Using a rarely invoked Congressional Review Act, Congress has paved the way for President Donald Trump to roll back three Obama-era environmental regulations.
On Thursday, the Senate, in a 54-45 vote, gave final legislative approval to a measure repealing a new rule aimed at preventing the dumping of coal mining debris into nearby streams. When announcing the Stream Protection Rule in December, the Department of the Interior said that it would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests.
On Friday, the House approved a Congressional Review Act resolution against the Bureau of Land Management’s methane venting and flaring rule. If approved by the Senate and signed by President Trump, the rule, which keeps companies from venting natural gas on public and tribal lands, would come off the books. In announcing the rule, which updated 30-year old regulations governing venting, flaring, and leaks of natural gas, the DOI said it would reduce the waste of public resources, cut methane emissions that contribute to climate change, and provide a fair return on public resources for taxpayers.
On the day Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State, the House, with a strict party-line vote, killed a Securities and Exchange Commission transparency rule requiring companies to disclose mining- and drilling-related payments to foreign governments. When he was Exxon CEO, Tillerson had lobbied against the rule in part because it affected the company’s business dealings in Russia (subscription).
The Congressional Review Act allows Congress a small window to scuttle regulations before they take effect with a simple majority vote and blocks regulators from writing similar rules in the future unless Congress authorizes them via subsequent legislation.
Trump has also targeted specific regulations he believes hamper job growth, including the Waters of the U.S. Rule and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which aims to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants but is under a Supreme Court stay. On Wednesday, a group of Republicans led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, with former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson Jr., met to discuss the prospect of imposing a national carbon tax, rather than using federal regulations, to address climate change.
“I really don’t know the extent to which it is manmade, and I don’t think anybody can tell you with certainty that it’s all manmade,” said James Baker, one of the members of the newly formed Climate Leadership Council. However, “the risk is sufficiently strong that we need an insurance policy and this is a damn good insurance policy.”
The group meets with White House officials this week about the plan to raise the cost of fossil fuels to bring down consumption—suggesting a tax of $40 a ton that would increase steadily over time. Tax proceeds, they state, would be redistributed to consumers on a quarterly basis in what they call “carbon dividends” that could be approximately $2,000 annually for a family of four.
Sessions Confirmed; Pruitt and Zinke Still Waiting
Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general who has served as a Senator from Alabama since 1997, was confirmed in a 52-47 vote Wednesday evening. He is expected to be sworn in today.
This week, Bloomberg BNA reported that the environment may not be a top priority for Sessions, who as a senator regularly voted against environmental protection legislation—for example, against a rule limiting emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants (in 2012) and a rule setting greenhouse gas standards for new and modified power plants (in 2015).
For Scott Pruitt, the path to consideration by the full Senate to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not without controversy. On Monday, nearly 450 former EPA employees urged Congress to reject his nomination.
“Our perspective is not partisan,” they wrote, noting that many of the 447 names on the letter had served as career employees under both Republican and Democratic administrations. “However, every EPA administrator has a fundamental obligation to act in the public’s interest based on current law and the best available science. Mr. Pruitt’s record raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date and whether he agrees with the long-standing tenets of U.S. environmental law.”
As Pruitt awaits his Senate confirmation, a new bill—HR861—aims to get rid of the agency altogether. Introduced during the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing “Make the EPA Great Again,” its details are sparse.
Ryan Zinke, Interior Secretary nominee, and Rick Perry, Energy Secretary nominee, were both approved by Senate committee vote last month but await consideration by the full Senate. According to Senator Jon Tester, that could be a bit.
“I think that right now, the priority was put on DeVos, and Price, and on Sessions and Mnuchin, and I think that's where the majority wants to move,” said Tester. “They want to move on those four very controversial ones before they get to Perry and Zinke, and I think Perry and Zinke, neither one of those are near as controversial. I think that they'll go through, it's just a matter of getting them floor-time to send them through.”
New Study Affirms Nonexistence of Global Warming Slowdown Amid Furor Over Earlier Study
A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that in 2015 found no evidence of a warming slowdown over the last decade is under the microscope again. At the time, challenges by climate change doubters prompted a U.S. House of Representatives committee to subpoena the study authors’ e-mails—and the threat of subpoenas was raised again on Sunday by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) who accused NOAA scientists of politically motivated fraud.
Citing statements critical of the 2015 NOAA study (sometimes referred to as the Karl study after lead author Tom Karl) by former National Climatic Data Center scientist John Bates that appeared in The Daily Mail, Smith said, “Dr. Bates’ revelations and NOAA’s obstruction certainly lend credence to what I’ve expected all along—that the Karl study used flawed data, was rushed to publication in an effort to support the president’s climate change agenda, and ignored NOAA’s own standards for scientific study.”
The truth, according to a new analysis of data from ocean buoys, robotic floats, and satellites published in the journal Sciences Advances, is that earlier suggestions of a warming slowdown are incorrect and were the result of measurement error—a confirmation of the NOAA study conclusion.
“Our results mean that essentially NOAA got it right, that they were not cooking the books,” said lead author Zeke Hausfather when the study was published in January.
In Carbon Brief, Hausfather said, “What he [Bates] fails to mention is that the new NOAA results have been validated by independent data from satellites, buoys and Argo floats and that many other independent groups, including Berkeley Earth and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, get effectively the same results.”
To determine whether the 2015 NOAA study findings were correct, Hausfather and his colleagues took an independent look at ocean temperatures. Rather than combine old ship measurements with data from new buoys, as NOAA had done, they created temperature records from individual data sources. They found that—no matter the source, whether satellites, robotic floats, or buoys—the warming ocean trends matched those found in the NOAA study. The conclusion? Oceans have warmed consistently over the previous 50 years, at about 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade.
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.