Republicans are happy to see the Trump administration do away with most of the climate policies of the previous president — or at least try to. But conservative politicians and activists are deeply divided over whether to cement into law a hard-fought international agreement on a set of little-known greenhouse gases.
The tiff concerns a multilateral effort to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. That class of organic compounds, which are used in but also leak from air conditioners, pose a dual threat to the planet: They erode Earth's protective ozone layer and amplify the greenhouse effect.
In President Barack Obama's final full year in office, his administration negotiated an amendment to the landmark Montreal Protocol attempting to curtail their use. But conservatives are divided about whether they should ratify the changes to the treaty now that they are in charge.
On the one side of the debate is much of the U.S. cooling industry, which supports what is called the Kigali Amendment, after the Rwandan city in which it was negotiated.
Domestic manufacturers want to make sure they are not shut out of the international market for the next generation of air conditioners as millions in sweltering nations in Asia, Africa and South America rise from poverty to buy cooling systems (all while temperatures climb, too).
Even the tea party-aligned group FreedomWorks touted the job-creating potential of the amendment in a letter last month. And for once, environmentalists and manufacturers are largely on the same page regarding a climate treaty.
“That’s not particularly common,” said Francis Dietz, spokesman for the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), an industry group.
On the other side are strident critics of climate-change science and mitigation efforts who do not want to see the ozone-layer treaty being used to fight climate change.
The latest firework occurred last week when the leaders of two dozen conservative groups wrote to President Trump pleading with him to reject the amendment.
“The Kigali Amendment would not advance the purpose of the Montreal Protocol,” said the letter, organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “but would instead turn a treaty aimed at saving the ozone layer into a global-warming treaty.”
The amendment, like all treaties, must be submitted by the president to the Senate for approval. A two-thirds supermajority in the upper chamber must ratify it to become law.
But the HFC provision has a decent chance of meeting that high margin even in the GOP-controlled chamber. Already 13 Senate Republicans, ranging from moderates such as Susan Collins (Maine) to solid conservatives such as Tim Scott (S.C.), urged Trump in a letter to send them the treaty amendment.
In a sign of the political times, the senators' letter to Trump does not once mention the phrases “climate change” or “global warming.”
Instead, the senators focus on potential job losses to China should the United States fail to ratify. GOP Sen. John Kennedy, whose state of Louisiana is home to Honeywell and Mexichem Fluor factories involved in refrigerant manufacturing, led the petition to Trump.
“By sending this amendment to the Senate, you will help secure America’s place as the global leader in several manufacturing industries, and in turn give American workers an advantage against their competitors in the international marketplace,” the senators said.
But the Trump administration has for months delayed making a decision on whether to send the treaty to the Senate. In February, White House energy and climate adviser George David Banks said the Trump administration wanted “really good economic information” before coming to a decision on Kigali.
So AHRI hired consultants to interview companies and model the impact of the amendment. In a report published in April, the industry association projected ratifying Kigali would create an additional 33,000 jobs by 2027.
“The White House staff asked us to provide information on the jobs and trade benefits of Kigali ratification,” said Kevin Fay, head of the government affairs firm Alcalde & Fay. “We believe the strong economic analysis speaks for itself.”
But Trump still has yet to act.
Banks, who left the White House this year and says he supports ratifying Kigali “150 percent,” said there were still concerns among some members of the Trump administration over the cost to consumers of transitioning away from HFCs.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has proven to be influential in the Trump White House and that opposes expanding the scope of the Montreal Protocol to address climate change, issued its own counter-report arguing that phasing down HFCs would “impose substantial costs on American families” through higher air-conditioning and refrigerator prices.
“I would add that nothing is preventing businesses or families from switching,” said Nick Loris, a energy and environmental policy analyst at Heritage. “If they are cost-competitive, the market will make that transition.”
In response, the air-conditioning industry says cooling chemicals constitute a small fraction of the cost of new equipment and that, like with flat-screen televisions, that expense is falling over time.
Given the blue-collar factory jobs at stake, Banks says he is “bullish” on Trump supporting Kigali.
“The president is not going to trade away a portion of the U.S. manufacturing base just so consumers can save a little in the short term,” Banks said.
