The Trump administration issued a scientific report that found oil drilling and coal mining on federally owned lands has a significant impact on the changing climate globally.
A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey found the extracting and burning of fossil fuels from federal lands made up nearly a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States between 2005 and 2014.
That USGS report was published the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year when Americans typically don't follow the news.
It was released on the same Friday the administration published an even larger interagency report outlining the severe economic toll climate change is projected to exact on the nation as the threats of coastal flooding and forest fires rise. Trump administration critics accused political appointees of trying to bury that report on Black Friday.
“The Trump Administration would rather not focus on climate change,” said David Hayes, a former deputy interior secretary under President Barack Obama. “The USGS report is particularly unwelcome, because it acknowledges, and quantifies, the direct role that the federal government has in accelerating climate change.”
At the beginning of 2016, Obama's Interior Secretary Sally Jewell ordered the USGS, a research agency within the Interior Department, to tabulate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction and use of fossil fuels from public lands.
In a first-of-its-kind report, the agency found that the consumption of coal, oil and gas from federal onshore and offshore holdings represented 23.7 percent of carbon dioxide emissions nationwide on average over the 10-year period studied. Fossil fuels from federally controlled areas account for much smaller portions — 7.3 percent and 1.5 percent — of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, respectively.
Agency researchers looked at fuel sources across the country, from coal extraction in Wyoming and other western states to oil operations off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.
The USGS also assessed emissions from the beginning to the end of the supply chain, estimating the amount of methane that seeped into the air from natural gas pipelines and from abandoned coal mines in addition to emissions that came directly from burning fossil fuels. The report separately tabulated the amount of carbon released into the air as a result of the loss of trees in federal forests because of wildfires and timber harvests.
The agency also found that carbon dioxide emissions due to the extraction and use of fuels from federal lands fell 6.1 percent between 2005 and 2014. The U.S. oil and gas industry says that finding is consistent with the trend of natural gas replacing coal, a more carbon-intensive fuel, in the power sector.
“That increase has played the most significant role in achieving 30-year lows in carbon dioxide emissions from power generation that we see today,” American Petroleum Institute spokesman Reid Porter said.
The findings suggest the U.S. government has the potential to curb the nation's contribution to the buildup of atmosphere-warming gases by resetting public-land policy. Some environmental groups renewed calls to stop oil drilling and coal mining on public lands.
“One of the first and best ways to respond is to end new fossil-fuel leasing on public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Trump administration, however, has done just the opposite in an effort to turn the United States into an energy-exporting powerhouse. The president's team has pursued a policy of leasing out more federal acreage to oil and gas drillers than its predecessor, in addition to rolling back Obama-era rules meant to curb the accidental release of methane during drilling operations.
Despite receiving little fanfare from the Trump administration, the other climate report released Friday, which was the product of 13 federal agencies including USGS, was featured prominently on the popular Sunday morning programs on broadcast news networks and on the front pages of newspapers nationwide.
The USGS report, by contrast, received relatively little coverage over the weekend. Still, some environmentalists are glad that a report requested during the Obama administration is seeing the light of day at all.
“It's great to see the report out, period," said Chase Huntley, who leads energy and climate programs at the Wilderness Society. "This report should be a wakeup call to all Americans concerned about climate," he added.
It is unclear whether Trump administration officials are paying attention to it, either.
The report concluded with a sentence saying: “This information may provide context for future energy decisions.”
The Interior Department and USGS did not reply to requests for comment about how they might use the findings.
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— “I don’t believe it”: President Trump weighed in on the major climate report his administration quietly released on Black Friday, telling reporters that he has “seen it” and “read some of it” but that “I don’t believe it."
He added: “And here’s the other thing. … Right now, we’re at the cleanest we’ve ever been and that’s very important to me. But if we’re clean but every other place on Earth is dirty that’s not so good. So I want clean air. I want clean water. Very important.”
All the ways the climate report undercuts Trump’s rhetoric: The Post’s Philip Bump has broken down the president’s remarks on climate change and (with page citations), highlights where the report “apparently unintentionally, offers fairly direct rebuttals to nearly every critique that Trump has offered in recent years.”
— AOC to E&C? Incoming Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) is hoping for a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Politico reports. The move also comes as Ocasio-Cortez has expressed support for Nancy Pelosi to become speaker, a position from which Pelosi would have a large say on who sits on House committees come January. The incoming progressive Democrat has also pushed for a “Green New Deal” proposal that would call for a 100 percent renewable energy standard.
— A bipartisan carbon tax bill on the horizon: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is planning to introduce a carbon tax bill this week, a move that could signal legislative priority once Democrats assume the majority in the House. The bill will be introduced by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), Bloomberg Environment reports. “According to a bill summary obtained by Bloomberg Environment, the measure would apply a $15-per-metric-ton carbon fee to the U.S. oil, gas, and coal industries, but rebate all of the revenue as a dividend to households to shield them from increased fossil fuel costs related to the carbon fee.”
