The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Climate change report now in hands of Trump administration

with Paulina Firozi


As President Trump along with much of the rest of Washington takes time off (whether or not the president wants to call it a vacation), a mid-August deadline is quickly approaching for the release of a far-reaching climate change report undertaken by 13 federal agencies.

The conclusions of the assessment, as first reported by The New York Times, are unsurprisingly not in line with the views of Trump and many of his Cabinet officials. The Washington Post obtained a draft of the assessment, called the Climate Science Special Report, as well.

Here's what you need to know about this major study:

Its findings on the consequences of climate change are dire, and humans are to blame. Among the top-line conclusions of the report are the determination that it is “extremely likely” that more than half of the rise in temperatures over the past four decades has been caused by human activity. The receding Arctic ice and an increase in the acidification of the oceans is “unparalleled in at least the past 66 million years.” Even if society immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases, the world temperature is still predicted to rise an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit by about 2100. Recent record-setting years of temperature highs will become “relatively common." 

The conclusions may be shocking, but they are not surprising. Like the assessment reports issued by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the federal government's Climate Science Special Report is a "study of studies" — that is, it is a congressionally mandated overview of developments in climate science over the past four years. 

Or as Gizmodo science editor Maddie Stone put it:

Scientists said they feared the report would be suppressed, but drafts of it are already public. Unnamed scientists told The Times that "they fear the Trump administration could change or suppress the report." Indeed, final publication requires the signoff of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who has said that he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

The Trump administration must decide by Aug. 18 whether to release the report. But there was already lots of chatter and reaction to the drafts, which were public as it was being formulated:

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech and one of the lead authors of the report:

Bob Kopp, another climate scientist at Rutgers:

John H. Cushman, Jr., a reporter for InsideClimate News who wrote about an earlier draft of the assessment in December:

Similar climate assessments from the U.S. government have fallen victim to political pressure in the past. For example, in 2002, a George W. Bush administration official named Philip A. Cooney amplified the sense of uncertainty about the findings of a summary report called "Our Changing Planet." For example, he added the word "extremely" to this sentence from that report: "The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely difficult."


-- Time to get out the Taboo buzzer: Staff members at the Agriculture Department have been advised to avoid using the term “climate change," according to emails obtained by The Guardian.

“Climate change” appears under a list of terms to avoid, via an email from the director of soil health. Bianca Moebius-Clune suggested some USDA-approved alternative terms to use instead: 

"Climate change" → "weather extremes"

"Climate change adaptation" → "resilience to weather extremes/intense weather events: drought, heavy rain, spring ponding"

"Reduce greenhouse gases" → "build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency"

"Sequester carbon" → "build soil organic matter"

The Guardian also outlines back-and-forth emails from members of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service unit attempting to clarify approved language. In one April email, an employee asked whether they were allowed to publish work from outside the USDA that referred to 'climate change.'"

If the intended effect was to curtail discussion of climate change, the USDA's decision backfired spectacularly. Here's the front page of The Guardian this morning:

-- It’s official: Trump notified the United Nations on Monday that the United States will pull out of the Paris climate agreement. In issuing its notice, the State Department left the tiniest crack of a door open to reentry into the global agreement to reduce emissions. Trump “is open to re-engaging in the Paris Agreement if the U.S. can identify terms that are more favorable to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, and its taxpayers,” the department said.

Under the accord, the United States's participation will only be official in November 2020, the month of the next presidential election.

-- Border wall vs. butterflies: President Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico wall may cut through parts of a wildlife refuge in Texas, including the National Butterfly Center in Mission. The executive director of the butterfly center says she found out about the effort by discovering workers that were taking soil samples before planning to mow through the land, The Post’s Darryl Fears reported.

“I said, ‘Hey guys what you’re doing?’ They said, ‘Working.’ I said, ‘On what?’ They said, ‘Clearing the land,” recalled Marianna Trevino Wright. “I said, ‘You mean my land.’ They said, ‘We’re going to have to call our supervisor.’”

The Texas Observer also reported that the founder of the butterfly center said the Trump administration is choosing to “ignore the law, trampling on private property rights” by not notifying the center about the plans to build the wall through the property.

Fears reported that the land is currently being cleared and soil is being sampled, though no construction on the wall would begin until Congress approved funding it. The fate for that funding is unclear.

--Monumenta; update: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Friday that he won’t recommend eliminating or making changes to Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.

“The land has some of the most pristine and undeformed geological formations in North America, which show the scientific history of our earth while containing thousands of years of human relics and fossils,” Zinke said in a Friday statement.

It’s the latest announcement in the department’s ongoing review of the status of 27 national monuments designated by previous presidents following an executive order from President Trump.

So far, Zinke has recommended:

  • shrinking one monument (Bears Ears National Monument)
  • keeping five other monuments the same size

-- A great Great Lakes plan: After a long wait, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a delayed plan on how to prevent Asian carp from migrating from the Mississippi River Basin into the Great Lakes, where politicians and environmentalists worry that the voracious invasive species would wreak havoc on native fish populations.

The $275 million plan involves upgrading defenses at an Illinois navigation lock to include "underwater noise and powerful water jets," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Great Lakes politicians were glad to see the study published after the Trump administration delayed its release over concerns from the shipping industry.

From Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.):

From Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.): 

From Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.):

Here's what the carp look like in case you're curious (they do jump high):


-- Keystone update: Nebraska regulators began on Monday a potential week-long hearing to decide the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, Reuters reports.

Trump approved a permit for the pipeline in March, but the Nebraska Public Service Commission is set to announce whether the plan is in the state’s interest by November. 

-- On Sunday, The New York Times had a front-page story on Trump administration efforts to eliminate Obama-era measures that prevented coal mining on federally owned land as part of a push to revive the coal industry.

The entire report is worth reading, but here's the takeaway: “Even with the moves so far, the prospect of coal companies operating in a big way on federal land — and for any major job growth — is dim, in part because environmentalists have blocked construction of a coal export terminal, and there is limited capacity at the port the companies use in Vancouver. Competition from other global suppliers offering coal to Asian power plants is also intense. But at least for now, coal production and exports are rising in the Powder River Basin after a major decline last year.” 


-- How the solar eclipse will affect the solar industry: A report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration outlines how the solar eclipse later this month will reduce power generation from the 1,900 utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plants across the country.

What will happen: During the eclipse, other power plants, like those running on natural gas, will increase output to make up for the lost energy.

Thankfully, most of the plants don’t exist in the path of totality.

-- A newly launched program is set to train more than 200 residents of Washington, D.C., over three years to install solar panels on the homes of low-to-moderate income families, The Post’s Mary Hui writes.

The program, developed by the District’s Department of Energy and Environment and Department of Employment Services, is part of D.C.’s goal to have 50 percent of its energy supply come from renewable sources by 2032, with five percent from local solar power.

The District also aims to help 100,000 low-income households lower their electricity bills and will target half of those with solar energy sources.


-- On a mission in the Arctic: In the first in a series that will explore the world's northernmost ocean, The Post's Chris Mooney and Alice Li take us aboard the Amundsen, a Canadian icebreaker that will travel through the Northwest Passage “bound for a stretch of ocean the scientists on board have been trying to study for years.”

Mooney writes: “Now scientists are using a sophisticated multibeam sonar device to map the seafloor beneath the ship in high resolution, and pulling up cores of mud to learn about the geologic history of the area. The knowledge they obtain will be crucial as more vessels venture into the area, spurred by climate change and the dramatic reduction in the extent of sea ice.”

Read here for the rest of Mooney’s introduction to the series, accompanied by Li’s images of the view from the Amundsen. 

-- Scientists just measured the largest dead zone ever recorded for the Gulf of Mexico. The 8,776-square-mile patch of ocean is large enough to cover all of New Jersey, reports The Post’s Jenna Gallegos. Only dramatic shifts in farming practices are likely to prevent even bigger dead zones, which are caused by industrial and agricultural runoff and disrupt fishers.



  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will hold an event on corruption in the oil industry.
  • The FERC Environmental Review and Compliance for Natural Gas Facilities Seminar is set for Tuesday through Thursday in Denver, Colo.

Coming Up

  • The Offshore Wind Executive Summit is set for Wednesday and Thursday in Houston, Tex.
  • Resources for the Future is holding a webinar on “Exploring the Effects of Energy Resource Booms on Public Education” on Thursday.
  • The Boston Climate Action Network Meeting will be held on Thursday.
  • The International Food Policy Research Institute is holding a datathon event to support agricultural research and development on Friday.  

Watch Kayleigh McEnany’s “Trump TV” debut, annotated:

Former CNN pundit Kayleigh McEnany appeared in a video on President Trump's Facebook page Aug. 6, hosting a segment called the "real news." (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

Watch as zoo animals in Oregon find ways to keep cool as temperatures rise: 


Three animal residents of the Oregon Zoo, in Portland found their own ways to keep cool on Aug. 1, as the weather continued to get hotter. (Video: YouTube/Oregon Zoo)

Watch Stephen Colbert on reports that Vice President Pence will run for president in 2020: