Why states are pushing ahead with clean energy despite Trump’s embrace of coal

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Alamosa Photovoltaic Plan, south-central Colorado.
Energy.gov/Flickr

Bill Ritter, Jr., Colorado State University

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump traveled to the Environmental Protection Agency to sign an executive order rolling back a number of climate-related regulations that have taken effect over the past eight years. The president’s team claims this effort will help bring our nation closer to energy independence, and that it will begin the process of resuscitating a coal industry that has experienced serious decline in the past decade.

In reality, it will do neither. We do not import coal into the United States. There are no jobs coming back from overseas. Moreover, and somewhat ironically, the chief reason for the decline in the coal industry is not Obama-era regulations, but a rapidly changing energy market.

Any energy market analyst will tell you that advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have provided us with cheap, abundant, natural gas. Add to that declining price curves in wind and solar generation, and one begins to appreciate that a difficult road lies ahead for coal. These are markets that are growing with rapid technological innovation.

USEIA

The shift is underway

The fact is that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan codified where the utility industry was already going. With publicly announced retirements, roughly 45 percent of the existing coal capacity in the western grid will be retired by 2030. According to utility integrated resource plans, by 2026, just shy of half of the total energy in the West will be generated from zero-emitting resources.

The 11 western states that my center had been convening around implementation of the Clean Power Plan are, collectively, in compliance with the plan’s 2026 targets under business as usual. Ironically, removing the Clean Power Plan just eliminates a potential for market-based emission trading that would lower costs to consumers and provide some states with a glide path to meet their targets.

This is not to say that the regulatory rollbacks in President Trump’s order will have no impact. The international community, which crafted the landmark Paris Accord, will not have the benefit of U.S. leadership on climate change. Other nations will fill that void – while reaping the economic rewards of serving a growing global market with low-carbon technologies. One of the most troubling long-term impacts of these actions will be a declining global view of America as a source of innovation and investment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, holding his granddaughter, signs the Paris Agreement, April 22, 2016.
U.S. Department of State/Wikipedia

At home, should the Clean Power Plan expire, states that have been reticent to advance a clean energy agenda will no longer be required to plan for emissions reductions. The Clean Power Plan brought certainty to energy planning. If you talk to American utility executives and their investors, they crave certainty because it lowers the cost of capital and saves money for consumers. The executive order is a step away from stability in our energy markets and away from America’s leadership as an innovator developing the technologies that will serve a growing global market.

States, cities and businesses are moving forward

Attempts to roll back important environmental safeguards are being sold to the American people under the rubric of job creation. Let’s put this in the proper context: There were 65,971 jobs in coal mining nationwide in 2015. According to the Department of Energy, more than twice as many jobs – 133,000 – were created last year just in the energy efficiency industry. In 2016 the solar workforce grew by 25 percent to 374,000 and the wind workforce grew by 32 percent to 102,000. One in 50 new jobs in America is now in solar energy.

From 2007 to 2011, as Governor of Colorado, I signed 57 pieces of legislation intended to transition Colorado to a clean energy economy. After leaving office I founded the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University with the intention of working with governors, state legislators and utility regulators on clean and advanced energy policy. In our work at the center, my team and I have become confident that states, cities and private companies are taking the lead in the clean energy transition, even as the federal government flounders. Today 37 states, comprising two-thirds of the U.S. population, have renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to generate or purchase a percentage of their power from renewable energy.

Governors from both parties have led this transition. Seventeen governors have joined the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, including the Republican Governors of Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. In doing so, they have all committed to diversify their states’ energy generation with clean energy sources, modernizing energy infrastructure and encouraging clean transportation. In addition, 129 U.S. cities have signed the Compact of Mayors’ pledge to address climate change.

Thirty-three U.S.-based companies, the likes of Coca-Cola, GM, Goldman Sachs, HP, Johnson & Johnson and Nike, have committed to a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy as part of the RE100 Initiative. Some 50 U.S. companies will need to purchase 17 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025 – enough to power the entire state of Colorado – in order to fulfill their existing corporate targets.

True leadership requires a vision that looks to new markets, new technologies and new solutions. Unfortunately, the president’s actions on Tuesday look backward toward a fading horizon, rather than forward toward a bright and promising future.

