In an interview last week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott Pruitt said that the United States should “exit” the Paris Agreement—the first time such a high-ranking Trump administration official has so explicitly rejected the global accord to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Pruitt also vowed that the EPA would “roll back” the Clean Power Plan, a key component of former Obama administration’s plan to meet the U.S. pledge under the Paris Agreement, which calls for an emissions reduction of 26–28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
“Paris is something we need to look at closely,” Pruitt said. “It’s something we need to exit in my opinion. It’s a bad deal for America. It’s an ‘America second, third or fourth’ kind of approach.”
Pruitt said that he would not risk U.S. jobs to comply with the agreement, the subject of a battle within the Trump administration—one that President Donald Trump’s most senior advisers are expected to resolve in the next few weeks (subscription).
Pruitt said that complying with the Paris Agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe and China and India. They are polluting far more than we are. We’re at pre-1994 levels with respect to our CO2 emissions.”
Pruitt said that complying with the Paris Agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe and China and India.”
In total, only China emits more carbon dioxide than the United States, according to tracking data released by the World Resources Institute last week. Those data show that emissions from India and from the European Union are, respectively, one-half and two-thirds emissions from the United States. Moreover, on a per capita basis, the United States in 2015 produced two times more carbon dioxide emissions than China and eight times more than India.
How the Trump administration could actually exit the Paris Agreement, as Pruitt suggested, remains unclear. Under the agreement’s terms, it takes three years for a party to withdraw, followed by a one-year waiting period.
Pruitt followed up his interview with a proclamation of a new era of environmental deregulation in a speech at a coal mine fined for contaminating local waterways with toxic materials. There he said the EPA’s new “back to basics” agenda would give oversight of clean air and water to individual states and would bolster jobs in fossil fuel industries.
Study: Meeting Paris Agreement Goal Means World Has One Decade to Peak Emissions
The latest research establishing a timeline for phasing down fossil fuel consumption to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius—the more stringent of the two Paris Agreement temperature goals—finds that global carbon dioxide emissions need to peak within 10 years (subscription).
Net emissions could peak by 2022, the study in the journal Nature Communications shows, under a “high-renewable” scenario in which wind, solar and bioenergy increase by some 5 percent annually.
Overall, the analysis produced by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) suggests that, by 2100, fossil fuel consumption must likely be reduced to less than a quarter of primary energy supply. But if carbon-capture-and-storage technology coupled with bioenergy production is found to be unfeasible, uneconomical or too burdensome on ecosystems, the analysis suggests that the world may have to rely heavily on nascent “negative emissions” technology.
The authors did note one other opportunity to rein in emissions, suggesting that land use and agriculture might absorb more carbon dioxide than their model considered.
“The study shows that the combined energy and land-use system should deliver zero net anthropogenic emissions well before 2040 in order to assure the attainability of a 1.5°C target by 2100,” said Michael Obersteiner, IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program director and study coauthor.
The study is one of the first published results from the newly developed—and freely available—FeliX model, a system dynamics model of social, economic, and environmental Earth systems and their interdependencies.
“Compared to other climate and integrated assessment models, the FeliX model is less detailed, but it provides a unique systemic view of the whole carbon cycle, which is vital to our understanding of future climate change and energy,” said Obersteiner.
The day after the IIASA study was published, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration released data showing that March ranked as the second hottest on record for the planet. It followed the second hottest February and third hottest January on record.
Energy Department Orders Grid Study
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered a 60-day study of the U.S. power grid to determine whether policies that favor wind and solar energy—including a recently renewed production tax credit that helps offset the cost of wind and solar installations and, in some states, renewable power mandates—are speeding the decline of baseload coal and nuclear power plants and potentially hampering grid reliability.
In an April 14 memo to his chief of staff, Perry wrote that grid experts have “highlighted the diminishing diversity of our nation’s electric generation mix and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience.”
The memo orders consideration of “the extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants,” among other things.
Travis Fisher, a senior advisor in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, has been tapped to head the study. Greenwire reported that Fisher has made several public statements through interviews, op-eds and blog posts in which he warned that federal regulations, the wind production tax credit and state renewable mandates were threatening grid reliability.
Electricity regulators are already examining how state policies might be affecting regional electricity markets and grid reliability, reports Bloomberg. Next month the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will hold a technical conference to consider state and federal jurisdictional battles over electricity markets, along with state programs that direct credits to renewable energy and zero-emission power.
In laying out her vision for the conference, FERC’s acting chair, Cheryl LaFleur, said that she hopes for a negotiated solution to wholesale power market issues.
“As I see it, there are three potential outcomes that we could achieve here, and the first is some kind of negotiated or planned solution—in my mind, the best option for stakeholders in different regions,” said LaFleur, who also mentioned litigation and re-regulation.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.