utilities until now.

Jesse Jenkins predicts that renewable technologies will continue to develop under Trump but will not be enough for deep decarbonization. “We need to be continually accelerating the pace of renewable energy development while expanding the portfolio of options we have,” he tells Bade, “and we’re probably not going to do that” now.

The less disastrous road ahead:

Andrew Revkin believes that we have less to fear than we think, in that broader energy transitions, rather than policy, largely determine our emissions reductions. He also points to “green glimmers amid the most polarizing sound bites of the Trump campaign” that might give us hope, including a need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to invest in science, engineering, and healthcare. Environmentalists should hold Trump’s administration to those claims, Revkin says, while also rethinking a few priorities of their own.

Ben Schiller drives home the point that decarbonization has little to with policy and more to do with energy markets. “In general,” he says, “the clean energy revolution is sufficiently far along that even Trump may struggle to stop it.”

J. M. Korhonen thinks the election signals a need for a shift away from traditional environmentalism and its overly selective solutions. Instead, we need more flexible and resilient plans, he says, ones that not only account for the difficult political climate ahead but also embrace all-of-the-above approaches. “If we can reduce emissions even somewhat using solutions that right-wingers can accept,” he thinks, “we should do so.”

Jack Stilgoe and Roger Pielke, Jr. observe that spending on R&D and infrastructure could increase under Trump, and that scientists would do well to engage with his administration on pragmatic, constructive grounds.

Steven Lacey and the Energy Gang respond to questions culled from their listeners regarding the Paris Agreement, domestic regulations, future legislation, and state-led action. When it comes to clean energy, they agree, there is some room to maneuver with a Trump administration.

Brad Plumer, after reviewing the potentially disastrous implications of a Trump regime, provides a number of reasons for optimism: ambitious state action in California and New York, the advance of low-carbon technologies like small modular reactors, local activism, continued international progress in countries like China and India, and the (admittedly low) chance of an about-face on climate by the Republican Party.

Tyler Cowen also offers up the vague possibility that Trump’s mercurial disposition might lead him to “flip” on climate change “in search of a legacy.”

Eric Holthaus holds out for renewable energy as a “source of bipartisan compromise and an immediate path forward for climate action,” and urges hope and continued action above all.

James Conca thinks renewables and nuclear will both sit pretty under Trump, who claims to prioritize energy independence. Coal, on the under hand, should be very difficult to resurrect, as Robert Stavins also emphasizes.

Peter Maloney, in contact with a “Trump insider,” affirms that renewable energy development will continue under a Trump administration. In addition, “Trump likes nuclear power, and he may push the zero emission attributes of nuclear plants,” Maloney reports, although it is less likely that he will subsidize them.