Bill Ritter, Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Will Obama’s Offshore Drilling Ban be Trumped?

Activists in Seattle practice for demonstrations against Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic, April 17, 2015. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Activists in Seattle practice for demonstrations against Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic, April 17, 2015. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Patrick Parenteau, Vermont Law School

President Obama gave environmental advocates a Christmas present when he announced in late December that he was banning oil and gas drilling in huge swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. This action “indefinitely” protects almost 120 million acres of ecologically important and highly sensitive marine environments from the risks of oil spills and other industrial impacts.

President Obama acted boldly to conserve important ecological resources and solidify his environmental legacy. But by making creative use of an obscure provision of a 1953 law, Obama ignited a legal and political firestorm.

Republicans and oil industry trade groups are threatening to challenge the ban in court or through legislation. They also contend that the Trump administration can act directly to reverse it. But a close reading of the law suggests that it could be difficult to undo Obama’s sweeping act.

The power to withdraw

Congress passed the law now known as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in 1953 to assert federal control over submerged lands that lie more then three miles offshore, beyond state coastal waters. Section 12(a) of the law authorizes the president to “withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Starting in 1960 with the Eisenhower administration, six presidents from both parties have used this power. Most withdrawals were time-limited, but some were long-term. For example, in 1990 President George H. W. Bush permanently banned oil and gas development in California’s Monterey Bay, which later became a national marine sanctuary.

Kelp forests in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary support many marine species.
Chad King, NOAA/Flickr

President Obama used section 12(a) in 2014 to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the most productive wild salmon fisheries in the world. In 2015 he took the same step for approximately 9.8 million acres in the biologically rich Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Obama’s latest action bars energy production in 115 million more acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas – an area known as the “Arctic Ring of Life” because of its importance to Inupiat Peoples who have lived there for millennia. The order also withdraws 3.8 million acres off the Atlantic Coast from Norfolk, Virginia to Canada, including several unique and largely unexplored coral canyons.

Why Obama acted

In a Presidential Memorandum on the Arctic withdrawals, Obama provided three reasons for his action. First, he asserted, these areas have irreplaceable value for marine mammals, other wildlife, wildlife habitat, scientific research and Alaska Native subsistence use. Second, they are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. Finally, drilling for oil and responding to spills in Arctic waters poses unique logistical, operational, safety and scientific challenges.

In ordering the Atlantic withdrawals, Obama cited his responsibility to “ensure that the unique resources associated with these canyons remain available for future generations.”

Market forces support Obama’s action. Royal Dutch Shell stopped drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2015 after spending US$7 billion and drilling in what proved to be a dry hole. Since 2008 the Interior Department has canceled or withdrawn a number of sales in Alaskan waters due to low demand. Shell, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, Chevron, BP and Exxon have all to some degree abandoned offshore Arctic drilling.

The Beaufort and Chukchi seas are zones of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of northern Alaska.
Mohonu/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Low oil prices coupled with high drilling costs make business success in the region a risky prospect. Lloyd’s of London forecast this scenario in a 2012 report that called offshore drilling in the Arctic “a unique and hard-to-manage risk.”

What happens next?

Critics of President Obama’s action, including the state of Alaska and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say they may challenge Obama’s order in court, in hopes that the Trump administration will opt not to defend it. But environmental groups, which hailed Obama’s action, will seek to intervene in any such lawsuit.

Moreover, to demonstrate that they have standing to sue, plaintiffs would have to show that they have suffered or face imminent injury; that this harm was caused by Obama’s action; and that it can be redressed by the court. Market conditions will make this very difficult.

The Energy Information Administration currently projects that crude oil prices, which averaged about $43 per barrel through 2016, will rise to only about $52 per barrel in 2017. Whether these areas will ever be commercially viable is an open question, especially since rapid changes are taking place in the electricity and transportation sectors, and other coastal areas are open for leasing in Alaska’s near-shore waters and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk broke loose and ran aground near Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska as it was being towed to Seattle for winter maintenance in December 2012. This Coast Guard overflight video shows the harsh conditions along Alaska’s coast in winter.

Alternatively, Donald Trump could issue his own memorandum in office seeking to cancel Obama’s. However, section 12(a) does not provide any authority for presidents to revoke actions by their predecessors. It delegates authority to presidents to withdraw land unconditionally. Once they take this step, only Congress can undo it.

