The past several days have been dim for those concerned about climate change. They will likely be for some time.
But on Monday, Trump announced a proposal that some industry, government and independent experts say could actually, to a modest degree, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
It’s a rare bright spot, albeit small, for environmentalists during a presidency that’s already seen significant regulatory rollback on the issues they care about. Just don’t expect the Trump administration to trumpet that fact as it tries to sell the plan.
As part of the White House's "infrastructure week" counter-programming to former FBI Director James B. Comey's testimony on Thursday, Trump formally proposed spinning off the U.S. air-traffic control system to be managed by a private nonprofit corporation rather than by the federal government.
It’s an idea that’s been floated before -- once under the Clinton administration and, more recently, by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
As the Trump administration tells it, a private agency could more quickly and cheaply modernize the outdated airplane tracking system in the United States.
“The current system cannot keep up, has not been able to keep up for many years,” Trump said on Monday. “We’re still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work.”
Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration is in the midst of transitioning from a radar-based tracking system to one that relies on GPS to direct flights and find the shortest routes. But that and other efforts part of the FAA’s modernization program, called NextGen, have been plagued with delays.
As The Post’s John Wagner reports: “Although elements of the modernization program have come online, reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Transportation Department’s inspector general have portrayed the effort as bogged down in bureaucracy.”
A privatized agency, the thinking goes, could shape up more quickly. But the plan is not without its opponents, which include both congressional Republicans and Democrats leery of handing over safety oversight to the private sector. (For more critique, read Alexia Fernández Campbell in Vox.)
So where do greenhouse gases come in?
Essentially, shorter routes equal less jet fuel burned. And in turn, less jet fuel equals less carbon dioxide and other pollutants emitted into the air.
Air travel is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse-gas emissions, and cutting emissions from that source has become a focus of many in the environmental community and airline business.
“Simply put, modernizing our skies will result in shorter, more direct flights for consumers that burn less fuel and omit fewer emissions,” said Vaughn Jennings, managing director for government and regulatory communications at Airlines for America, a trade association that supports Trump’s proposal.
The switch from the radar- to GPS-based tracking system is on track with or without privatization, said Antonio Trani, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who has studied flight emissions. But steps further down the pipeline, like allowing planes to fly more closely to one another, could be sped up if some FAA functions are privatized.
“Once the air traffic agency becomes privatized," Trani said, "it can implement the efficiency improvements faster.”
From the Massachusetts Sierra Club director:
But so far, we haven’t seen that rhetoric from the Trump administration.
Both during a speech and in a four-page document outlining the plan, Trump and his staff listed decreasing delays and shortening flights as reasons Congress should adopt the plan. Left entirely unmentioned: reducing greenhouse-gas emissions or addressing climate change.
This wasn’t the case under President Obama. In 2012, the FAA report cited the pending overhaul of its flight-tracking system as one of many steps in “a multi-pronged approach to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions.”
The omission is consistent with Trump’s approach to the Paris climate accord. In a speech announcing that policy shift on Thursday, Trump again did not make more than a passing reference to climate change, instead focusing on job creation and economic growth.
Even if just a byproduct of a larger policy goal, the Trump administration could have claimed a modest “win” on reducing pollution when it talked up privatizing the airline industry. But that did not happen.
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PARIS BY THE NUMBERS:
- 59 percent: That's the portion of Americans who oppose Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, according to a Post-ABC News poll. By a roughly two-to-one margin, 28 percent supported the decision to leave the climate accord. Here's the partisan breakdown from Scott Clement and Brady Dennis: "The reactions also break down sharply along partisan lines, though Republicans are not as united in support of the withdrawal as Democrats are in opposition to it. A 67 percent majority of Republicans support Trump’s action, while 22 percent of political independents support it compared and 8 percent of Democrats. Just over 6 in 10 independents and 8 in 10 Democrats oppose Trump’s action."
- 42 percent: That's the plurality of survey respondents who believe withdrawal from the Paris agreement will hurt the U.S. economy (Trump's main justification for pulling out of the deal) compared to 32 percent who said it will be an economic boost.
- 12: That's the number of states that have signaled commitment to the Paris accord so far regardless of the federal government's decision. In addition to the founding members California, New York and Washington, the list now includes Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia (plus Puerto Rico).
From the Delaware governor (D):
- 30: That's the number of days it would take for a new presidential administration to re-enter the Paris agreement, legal experts say. Chelsea Harvey reports: "Under the rules of the Paris agreement, parties are allowed to exit and reenter as they choose, although withdrawing is a much lengthier legal process than returning. And there are no provisions stipulating how much time has passed after withdrawal before a nation can begin the process of rejoining the agreement."
- $3 billion: That's the amount of money the United States pledged to the Green Climate Fund under the Obama administration. The United States has already given $1 billion, but the Trump administration says it will no longer fork over the outstanding $2 billion. So former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who promised to give “up to $15 million” to the fund in the wake of the Paris decision, cannot make up for the lost U.S. contribution. Other nations, too, have said they will not fill the gap. "No, this would send a wrong signal,” Barbara Hendricks, Germany’s environment minister, told Sophie Yeo, reporting for The Post. “No country that refuses joint international solidarity can expect that others just step in to fill the gap." Czech and Australian officials have signaled they are not open to raising their contribution levels, while Sweden and Italy have not ruled out it out.
