Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Trump Administration and the EPA

In the Trump presidency to date, there has been a tremendous amount of strum und drang, a lot to either get upset about (or cheer, if you're a fan of making a scene for its own sake) in terms of talking points, but not all of it has been substantive.  Starting today I'm going to try to tackle, one topic at a time, what exactly the Trump administration has done to date, and whether or not it's been substantive.

We'll start with the environment, where the Trump administration has, in fact, done quite a bit: it's done a lot of damage in a brief period of time.

Before we begin, let's take a look at this chart, which comes to us courtesy of NOAA:

Look, you either read this chart and believe your eyes, or you read this chart and refuse to believe your eyes.  If you fall into the latter camp, don't even bother reading the rest of this blog entry.  You must surely be thrilled with President Trump and Scott Pruitt, his EPA Administrator.

For those who are still reading, let me ask you a question: would you save the life of one child with terminal cancer if it meant that 1,000 additional children would develop chronic emphysema?  Of course you would if it was your child, but what if you knew none of the children involved?

It might be a difficult question for some.  For me, it is not.  As horrible as it is, I would sacrifice the one child with cancer to spare the 1,000 other children.  Trump and Pruitt seem to answer that question differently.  They are willing to sacrifice our collective future for the good of about 160,000 people total, or about one month of total employment growth in the current era (which began under Obama and continues under Trump).

(Image from MSNBC)
Scott Pruitt is a liar who has claimed notable employment growth in coal already to date.  As of June 2017, according to the BLS, coal employment was up about 1,300 jobs in the first half of the year.  That's nothing to write home about.

(Scott Pruitt also lets lobbyists write his letters for him.  Next time someone tells you Donald Trump is "draining the swamp," bring up Scott Pruitt.)

Anyways, for the sake of this extremely small portion of the American work force, Donald Trump seems determined to put an end to historic trend of the death of the coal industry.  (This slow death is well-documented by Visual Capitalist - please take a gander.)

I'm not wholly unsympathetic to that cause.  After all, there's no denying - as ugly as it is - that modern America wouldn't be possible without the credit markets created by the slave-driven cotton industry.  (And here is an excellent book on that very topic, briskly written and informative, that I encourage you all to read.)  Still, if I proposed to you that the cotton industry should be resuscitated, at the expense of newer industries, would you not think I was a bit crazy?

And yet Donald Trump is prepared to deal very serious blows to the nascent renewable energy sector, which employs more than double the amount of people the coal industry does, on the very basis that once upon a time, coal Made America Great.  It's backwards-looking and doomed to failure.

(Image from The Solar Foundation) is often quite skippable, but Politico has done excellent reporting on the EPA under Trump and Pruitt.  Here's the latest.  Let me go through the five major points quickly:

1. The Death of the Clean Power Plan.  I must criticize President Barack Obama for putting the Clean Power Plan into effect at the end of his administration.  He was roundly criticized for being a "socialist" almost the entire time he was in office, but he waited until the tail end to actually roll out substantive environmental regulations.  Imagine if he had enacted the Clean Power Plan in, say, 2009?  He would have had eight years to demonstrate that it is not in fact a job-killer, but an eminently reasonable plan for the future.  As it is, the Clean Power Plan - which would have reduced emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 - is now dead.  This death comes at the hands of the coal industry, an industry which has provided a whopping 1,300 or so jobs to Americans in the year to date.

To be fair: these jobs generally pay well, in areas of the country where good jobs can be hard to come by! It's just that there are very, very few of them, and with the rise of mountaintop removing, there will be fewer still.  See this article on an alliance between coal miners and environmental activists on this very subject.

2. The Department of Energy Moves to Favor Power Plants that Keep Large Fuel Supplies On-Site.  Famous idiot Rick Perry is moving to keep coal on life-support despite the fact that demand for coal is down, and supply of coal's market substitutes, natural gas and renewables, are way up.  Whoa, imagine that, a Republican who gives lip service to capitalism but isn't willing to let an inefficient industry die due to competition! Imagine that!!!  Sigh.  The bottom line is:

Critics say the rule could heap billions of dollars in additional energy costs on homes and businesses without a guarantee that they wouldn’t lose power when the next hurricane rips out their power lines or a polar vortex freezes the pile of coal at a power plant.  (

3. The Trump Administration May Take Trade Action Against Foreign Producers of Solar Panels.  Well, here I'm actually rather sympathetic.  We should be doing our manufacturing here in the United States to the extent that we can.  American manufacturing jobs tend to provide good middle-class livings.  The problem is, however, that the solar industry is a growing industry that might not be able to survive the cheapness cost of coal once American labor prices are factored in.

If the solar industry remains subsidized, to absorb growing labor costs, perhaps it could survive the challenge from cheap coal.  But to keep coal king, Trump is moving to kill subsidies to the solar and wind industries as well.  So any sort of trade restriction against Chinese- and other foreign-made solar panels could, in fact, deal a perilous blow to the growth of solar power in this country.  (Whether Trump is sincere about trade barriers is another subject.)

4. Abandoning Fuel Economy Standards.  There's essentially no evidence that I am aware of - feel free to email me if you have some - that improving fuel economy standards have ever seriously hindered economic growth.  In fact, many suggest the opposite is true.  I am open to having my mind changed on this topic, but it seems as though here Trump is more interested in red-meat political posturing than actually Making America Great. Sad!

Valley of the Gods, Utah.  Open for drilling?
5. Opening Federal Lands to Fossil Fuel Development.  And here, again, we get to basically a moral issue.  Given that we know the fuels of the future are ultimately wind, solar, and possibly fusion, with natural gas and perhaps nuclear acting essentially as "bridge" fuels, and that coal will be first to go, with petroleum to follow (hey, don't take it from me, take it from industry guru Daniel Yergin) why would we sacrifice the amber waives of grain and the purple mountains' majesty for the fuels of the past?  I like a good stiff drink, but I still set aside money for my 6-month old daughter's future college education, and I won't be dipping into those funds next time I want to pick up some beer.  (Not even if it's from Evil Twin Brewing, although holy moly, what good beer.  Evil Twin are not sponsors, I'm just giving you a free beer-drinking pro-tip here). 

I've gone a bit long on this blog post so far, so even though there is much more to say, I will wrap up with this:
  • Environmental issues are the one area where the Trump administration has had the most impact to date, and it's been a really nasty impact.
  • There is some hope that the rest of the civilized world will keep its eye on the ball while Trump fiddles and America burns.  To quote Foreign Affairs: 
This improbable progress has upended the once dominant assumption that economic growth and rising greenhouse gas emissions must go hand in hand. Between 2008 and 2016, the U.S. economy grew by 12 percent while carbon emissions from energy generation fell by about 11 percent—the first time the link between the two had been broken for more than a year at a time. This decoupling of emissions and economic growth has begun to occur in at least 35 countries, including China, where many believe that emissions will peak and begin to decline in the next few years, more than a decade earlier than the 2030 target China has set for itself. In fact, 2016 was the third year in a row when global emissions did not rise even as the global economy grew. Before this streak, only recessions had ever brought emissions down. This quiet shift represents a seismic change in the political economy of clean energy. Once, countries had to trade faster economic growth for reducing emissions. Now, they are racing against one another to claim the economic benefits of clean energy. (Foreign Affairs)

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