This issue has never been litigated. Opponents can be expected to argue that Obama’s use of section 12(a) in this manner is unconstitutional because it violates the so-called “nondelegation doctrine,” which basically holds that Congress cannot delegate legislative functions to the executive branch without articulating some “intelligible principles.”

However, one could argue that Obama’s action was based on an articulation of intelligible principles gleaned from the stated policies of the OCSLA, which recognizes that the “the outer Continental Shelf is a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public.” The law expressly recognizes both the energy and environmental values of the OCS. Thus President Obama’s decision reflects a considered judgment that the national interest is best served by protecting the unique natural resources of these areas, while at the same time weaning the nation from its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012 after signing an agreement with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft. The companies’ joint venture to develop energy resources in Russia’s Arctic waters has been blocked by U.S. sanctions on Russia since 2014.
AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service

The section 12(a) authority is similar in some respects to the authority granted by the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the president to “reserve parcels of land as a part of [a] national monument.” Like the OCSLA, the Antiquities Act does not authorize subsequent presidents to undo the designations of their predecessors. Obama has also used this power extensively – most recently, last week when he designated two new national monuments in Utah and Nevada totaling 1.65 million acres.

Some laws do include language that allows such actions to be revoked. Examples include the Forest Service Organic Administration Act, under which most national forests were established, and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which sets out policies for managing multiple-use public lands. The fact that Congress chose not to include revocation language in the OCSLA indicates that it did not intend to provide such power.

What can the new Congress do?

Under Article IV of the Constitution, Congress has plenary authority to dispose of federal property as it sees fit. This would include the authority to open these areas to leasing for energy development. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation are considering introducing legislation to override Obama’s drilling ban. But Democrats could filibuster to block any such move, and Republicans – who will hold a 52-48 margin in the Senate – would need 60 votes to stop them.

On the other hand, Congress may be content to let President-elect Trump make the first move and see how it goes in court. If Trump attempts to reverse the withdrawal, environmental groups contesting his decision would face some of the same obstacles as an industry challenge to Obama’s action. It could be especially challenging for environmental groups to show that the claim is “ripe” for judicial review, at least until a post-Obama administration acts to actually open up these areas for leasing. That may not occur for some time, given the weak market for the oil in these regions.

In the meantime, this decision is a fitting capstone for a president who has done everything within his power to confront the existential threat of climate change and rationally move the nation and the world onto a safer and more sustainable path.

The Conversation

Patrick Parenteau, Professor of Law, Vermont Law School

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lesson one for Rick Perry: The Energy Department doesn’t produce much energy

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration supervises the removal of 68 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (enough for two nuclear weapons) from the Czech Republic in 2013. NNSA/Flickr, CC BY-ND
The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration supervises the removal of 68 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (enough for two nuclear weapons) from the Czech Republic in 2013. NNSA/Flickr, CC BY-ND

William H. Tobey, Harvard University

A former governor of Texas – the state that produces more crude oil, natural gas, lignite coal, wind power and refined petroleum products than any other – would seem to be a natural choice for secretary of energy. Yet, assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, Rick Perry will face a paradox.

While the Department of Defense defends us, and the Department of Treasury manages federal finances and supervises banks, the Department of Energy does not provide America’s energy. Yes, it markets hydroelectric power from dams run by the Army Corps of Engineers, but U.S. energy production is overwhelmingly a job for the private sector.

The Energy Department is a hodgepodge of organizations, some of which existed decades before DOE was created in 1977. But it has two core missions: nuclear energy, weapons and cleanup, which account for 68 percent of the department’s fiscal year 2016 budget; and research and development (including basic science) to advance cleaner or more efficient ways to produce and use energy, which constitutes 28 percent of its budget. The incoming secretary will need to marshal these nuclear and scientific capabilities to meet key national security challenges, including a resurgent Russia and the threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

The department of nuclear weapons and science

Physical science is at the heart of everything DOE does. Indeed, it could as accurately be called the Department of Physical Science (in contrast to the life sciences, which mostly reside at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The Energy Department’s 17 national laboratories focus on physics, chemistry, and materials and other sciences. They operate at a high level: 115 scientists associated with the department or its predecessors have won Nobel prizes. These laboratories are precious national resources that enhance American welfare, prosperity and security.