— FEMA funding: A large portion of more than $1 billion going to emergency repair costs following the devastating Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is going to steep markup costs contractors are charging for such repairs. “Extravagant markups, overhead and multiple levels of middlemen have helped lead to huge costs in the FEMA-financed repair program,” the New York Times reports.
Heading back to Paradise, CA, today to talk with more Camp Fire victims and first responders.— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 26, 2018
— Zinke sounds off about wildfires: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has again called for stricter forest management policies, blaming inadequate steps now for leading to the deadly fires in California. He noted in a new CNN op-ed that such policies are included in the House-passed farm bill. “California is a tinderbox. The ongoing drought, warm temperatures, insect infestations, poor forest management, continued residential and commercial expansion in the wildland-urban interface and other factors have made the western United States more prone to fire,” he wrote. “The strong winds in California can rapidly turn a routine brush fire into a deadly blowtorch and send a storm of embers ahead of the flames.”
The context: While Zinke’s op-ed largely echoed what he told reporters while visiting the fire-scarred Golden State, he did not specifically blame “radical environmentalists” in the new op-ed, as he did in a conference call last week. Zinke had also called for active forest management policies in an op-ed for USA Today in August.
— More on Zinke: The Interior Department’s internal watchdog has cleared Zinke of any wrongdoing related to allegations that the decision to shrink the boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was made in part to benefit a political ally, Republican state Rep. Mike Noel. “The report says investigators found no evidence that Zinke or other department officials knew of Noel's financial interest in the revised boundaries or gave him preferential treatment,” the Associated Press reports.
— Could California’s ocean ranches fix the seafood trade deficit? The Post’s Scott Wilson writes about a 100-acre patch of the Pacific Ocean where the Catalina Sea Ranch is “the first commercially viable aquaculture operation in federal waters.” The current harvest of mussels is expected to expand 30 times from its current size. “[T]he controlled raising and harvesting of shellfish, finfish and seaweed has been slow to develop in the United States, which — despite its long coastlines, once-bountiful fisheries and maritime traditions — imports 90 percent of its seafood,” Wilson writes. “That is changing. A rare common ground inhabited by the Trump administration and the environmental community has made developing offshore sea ranches such as this one off the Southern California coast a national priority, though for different reasons.”
— New Zealand beach carpeted by dead whales: Scores of whales were discovered on a remote New Zealand beach after a mass stranding in what The Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr. describes as a “heartbreaking mystery.” When the more than 140 whales were discovered, many were dead or dying, so conservationists decided the most humane thing to do was euthanize the animals. “Conservation authorities placed a 'rāhui,' or restriction, over the beach, according to the New Zealand Herald. The restriction, which has roots in Maori culture, was made to ‘deter people from going near the whales as they decompose, primarily for their own safety,’ ” Wootson Jr. writes. “The agency said the restriction would remain in place as officials consider their next step.”
— Is the most environmentally friendly option to get an artificial Christmas tree? Not necessarily. The New York Times breaks down answers to some common questions here, and points out that while artificial trees reduce environmental impact, it can also be a good option to buy a local tree, minimize the amount of driving necessary to acquire the tree and to recycle it.
— Worth a read if you live in D.C.:
— GM announces massive layoffs: General Motors announced it will cut 15 percent of its salaried workers, including 25 percent of executives, and halt production at five plants in Maryland, Michigan and Ohio as well as in Canada. “These changes are part of GM’s efforts to focus its resources on self-driving and electric vehicles, as well as more efficient trucks, crossovers and SUVs,” The Post’s Taylor Telford reports. The company will also close two unannounced plants outside North America by the end of next year. GM said it expects to save $6 billion in cash through its restructuring.
How Trump responded: He told reporters on Monday that he had complained to GM chief executive Mary Barra about the moves. “I was very tough,” he said. “I spoke with her when I heard they were closing. And I said: ‘You know, this country has done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon. That’s Ohio, and you better get back in there soon.’”
— Oil watch: Saudi Arabia produced more than 11 million barrels of oil per day in November, a record level as pressure mounts from the U.S. president not to cut production ahead of next week’s meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. “Saudi Arabia agreed to raise supply steeply in June, in response to calls from consumers, including the United States and India, to help cool oil prices and address a supply shortage after Washington imposed sanctions on Iran,” Reuters reports. “But the move backfired on Riyadh after Washington imposed softer than expected sanctions on Tehran. That triggered worries of a supply glut and prices collapsed to below $60 per barrel on Friday from as high as $85 per barrel in October.”
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on addressing America’s surface transportation infrastructure needs on Wednesday.
- The Atlantic Council holds an event on "The State of Ukraine's Energy Sector" on Wednesday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Alexandra Dunn to be assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Energy Subcommittee holds a legislative hearing on Thursday.
Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of William Bookless to be principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration on Thursday.
- The Women's Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event on incorporating intelligent water systems in U.S. water utilities on Thursday.
- Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz speaks at an Atlantic Council event on "Investing in Natural Gas for Africans" on Thursday.
—From Post cartoonist Tom Toles: