Shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th president of the United States, a revamped White House website announced the new administration’s intention.” That same day, Reuters reported that all references to climate change had been removed from the WhiteHouse.gov site, and the Wall Street Journal’s Amy Harder tweeted that the URL to the climate change page had gone dead.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration instructed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its website’s climate change page, which contains links to climate research and detailed data on emissions. The news was reported to Reuters by staffers who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media. One of them said some employees were scrambling to save some of the information on the website (subscription).
“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” an EPA staffer told Reuters.
Yahoo News reported that, late last year, scientists had begun backing up the climate data publicly available on government websites in fear that the data might disappear under Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax.”
But on Wednesday, the Trump administration walked back its directive.
“We’ve been told to stand down,” an EPA employee told E&E News, which reported that administration officials may have been prompted to change course because of the backlash that erupted over its previous instructions. The instructions didn’t go over well with agency employees, said the unnamed EPA staffer, adding that the information is “world class” data. “And it’s true.”
And at a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer commented on reports this week that the White House had curtailed social media use at the EPA, the Interior Department and the Energy Department.
“They haven’t been directed by us to do anything,” Spicer said of the restrictions. “From what I understand,” he added, staffers “have been told within their agencies to adhere to their own policies, but that directive did not come from here.”
Executive Actions Reflect About Face on Climate Change Action
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump acted on campaign promises to remove hurdles to domestic energy development by signing an executive action to advance the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska, linking existing pipelines to carry oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, and a memorandum calling for an expedited review and approval of the Dakota Access pipeline. Both were projects that the Obama administration blocked due in part to environmental concerns, including their influence on greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Trump said both pipelines would be subject to renegotiation and that the materials for them must be sourced from the U.S.
The impact of the orders is likely to be felt first in North Dakota, where Energy Transfer Partners wants to install the final 1,100-foot section of the 1,172-mile pipeline that runs under Lake Oahe, a route that sparked protests after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe raised concerns about potential spills and leaks. The pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota to refineries and pipeline networks in Illinois. The Keystone XL pipeline would also reach those refineries along its route.
Revival of the two pipeline projects (subscription) was Trump’s first action to make good on his America First Energy Plan, presented on a new WhiteHouse.gov web page that has replaced the Obama administration’s climate change web page.
The Climate Action Plan, introduced by Obama in June 2013, outlined plans for the U.S. to cut its carbon pollution, prepare for the effects of climate change, and lead international efforts to address global warming. The brief America First Energy Plan goes in another direction.
“For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry,” it reads. “Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”
Trump’s plan encourages the burning of coal and the use of shale oil and gas. It does not reference solar, wind, or other sustainable energy sources but does offer up a commitment to “clean coal technology.” That term sometimes refers to plants outfitted with “scrubbers” or having the capacity to capture and store carbon emissions, which has reportedly not been demonstrated to work in a cost-effective way.
Trump Cabinet Nominees Acknowledge Some Influence of Humans on Climate Change
At Senate confirmation hearings, President Donald Trump’s picks to run some key federal agencies have said that the climate is changing and that human activity is a factor. The extent of human influence on climate change, they say, is up for study and debate, along with policies that might be needed.
The Washington Post reports that transition officials say that there has been no coordination to get these candidates—Ryan Zinke, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson—on message. “This is an accurate reflection of what they believe, and Cabinet nominees are encouraged to give their opinion on questions when they’re asked,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In opening remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing last Thursday, Rick Perry, Trump’s Energy Secretary pick, acknowledged that his call for the Department of Energy’s elimination, made during his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, was in error.
“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” said Perry. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Like many of Trump’s other cabinet picks, he softened his earlier position on climate change.
“I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity,” said Perry. “The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy or American jobs.”
At his confirmation hearing, Trump’s pick to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, indicated he would give the power to apply environmental rules back to states. However, he also stated that he would review a federal waiver under the Clean Air Act allowing California to set emissions standards for vehicles. The state mandates that 15 percent of new cars by 2025 have zero emissions—a standard that’s stricter than anywhere else in the country.
“That’s what would be evaluated, it’s very difficult, and we shouldn’t prejudge the outcome,” said Pruitt.
There are some hints that in this case giving the power back to states may not align with the new administration’s objectives. On Tuesday Trump told auto executives to increase U.S. production and boost American employment and said that he would cut regulations and taxes to make operating in the U.S. more attractive.
“We’re bringing manufacturing back to the United States big league, we’re reducing taxes very substantially and we’re reducing unnecessary regulations,” Trump said, calling himself an environmentalist, but indicating that environmental regulations are “out of control.”
Some states vowed not to let the new administration roll back environmental efforts. Gov. Jerry Brown stated Wednesday that “California is not turning back. Not now, not ever.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, won approval in a 11–10 vote along party lines from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His nomination now moves to the full Senate, where he needs the support of 51 members for confirmation. That final vote could come as early as next week.
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.