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September 09, 2020
Environmental agendas to consider for fall elections

Fall election campaigns are in full swing. It is a very confusing time for the nation, with the economy still reeling on the heels of an unprecedented response to a pandemic.

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One thing is crystal clear: There is a big difference in the environmental and energy agendas being presented by the right and the left based on information presented in the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

     

Energy and environmental political agendas

   

Democratic

Republican

Decarbonizing the electric grid by 2035

Continue deregulatory agenda for energy independence

Investing in battery technology, advanced nuclear energy, and other negative emissions technologies

Build the world’s greatest infrastructure system

Halting the issuance of new oil and gas permits on federal lands and waters

Continue to lead the world in access to the cleanest drinking water and cleanest air

Deploying 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations

Partner with other nations to clean up our planet’s ocean

Conserving 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 to protect habitat and biodiversity and grow natural carbon sinks

 

Using the public procurement process to pursue climate resiliency objectives, such as the purchase of zero-emission vehicles and renewable fuels for use in government-owned fleets

 

Employing 250,000 Americans to plug abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaim abandoned mines

 

The Trump campaign released only a few planned energy and environmental items for his second term. These agenda items can be paired with his achievements in his first term to shed further light on his second-term plans.

In 2018, the Trump administration revealed plans to invest $200 billion in infrastructure updates that were not passed by Congress. He has pledged to renew his efforts to get an overhauled infrastructure package through Congress if reelected.

According to Lexology, President Donald Trump cites these energy and environmental accomplishments from his first term:

  • Replacing the Clean Power Plan with the proposed Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE);
  • “Redefining the term ‘Waters of the US’” under the Clean Water Act;
  • “Rescinding a rule regulating methane emissions from oil and gas operations”;
  • “Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement”;
  • “Expediting the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act and implementing the One Federal Decision process for permitting infrastructure projects”; and
  • “Imposing tariffs on solar photovoltaic panels and the steel used in wind turbines.”

Examining the Democratic agenda

The stated Democratic agenda makes it apparent that Vice President Joe Biden will push for less reliance on fossil fuels, which will result in significant difficulties for the oil, gas, and coal industries, as well as for those industries that are energy-intensive and those that utilize manufacturing processes relying on fossil fuels.

In Biden’s acceptance speech for the Democratic Party nomination, he declared “the existential threat posed by climate change” is one of the four “historic crises” confronting the United States at the same time: “the worst pandemic in over 100 years, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the most compelling call for racial justice since the '60s, and the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change.”

Biden’s agenda calls for elevating environmental justice and equality, addressing climate change issues, and improving the U.S. infrastructure. He plans to invest in infrastructure for disadvantaged communities and prioritize environmental justice for disadvantaged communities that he believes are unduly impacted by pollution by enforcing existing environmental regulations and creating an “Environmental and Climate Justice Division” under the Department of Justice’s authority.

With Biden declaring less reliance on fossil fuels as a priority, it calls into question the nation’s dependence on international markets for the materials necessary to utilize fossil fuels for energy. This would logically mean the United States will need to develop domestic natural resources to make the transition to convert our energy infrastructure.

Moving to decarbonization would certainly result in fewer natural gas-fired and coal-powered plants, unless they can covert to carbon-based technology. Biden’s plan proposes to invest in these technologies. Decarbonization would also almost certainly result in more stringent fuel economy standards and more mining of metals, which are already a rare commodity.

A closer look at the Republican agenda

Trump’s public commitment to deregulation is unprecedented, with the possible exception of President Ronald Reagan, according to American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF). And, he remains committed to improving the economy.

According to the Trump administration, the president’s Energy Independence Policy Executive Order (EO 13783) rescinded “Executive and Agency actions centered on the previous administration’s climate change agenda that have acted as a roadblock to energy independence.”

Trump also took action to do away with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. “The previous Administration’s Clean Power Plan could cost up to $39 billion a year and increase electricity prices in 41 States by at least ten percent, according to NERA Economic Consulting,” stated a White House fact sheet issued in 2017. “The Clean Power Plan would cause coal production to fall by 242 million tons, according to the National Mining Association. Twenty-seven states, 24 trade associations, 37 rural electric co-ops, and 3 labor unions are challenging the Clean Power Plan in Federal court.”

EO 13783 also directed the attorney general to seek judicial relief from pending litigation over the Clean Power Plan.

While Trump has been adamant about his deregulatory agenda and most of Trump federal regulatory agencies have included those who are also committed to deregulation, at the end of his second year, he had achieved 243 deregulatory actions under EO 13771. This EO was Trump’s order calling for the repeal of two regulations for every new regulation issued. At the 2-year mark, his administration’s total number of final regulations completed was 4,132, which is 40% smaller than the final regulations issued by both the G.W. Bush and Obama administrations, according to ACCF.

