Another View: A Trump win for the planet? Maybe
The president shrugged it off — "I don't believe it," he said Monday — as he has all previous studies on climate change, even as his administration pursues policies that will in all likelihood make the problem worse. In fact, the administration's retrograde policies and its assault on President Barack Obama's environmental agenda have been so broad that it's become something of a game to ask which of Obama's initiatives on climate change and the environment still have life. The news site Axios tried this exercise recently and came up with a rather short list, albeit one that might suggest some tactics to win at least modest protections for the environment even from this administration. It included a possible reprieve for a threatened bird that Obama had hoped to save, but none of his ambitious efforts to attack global warming. Trump is determined to weaken Obama's rules restricting greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and power plants — the chief culprits in the warming climate.
As for the positive bits, Andrew Wheeler, Trump's choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency, got top billing for pledging to move ahead with stronger air pollution standards for heavy trucks, as promised by Obama. Wheeler convinced the trucking lobby and truck and engine manufacturers to go along with the new standards (to be issued in 2020) in return for simpler compliance rules. This is big news from an agency that has torpedoed one clean air initiative after another.
The Interior Department rated two mentions. One was Secretary Ryan Zinke's announcement of a forthcoming auction of federal waters off Massachusetts as a possible site for wind turbines. Offshore wind is a carbon-free source of power, and Obama promoted it as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump administration advertises it as part of the president's "all of the above" energy strategy and a way to promote U.S. wind turbine builders. With only one offshore wind farm in U.S. waters, America lags far behind the rest of the world.
There were also hints from the Interior Department of a reprieve for the greater sage grouse, a colorful little bird whose numbers had dropped so alarmingly across its Western habitat that environmental groups had sued to place it on the endangered species list. To keep that from happening, the Obama administration started a collaborative effort involving state governments, landowners and commercial interests to protect millions of acres of the bird's remaining range, much of it coveted by oil and gas companies. The result was one of the most successful wildlife conservation efforts in memory.
Within months of Trump's inauguration, Interior announced its intention to revisit the plan; oil and gas interests, emboldened by Trump's election, had bent Zinke's ear, and the bird seemed in trouble. But then came significant pushback from state officials, Republican and Democrat, who had invested a great deal of energy and political capital in the complex plan. The word now is that the plucky bird will be more or less left alone. We will see.
One important Obama policy decision still stands, at least in part because it has been largely ignored, even though it is of considerable value not just to the planet but also to the U.S. economy. It is the 2016 Kigali amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol. The protocol, to this day the most successful global environmental agreement, was aimed at rebuilding the thinning ozone layer by requiring all nations to phase out their use of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting chemicals. So far it has done the job. A new report from the United Nations says the ozone layer is on the mend, and large parts could be completely healed by the 2030s.
The Montreal Protocol, however, produced a downside. The replacement chemicals, including a more ozone-friendly cousin called hydrofluorocarbons, known as HFCs, turned out to be powerful global warming gases. Hence the Kigali amendment, under which nations agreed to phase out HFCs and find substitutes that were friendlier to the atmosphere.
To date, 60 countries, not including the United States, have ratified the amendment. The Obama administration signed it 2016, but the Trump White House has not sent it to the Senate for ratification. The question is how best to engage Trump's interest. Selling it to him as a climate measure could be a serious problem, since he is copiously on record as dismissing global warming as a problem. Presenting it to him as a jobs and trade measure would be much smarter, since he talks about both all the time.
A report in the spring from two trade groups — the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute and the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, which counts big companies like Dow and Carrier among its members — estimated that the United States would gain 33,000 additional jobs and $12.5 billion in annual economic output by 2027 solely by ratifying the amendment. The U.S. Chamber of Congress likes the agreement, and so do many members of Congress. In June, 13 Senate Republicans wrote a letter to the president urging him to send them the agreement for approval because of its obvious economic benefits. Here's a case where Trump could just say "yes" and make his base (and the rest of us) happy. He doesn't even have to mention "climate."
— The New York Times
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