The Z Machine at DOE’s Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico is the largest X-ray generator in the world.
Randy Montoya, Sandia National Laboratories/Flickr

Many people in Washington might laugh at the thought, but the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, which accounts for almost half of the department’s US$30 billion budget, arguably rivals Apple in producing three different but related products at a world-class level. The U.S. nuclear weapons program is first-rate in terms of science, safety, security and reliability. The naval reactors program, which designs and maintains the systems that power the Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers, ensures that our underwater fleet is unmatched in stealth and reliability, and therefore in military effectiveness. And the nuclear nonproliferation program, which works to prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism and to inform arms control policy with technical expertise, has a wider international reach and a deeper roster of activities than any other such effort in the world.

Management challenges for the next secretary

DOE and its laboratories also have major management challenges. Many of the department’s facilities are one-of-a-kind and operate at the border between science and technology, in a high-security environment, often using potentially hazardous material or processes.

All of these factors introduce risk, which is inherent in employing novel technologies required to meet highly demanding technical requirements. One example is the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the world’s largest laser instrument, designed to create temperatures and pressures unseen outside of stars. All too often these ambitious goals and rigorous standards have resulted in cost overruns.

To be successful, the next energy secretary will need to focus relentlessly on three priorities. First, he or she will need to improve contract and project management. The Department’s Office of Environmental Management and the NNSA – which together spend more than half of the agency’s budget – have been on the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list for years. Agencies and programs on this list are vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement or in urgent need of transformation.

Starting in the George W. Bush administration, and continuing under the Obama administration, the department greatly improved its operations, but much remains to be done. If Congress does not have confidence in how the department is spending precious taxpayer dollars, it is likely to cut funding for DOE programs.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu visits the waste treatment plant construction site at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington in 2012. The 65-acre plant will seal 53 million gallons of radioactive and chemical wastes from more than 40 years of plutonium production for nuclear weapons into glass logs for permanent disposal. It is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
Energy.Gov/Wikipedia

Second, the next energy secretary will need to complete ongoing efforts to reverse the decay of our nuclear weapons complex. Much of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the facilities necessary to make and maintain it have outlasted their expected lifetimes. Deferred maintenance can no longer be put off and obsolete facilities can no longer operate.

The Obama administration started this work, promising in 2010 to add $14 billion over 10 years to improve infrastructure. But a sustained commitment is needed. One big challenge will be to keep a new $6.5 billion uranium processing facility on track for completion by 2025.

Third, the next energy secretary will need to reinvigorate work to prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism. NNSA operates the largest programs to detect, secure and dispose of dangerous nuclear material in the world. These programs are vital to U.S. security, and each of the last four presidents has put his stamp on them.

President George H. W. Bush began the process in 1991 by signing the Nunn-Lugar legislation, which provided money as the Soviet Union broke apart to secure and remove Soviet nuclear weapons and materials from the new countries of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. President Clinton set the agenda and established programs to install physical protection and materials accounting, detect nuclear smuggling and consolidate the number of facilities that stocked weapons-usable nuclear materials.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush doubled the program budget and accelerated its pace. And President Obama broadened the effort by convening four nuclear security summits, where world leaders pledged to take hundreds of steps to protect nuclear materials and prevent nuclear terrorism.

World leaders at the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., April 1, 2016.
Government of Chile/Wikipedia, CC BY

Now those summits are over and cooperation with Russia is in tatters. DOE’s funding requests for nuclear security cooperation have declined every year since 2011, and the budget now is smaller than when President Obama took office. It is vitally important for the Trump administration to set ambitious new goals and provide enough resources for these programs.

Leading DOE

Past secretaries of energy have come from a wide range of backgrounds, including the Navy, industry and academia. The most successful ones focused sharply on accomplishing two or three big goals and avoiding the myriad distractions that DOE’s sprawling bureaucracy constantly raises. They also trusted senior DOE staffers’ scientific and technical judgment, but asked hard questions.

The Trump campaign did not lay out detailed nuclear policy or energy research and development plans, which is understandable because those issues were not high priorities for the electorate. It will therefore fall to the next energy secretary to define them – and national security, not energy production, will be the highest priority.

The Conversation

William H. Tobey, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.