For all his talk of saving the coal industry from the Chinese hoax of climate change, President Donald Trump has exerted only marginal drag so far on the nation’s progress toward the emission-reduction goals set by Barack Obama.
Some of Trump’s environmentally damaging initiatives have been halted in the courts, others have inspired greater efforts by states, cities and businesses, but according to Trevor Houser, leader of the energy and climate team at the Rhodium Group, three of his regulatory rollbacks are bound to take a toll.
The three are:
- Withdrawal of support for Obama’s Clean Power Plan and its proposed replacement by a weaker regulation,
- Efforts to dismantle Obama-era controls on methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and
- The proposal to freeze vehicle fuel-economy standards at their 2020 level instead of allowing them to continue to tighten.
“Those have certainly slowed the pace of decline in U.S. emissions,” Houser said last week in an appearance at the University of Chicago. But “those regulatory rollbacks haven’t been enough yet to completely offset the gains we’re making in technology and policy at the state level.”
Those three rollbacks will reduce U.S. progress toward its 2025 Paris Agreement pledge by 1 to 2 percent, Houser estimated at an event hosted by the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago.
In Paris, the U.S. pledged a reduction of 26-28 percent in carbon emissions from its 2005 levels, and it’s halfway there already. It is on a trajectory for reductions of up to 20 percent by the target date, Houser said. The 1-2 percent lag he attributes to Trump is extrapolated from Rhodium Group research showing the impact of Trump Administration policies out to 2035.
If 1 to 2 percent sounds trivial, that might be what the Trump Administration wants you to think. Trump Administration officials used triviality as a justification for their proposal to freeze the nation’s fuel-economy standards. As the Washington Post reported, “While the proposal would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the impact statement says, that policy would add just a very small drop to a very big, hot bucket.”
By contrast, the Rhodium Group considers Trump’s impact to be highly significant. Had Trump not interfered, the Clean Power Plan might have reduced carbon emissions by up to 2,381 million metric tons between 2022 and 2035. The methane regulation would have removed as much as 697 million metric tons more.
The Rhodium Group expects the fuel-economy rollback to be significant too. It could increase oil consumption by up to 881,000 barrels per day by 2035 and cost motorists an additional $193 to $236 billion cumulatively for gasoline, depending on oil prices. On a cumulative basis, the researchers conclude, the rollback would increase U.S. CO2 emissions by 321 to 931 MMt between 2022 and 2035.
“As far as individual policy actions go, this one is significant,” the group reports. “At our upper bound estimate, the increase in annual CO2 emissions resulting from the [proposed regulation] by 2035 would be larger than the total national annual emissions today of 82% of the countries on earth, and larger than the COMBINED annual CO2 emissions of the 70 smallest countries in the world. In the context of the global effort to address climate change, this [regulation] would be a pretty meaningful setback.”