With the midterm elections approaching and a Supreme Court nomination on the docket, time is quickly evaporating for senators to approve the amendment this year if Trump sent it to them.
But refrigerant manufacturers say time is on their side. The United States could face trade restrictions beginning in the 2030s if the United States does not agree to the provision.
With or without U.S. backing, enough nations have signed the amendment for it to go into force next year.
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— “You can’t lead unless you listen:” In his first public address as acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler vowed to listen to input from agency employees — “When it comes to leadership, you can’t lead unless you listen,” he said — as he forges ahead with the president’s agenda.
- When he did not mention Scott Pruitt by name, Wheeler “implicitly broke with Trump’s first EPA pick,” The Post's Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin
note. “My instinct will be to defend your work, and I will seek the facts from you before reaching conclusions,” he said. Acknowledging the complexity of transitions at the agency, “I understand how stressful that can be.”
- One thing Wheeler did not mention by name during his remarks: "climate change."
- In touting the president’s environmental policy priorities, Wheeler said he would “continue to build on these accomplishments.” “He said, ‘Clean up the air, clean up the water and provide regulatory relief.' I think we can do all of those things at the same time,” Wheeler said.
- He defended his prior work as a lobbyist for coal giant Murray Energy as well as his financial and personal ties to the coal industry. “I’m not at all ashamed for the work that I did for a coal company,” he said.
- According to Politico, one EPA staffer said after Wheeler’s address: “Seems like he gets it better than Pruitt.”
— Pruitt allies wanted agency jobs for their friends: The ex-administrator is gone, but news about is suspect hiring practices is not. Soon after he took office as the head of the EPA, allies from Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma contacted him in an attempt to secure jobs for family friends, ABC news reports. In one such email obtained through public records requests from the Sierra Club, Pruitt ally and Oklahoma lawyer Gentner Drummond emailed Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, about a job for “another Oklahoman” whom he knew well, and offered to contact Pruitt directly with the request. “The emails show that Drummond was just one of many of Pruitt's old allies asking about positions at the EPA,” ABC News reports.
Meanwhile, Reps. Gerald E. Connolly and Don Beyer, both Democrats from Virginia, offered an amendment to an appropriations bill to ensure the EPA’s internal watchdog continues to investigate Pruitt. The amendment would block funding to finalize agency rulemaking proposed by Pruitt until the inspector general’s reviews are complete. That office had said this week it is "assessing and evaluating our work relating to Administrator Pruitt in light of his resignation."
— The one pipeline Trump actually opposes: Trump continued Wednesday to lash out at Germany for securing natural gas via a controversial 800-mile pipeline planned to run under the Baltic Sea from Russia. The Post’s Rick Noack breaks down the feud over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline:
- "Germany is indeed Russia’s biggest export market in Europe for gas," Noack writes, "with a dependency that may grow further once Nord Stream 2 is finished."
- At the same time, Europe's own natural gas resources are beginning to to dry up.
- So the United States, like Russia, is hoping to capitalize on the situation by exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the continent. Just last year, the first U.S. LNG shipment arrived in Poland.
- One worry: "Nations such as Poland and Ukraine also fear that Russia may be diversifying its gas routes into Europe to be able to exploit its grid for political reasons." Russia, for example, cut off Ukraine’s gas supplies for weeks in 2014 following the Russian annexation of Crimea.
- Another: Trump is using Nord Stream 2 as a cudgel against for its lower-than-what-he-wants defense spending.
What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
- What Trump actually said in person: “Germany is a captive of Russia because they supply (energy)," Trump said Wednesday. "They got rid of their coal plants. They got rid of their nuclear. They’re getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia. I think it’s something that NATO has to look at.”
- What is actually happening: "He’s wrong about coal-fired and nuclear energy and overstated Germany’s reliance on Russian natural gas,” according to an Associated Press fact-check. “In 2017, Germany got more than one-third of its energy for electricity from coal and nearly 12 percent from nuclear plants. One-third came from renewable energy. Only 13 percent came from natural gas, with Russia as the major supplier.”
— Scientists may have solved a huge riddle in Earth’s climate past: A team of scientists says it may have solved a critical question of Earth’s climate history, coming up with an explanation of how the Northern Hemisphere became much cooler even as the last ice age was ending and the globe was warming 13,000 years ago.