ACCF attributes the slower pace of the Trump administration in issuing new regulations to the White House being “relatively slow to nominate candidates for top regulatory posts while the Republican-majority Senate has been relatively slow to process and approve the President’s nominations.” Many government agencies and departments are unable to issue new regulations without a leader in place.

According to a study published in The New York Times dated July 15, 2020, the Trump administration is reversing 100 environmental rules. At that time, there were 68 rules and regulations reversed, revoked, or rolled back, with 32 more rollbacks still in progress.

Environmental activists are very vocal in their complaints that the Trump administration’s policies and agendas have harmed the environment. Trump supporters reply with criticism that the previous administration was overreaching with its environmental policies, resulting in placing undue and costly burdens upon American businesses and farmers.

Comparing the Clean Power Plan with the ACE

The EPA replaced the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan with the ACE on June 19, 2019.

The Clean Power Plan was never implemented, as it was stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court, “partly due to claims from over half the states that they would suffer ‘irreparable injury’ without intervention,” according to the Institute for Energy Research (IER). “The stay on implementation was an extraordinary step for the Supreme Court, which many Court-watchers at the time said indicated displeasure with a vast rule with enormous consequences.”

ACE established emissions guidelines for state use in limiting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. It also established heat rate improvement (HRI) “as the best system of emissions reduction for (CO2) from coal fired generating units.” ACE also created “a menu of technological options the plants can choose from to boost efficiency, using less coal to generate the same amount of electricity,” according to the IER.

The Paris Climate Agreement

“The Paris Agreement is a landmark environmental accord that was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015 to address climate change and its negative impacts,” according to the environmental activist group NRDC.org. “The deal aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, while pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. The agreement includes commitments from all major emitting countries to cut their climate-altering pollution and to strengthen those commitments over time. The pact provides a pathway for developed nations to assist developing nations in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, and it creates a framework for the transparent monitoring, reporting, and ratcheting up of countries’ individual and collective climate goals.”

The agreement specifically calls for “at least 20 percent of all road transport vehicles globally to be electrically driven by 2030—if warming is to be limited to 2 degrees or less. Of this, light vehicles would primarily contribute: more than 400 million two and three-wheelers in 2030, up from roughly 230 million today; and more than 100 million cars in 2030, up from 1 million today.”

On June 1, 2017, Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. “The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries … Compliance with the terms of the Paris Accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025 according to the National Economic Research Associates,” Trump said.

Trump went on to state that the agreement is inequitable to the United States because it allows China to increase emissions for a period of 13 years, while the U.S. must reduce emissions. “India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries.  There are many other examples. But the bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States,” he said.

Should Biden win the presidential election, he has vowed to rejoin the Paris agreement as part of his commitment to combat climate change.

Batteries and the environment

Biden’s commitment to battery technology and electric vehicles is not without environmental challenges. One of the key ingredients in batteries, including lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, is natural graphite.

“Batteries powering electric vehicles are forecast to make up 90 percent of the lithium-ion battery market by 2025,” according to greenbiz.com. “They are the main reason why electric vehicles can generate more carbon emissions over their lifecycle—from procurement of raw materials to manufacturing, use and recycling—than petrol or diesel cars. Three factors account for this.

“Battery production uses a lot of energy, from the extraction of raw materials to the electricity consumed in manufacture. The bigger the electric car and its range, the more battery cells are needed to power it, and consequently the more carbon produced.

“Secondly, once in use, an electric vehicle is only as green as the electricity that feeds its battery.

“Thirdly, while an electric vehicle has a higher carbon footprint at the beginning of its lifecycle, it is typically cleaner once in use,” according to greenbiz.com. “Over time, it can catch up on the combustion engine car. The point at which an electric vehicle’s lifetime emissions break even with a combustion engine car also depends on the car’s mileage.”

That break-even point is at 37,000 miles driven for a traditional gasoline engine vehicle and 78,000 miles for a diesel engine, according to greenbiz.com.

Climate change and the economy

Trump has often expressed contradictory views on climate change. “He has called climate change ‘mythical,’ ‘nonexistent,’ or ‘an expensive hoax’—but also subsequently described it as a ‘serious subject’ that is ‘very important to me,’” according to bbc.com.

Trump prefers the term “global warming” and has conceded that human activity has contributed to this condition. However, he continues to reiterate that he does not support spending trillions of dollars to address the issues at the cost of American jobs, according to bbc.com.

Summary

With the perfect storm conditions expressed by Biden—the pandemic, climate change challenges, economic crisis, and racial inequality—it is obvious that the United States is at a crossroads, with two completely opposite agendas being presented by the prevailing political parties as to how to address these issues. One thing is certain: American voters face two completely different environmental regulatory paths forward based on the outcome of the November 3, 2020, election results.

Lisa Whitley Coleman

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