Two more notes:
-Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon have joined a campaign to support the Paris climate accord
-David H. Rank, the No. 2 diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, resigned Monday over Trump's climate change decision
-- Ryan Zinke tapped Greg Sheehan, head of Utah's wildlife management division, for the newly created position of deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Associated Press reports.
-- More Zinke news: In March, the Interior secretary spoke to the board of directors of the American Petroleum Institute at...the Trump International Hotel, The Huffington Post reports.
-- Potential oil sanctions against Venezuela. Girish Gupta and Matt Spetalnick report for Reuters: "The Trump administration is considering possible sanctions on Venezuela’s vital energy sector, including state oil company PDVSA, senior White House officials said, in what would be a major escalation of U.S. efforts to pressure the country’s embattled leftist government amid a crackdown on the opposition."
-- You come at the king... InsideClimate News, one of the news outlets whose reporting on ExxonMobil's early climate change spurred state-level fraud investigations into the company, has a lengthy look at that legal battle, and the oil and gas firm's "bare knuckles" tactics. In 2016, 17 attorneys general formed a coalition, in their view, to hold fossil-fuel companies to account. Now only two states, New York and Massachusetts, are still investigating.
What happened? The outlet's David Hasemyer explains: "The tiny Virgin Islands dove into an investigation alongside Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and was quickly driven to surrender when the company and an allied conservative think tank filed lawsuits against its attorney general. They charged abridgment of their constitutional rights. After that, no other attorney general started new investigative action, and the attorney general of Maryland says their coalition now exists 'in name only.'"
-- While coal miners may be celebrating the Paris exit, solar-panel installers are worried. Danielle Paquette reports:
“I’m a little nervous about it. The solar business is blowing up and that’s great for a lot of people around here,” Catanzaro said, just after switching on an 86-panel array atop a brick apartment building.
“I was in favor of Trump, which I might regret now,” he said. “I just don’t want solar to go down the wrong path.”
While some employed in particular industries have celebrated the U.S. exit from the Paris agreement, the responses of workers such as Catanzaro add a considerable wrinkle to Trump’s promises that scrapping the accords could save millions of people “trapped in poverty and joblessness.”
The more complicated truth, experts say, is that while there could well be some winners — such as workers in the coal industry — the Paris departure embodies the government’s abandonment of a suite of policies that promised to create hundreds of thousands of jobs at the same time as fighting climate change.
THE CLAIM: Politico's Playbook had this anonymously sourced overheard item on Monday.
Trump's behind-the-scenes take about pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement: pic.twitter.com/9mMawnAF3D— Anna Palmer (@apalmerdc) June 5, 2017
If accurate, it resolves a short-standing mystery as to what Trump's beliefs on climate change are deciding to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Whether Trump believes that humans are the main driver behind climate change is relevant, Chris Mooney writes: "This matters to [Trump's] decision on Paris. Simply put, if you’re not sure humans are the main force behind climate change, then the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions would naturally seem far less compelling."
THE FACTS: "Weather is predictable, and we are getting better and better at doing it," The Post's Jason Samenow reports, adding that five-day weather forecasts today are as good as three-day forecasts were in 2005. But Trump's budget proposal slashes funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the weather service, by 16 percent.
Moreover, Trump appears to conflate weather (or short-term atmospheric events) with climate (or the long-term trends in those events). "Here’s an analogy that businessman Trump might appreciate," Samenow writes. "We may have difficulty forecasting whether the stock market will go up or down in the short term. But we know corporations are always striving to boost earnings, and that acts as the key force that causes the market to go up in the long run. Similarly, the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is the key 'force' that scientists know will increase the planet’s temperature in future decades.
- VA: Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) says Virginia will abide by the Paris climate deal
- TX: Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb's son, is suing to end warbler protections from the endangered species list.
- President Trump is highlighting his $1 trillion infrastructure plan with a series of events that began on Monday, billed as “infrastructure week.”
- China will host the annual Clean Energy Ministerial starting on Tuesday. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is scheduled to attend the annual meeting of high-level officials from 24 member countries and the European Union. The meeting will go from June 6 to 8.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is set to vote Tuesday on four nominees for Trump’s administration: David Bernhardt to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department, Dan Brouilette to be deputy secretary of the Energy Department. The committee will also consider Neil Chatterjee and David Powelson to be members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee.
- President Trump will be in Cincinnati, Ohio on Wednesday to promote his infrastructure plan. He’s scheduled to speak at the Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport at 1 p.m. Eastern.
- The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the nominations of Kristine Svinicki, Annie Caputo and David Wright to be members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the nomination of Susan Bodine to be Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for the EPA.
- The House committee on Agriculture will hold a hearing on the farm bill and the “Future of International Food Aid and Agricultural Development” on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on the abandoned mine lands program on Wednesday.
- Later this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration will host its 2017 Energy Conference in Washington D.C.
More on Trump's air traffic proposal
A nice video explainer of something from Monday's Energy 202 -- that Pruitt's claim about 50,000 new coal sector jobs is misleading.
And finally, a wish-you-were-here from the Department of Interior
It’s National Fishing & Boating Week, and the best way to celebrate get on the water at one of America’s many public lands. #IsleRoyale #NationalPark in #Michigan offers unparalleled adventure for boaters, kayakers, anglers and more. Paddle under the stars or cast a line at this remote island wilderness that is located in the middle of #LakeSuperior. Photo @isleroyalenps by Carl TerHaar (www.sharetheexperience.org). #PureMichigan #findyourpark #usinterior
And Stephen Colbert raises money for "less fortunate" airplanes: