Trump EPA 'Cooks the Books' to Hide Benefits of Clean Power Plan
It appears that the Trump administration has seriously underestimated the costly toll of climate change in its efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP) based on a new document released Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The 198-page proposed analysis shows the supposed costs and benefits of undoing the Obama-era climate policy. However, as the Washington Post reported, the document shows that the Scott Pruitt-led EPA puts the cost of one ton of emissions of carbon dioxide between $1 and $6 in the year 2020—a dramatic decrease of the previous administration's 2020 estimate of $45.
This figure is known as the "social cost of carbon"—or the public cost of burning fossil fuels—which guides current energy regulations and possible future mitigation policies.
So how did the Trump EPA get this tiny figure? Mostly by considering the cost of carbon within the U.S., rather than around the world, the Post reported.
"Pruitt has tried to cook the books on science and economics to hide the Clean Power Plan's enormous climate and public health benefits," wrote Kevin Steinberger and Starla Yeh, analysts at the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate & Clean Air program.
"By only examining domestic costs, Pruitt also pretends that climate impacts in the rest of the world will have no secondary effect on the United States. This ignores the warnings of the Department of Defense, which calls climate change a 'threat multiplier.'"
The 2015 Clean Power Plan, which cuts carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's power plants, was not just designed to protect the environment but also to protect human health. Breathing in toxic air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels in known to put people at risk for premature death and other serious health effects like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.
Eighteen prominent national health and medical associations, including the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Medical Association, criticized Pruitt's plan to reverse the CPP as expensive.
"The longer our nation's leaders postpone action to clean up carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases, the more severe the health costs will be," they said in a joint statement.
Steinberger and Yeh note that the Clean Power Plan would produce "tremendous climate and public health benefits that far outweigh its costs," with climate protection and health benefits running to the tune of $34 to $54 billion by 2030. Even when you subtracting the costs of meeting the CPP goals, the net benefits range from $26 to $45 billion, they added.
The EPA defended its proposal and accused the previous administration of faulty math.
"The facts are that the Obama administration's estimates and analysis of costs and benefits was, in multiple areas, highly uncertain and/or controversial," an agency spokesman told the Post.
"The previous administration compared domestic costs against its estimate of global climate benefits," the spokesman continued. "The proposed repeal also presents a scenario looking specifically at domestic climate impacts. EPA is tasked with protecting the environment and human health of this nation, and our alternative analysis reflects that. This administration also returns to long-standing OMB practice by using appropriate discount rates to compare apples to apples when estimating the current value of future scenarios."
But Steinberger and Yeh argue:
"Scott Pruitt effectively engages in outright climate denial by deflating the benefits of climate action, using two methods: (1) ignoring the global impacts of climate change, choosing instead to only account for the impacts in the U.S, and (2) by discounting the well-being of future generations. After his comments earlier this year denying man-made climate change, it should come as no surprise that Pruitt has instructed his Agency to hide the costs of climate change from the public.
Pruitt's attempt to sweep under the rug the harm our pollution causes the rest of the world is wrong for numerous reasons. It's inconsistent with our values. Just as we don't tolerate pollution from one state harming people in another, we know it's wrong for pollution from one country to cause harm in another."
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.