State of the Union Celebrates Energy Production, Ignores Climate Change

In his first State of the Union speech, the words climate and energy barely received a mention from President Donald Trump. What he did say about energy boiled down to only a few sentences.

“We have ended the war on American energy—and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” Trump said. “We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”

It was a statement that New York Times reporters labeled as “misleading” because overall the United States is a net energy importer, although it is projected to be a net energy exporter sometime in the 2020s.

Hints at Trump’s energy priorities were folded into comments about regulatory strategy, with Trump offering that “in our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” The rollbacks include rescission of hydraulic fracturing standards introduced under former President Barack Obama.

The State of the Union speech follows a Sunday interview with British TV personality Piers Morgan in which the president questioned climate science and said the United States could join the Paris Agreement, from which he announced the country’s exit last summer, if it had a “completely different deal” but called the existing agreement a “terrible deal” and a “disaster” for the United States.

State-Level Executive Order, Federal Legislation Focus on Emissions Trading

With an executive order on Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy began the process for New Jersey to re-enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nine-state cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions from electric power plants that former Gov. Chris Christy exited in 2011.

“Leaving RGGI, as it is called by most, made us an outlier in our own neighborhood,” Murphy said. “It signaled a retreat from a comprehensive and collaborative effort to curb the carbon emissions that contributed to climate change.”

The executive order requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) commissioner and the Board of Public Utilities president to immediately begin negotiations with RGGI member states. The DEP also must—within 30 days—create a framework for allocating RGGI funds.

RGGI, the first market-based regulatory program in the United States, is a cooperative effort among states to create a “cap” that sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector—a cap lowered over time to reduce emissions. Power plants that can’t stay under the cap must purchase credits or “emissions allowances” from others that can. Proceeds from the program are used to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects throughout the member states.

In announcing the move to rejoin RGGI, Murphy estimated that New Jersey had lost $279 million in RGGI auction revenue and suggested that re-entry would create jobs by restoring the state as a leader in the green economy.

“Rejoining RGGI is about much more than cutting emissions and strengthening our defense against climate change, he said. “It’s about investing in our future.”

Virginia is presently considering linking with the program that presently partners Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Draft regulations that aim to cap emissions from the state’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and to reduce them 30 percent by 2030 were announced in November.

Also on Monday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Don Beyer introduced the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act. The cap and dividend bill aims to address climate change by gradually reducing carbon emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels through emissions permit auctions held for sellers of oil, coal, and natural gas into the U.S. market. Dividends would be returned to U.S. taxpayers quarterly.

“This legislation puts a price on carbon pollution and returns the proceeds directly to the American people at the same time it accelerates the growth of good paying jobs in clean technologies,” Van Hollen said in a press release.

Study: Offsetting America’s Carbon Footprint through Agriculture

There is general agreement that the technical potential for sequestration of carbon in soil is significant, and some consensus on the magnitude of that potential. A new study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that the world’s farmland soils have the technical potential to offset as much carbon as the United States emits, if lands are managed better. That could mean agriculture’s sequestration potential represents a viable pathway to achieving the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Though some models suggest that farms have the capacity to absorb as much as the carbon equivalent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions annually—roughly 36 gigatons—agricultural land currently absorbs about 0.03 gigatons. The Washington Post highlights this so called “carbon farming,” a reference to farmland that’s not a source of carbon but rather a sink, in a feature on the politics of sustainable agriculture and describes efforts to account for agriculture emissions in a scientifically valid way.

By estimating the potential amount of sequestered carbon in different scenarios, the study in Scientific Reports aims to open up discussion of the agricultural sector’s carbon mitigation potential, which received short shrift in the Paris Agreement but is beginning to garner some thought.

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.

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Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.