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As the transition between the Obama Administration and Donald Trump’s begins, so we get a taste of what is to come in terms of energy and climate policy – something that was amiss in election coverage due to the highly personal and often vindictive attacks by Trump. In short, what Trump plans do to is daunting to say the least.

According to Trump’s Transition GreatAgain.gov website, his Administration would move to do the following; end the war on coal, rescind the ‘Coal Mining Lease’ moritorium, rescind the Waters of US/Clean Water Rule and scrap both Obama’s Climate Action Plan and also the Clean Power Plan. Now let’s have a quick look at these important policies.

The Clean Water Plan (CWP) was a policy enacted in 2008 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Obama’s first Administration as a way to combat anthropogenic climate change through the setting of a national limit on climate pollution by power plants. The CWP was also a way to strengthen the growth of clean energy in the US and was also projected to reduce US greenhouse emissions by 26-28% by 2025.

The Climate Action Plan (CAP) was signed into law in 2013 with three main strands; cutting carbon pollution in the US, prepare the nation for increasing risks of climate change, and also for the US to lead efforts in addressing global climate change. Specific goals include cutting 3bn metric tons of US energy waste by 2030 and also to create a national standard for carbon pollution levels. As part of the plan, the Department of the Interior – in charge of managing public spaces, national parks and wildlife reserves in the US – was required to permit enough renewables project —like wind and solar – on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes.

Fast forward 3 years, and following the historic Paris Climate Agreement, Obama’s Climate Action Plan appears to have paid off; The White House trumpets that efficiency standards for appliances and vehicles alone will avoid 9.3 billion tons of carbon emissions when fully implemented; the same emissions savings as taking all of the cars in America in 2015 off the road for more than 7 years.

Another strand of Obama’s climate and energy strategy that Trump currently seeks to roll back is the Waters of US/Clean Water Rule. Considering that the Clean Water Rule primarily acts as a safeguard for waterways, rivers, lakes and other water systems to be protected, primarily from pollution, it is interesting to consider why it is in the Trump Administration’s firing line at all. Is this the beginning of further rolling back of the state, a much-loved concept of the Republican Party, and indeed the Conservative Party in the UK; the less the state interferes with public life and society, the better.

Trump in his campaign to end the war on coal also aims to rescind Obama’s ‘Coal Mining Lease Moritorium’ that was brought into law in January of this year by the Obama Administration and the DOI. Ending the war on coal was one of Trump’s main campaign promises and it was one that led to a majority of the blue-collar workers voting for Trump over Clinton in the presidential election – the majority of those coming from the Midwest and Rust Belt states. The moritorium, by nature, halts the leasing of new public lands for the uses of coal mining. A reason for the temporary pause in coal mine leasing was given by the Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, as a way of fully understanding whether the gains by the American people are in line with the continuation of coal mining and the creation of new coal mining areas. In a nutshell; do the health and social facts of coal mining impact the economic advantages of new coal mining regions being greenlit?

As you might imagine, such a halt on new leases triggered praise from environmentalist groups and other NGOS, and outrage from the coal-mining industry lobby. Using the argument that thousands of jobs in the Midwest relies on the continued use of coal as a means of energy production, the move was widely condemned by both Republicans and industry.

That said, for all the talk of ending the war on coal, it is fair to say that while the fossil fuel industry can take direction from the new Administration, as a economically-driven industry it will look to the cheapest route possible, thus maximising returns to shareholders as its most basic level. Back in January 2015, the US government announced 5 more years of tax credits on solar and wind energy production meaning that by 2020, solar and wind power will become the cheapest energy sources for the United States domestic market. But, Trump’s keen interest in corporate tax cuts, alongside his wish to end the war on coal, may dampen the effect of such renewable tax credits.

Trump’s ‘Energy Independence’ policy ideas are somewhat dated and, if enacted, could pose a serious threat to the integrity of the Paris Climate Agreement. When the Agreement was announced following COP 22 in Paris, China made it incredibly clear that were the US to back out of the deal, the Chinese government would not uphold their promises of controlling the anthropogenic impacts on climate change through their support of the act. On Friday, comments were made by Australian MPs of the centre-right Liberal party, that if the US to renege on the Paris Agreement, it would effectively be dead in the water. Now here, Trump can do real damage, not only to the US but global climate change and carbon dioxide emission levels.

It is worth taking the earliest of Trump’s proposed policies with a large pinch of salt; he has already backtracked on repealing Obamacare and is no longer interested in assigning a special investigator to Hillary Clinton – two critical pillars that his vitriolic presidential has run on in recent months.

So, with all this in mind, can Trump really stop the renewable energy revolution currently underway around the world? If the markets change and fossil fuel extraction suddenly becomes more profitable once more, maybe so. But given the current economic, and political social discourse surrounding fossil fuel vs renewable energy, it is unlikely.

Then again, it was unlikely that Trump was going to win the 2016 US Presidential elections but here we are; anything may well be possible.

Read more of the Trump Administration’s Energy Policy here.

 

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