The findings: Measurements of deep ocean mud taken off the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada in the Beaufort Sea reveal telltale signs in the oxygen content in fossils of long-dead marine organisms that glacial meltwater flowed there.
The significance 13,000 years ago: The researchers posit that the flood could have shut down a crucial ocean circulation known as the “Atlantic meridional overturning circulation," "plunging Europe and much of North America back into cold conditions," The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. However, the "result remains contested, though, with other researchers still arguing for different theories."
The significance today: Mooney writes “we’re watching another — or rather, a further — deglaciation, as humans cause a warming of the planet. There is also evidence that the Atlantic circulation is weakening again, although scientists certainly do not think a total shut-off is imminent, and are still debating the causes of what is being observed."
— Good climate news and bad climate news from California this week:
The good: According to new information released by the California Air Resources Board, the Golden State has reached its greenhouse gas emissions target four years early. Emissions were cut 2.7 percent in 2016 to 429.4 million metric tonnes, down from the 1990 level of 431 million metric tonnes. The state aimed to return to 1990 emissions levels by 2020, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The state’s next target is to drop emissions by another 40 percent by 2030.
The bad: A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey warns that California officials face a terrible choice between saving cliffside homes by installing boulders or walls that will protect them the rising seas — or sacrificing them so that public beaches remained unlittered with such armaments. The report predicts a massive amount of coastal land loss, according to The Post’s Darryl Fears. “For the highest sea-level rise scenario, taking an average cliff height of more than 25 meters, the total cliff volume loss would be more than 300 million meters by 2100,” the report says.
— The last straw: American Airlines announced this week it will join the movement to eliminate plastic straws (and stir sticks) from flights and lounges, USA Today reports. The airline estimates that such a shift will get rid of more than 71,000 pounds of plastic it produces per year. The airline will replace plastic stir sticks with wooden ones, and will eventually offer “eco-friendly” utensil options as well, per the report.
— A record number of Americans say climate change is real:
- A new University of Michigan poll found 73 percent of Americans think there is “solid evidence of global warming,” more than any time in the past decade of recorded surveys.
- A record 60 percent say global warming is happening and that humans are “at least partially responsible for rising temperatures.”
- Broken down by party lines, even half of Republican respondents say there is solid evidence of global warming, while 90 percent of Democratic respondents believe the same, per the survey.
— These American salamanders are tougher than climate change (for now): A new study looks at how well salamanders will be able to withstand the warming globe and found they are “surprisingly able to change their physiology in response to the shifting temperature and humidity,” The Post’s Kate Furby reports. The study found that while climate change may worsen the conditions for salamanders, the amphibians have behavioral characteristics that can help then remain resistant to the extreme climates.
— Oil watch: Oil prices were up on Thursday with a push from the International Energy Agency'a warning that oil supplies “might be stretched to the limit,” as a result of production losses, Reuters reports. “Rising production from Middle East Gulf countries and Russia, welcome though it is, comes at the expense of the world’s spare capacity cushion, which might be stretched to the limit,” the IEA said in its monthly report. “This vulnerability currently underpins oil prices and seems likely to continue doing so.”
— Exelon makes a bid: Exelon said this week it intends to buy the retail businesses of FirstEnergy Solutions in a $140 million deal. The Akron, Ohio-based parent company FirstEnergy filed for bankruptcy in March, and the public auction will be in early September. “If the deal goes through, it would give Chicago-based Exelon the accounts of thousands of commercial, industrial, government and nonprofit customers who selected FirstEnergy Solutions as their electricity provider and those for whom FirstEnergy was a provider of last resort,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds an oversight hearing on “The Essential Role of Livestock Grazing on Federal Lands and Its Importance to Rural America."
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to “consider the policy issues facing interstate delivery networks for natural gas and electricity."
- The Bipartisan Policy Center holds an event on “Environmental Progress in the Oil and Gas Industry."
- The Wilson Center's China Environment Forum holds an event on "Streamlining China’s Environmental Governance."
— A strange stamp of approval: Russian mining company Uralasbest, one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of asbestos, has posted photos on its Facebook page with stamps on its products with a seal that bizarrely includes an image of Trump. The seals also include the message: “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States,” The Post’s Eli Rosenberg reports.