Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Trump Administration's Recent Failures on Plastic, the Arctic and Efficiency

The Trump administration is on the wrong side of a wide range of global issues. This administration defies the global consensus on climate change. They have eradicated  at least 40 regulations and they have hurt the renewable energy industry while supporting fossil fuels.

Even though we are approaching the point of no return on the climate crisis Trump has said he wants to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. In the wake of reports on unprecedented biodiversity loss this administration is enacting policies that are killing wildlife and hastening its extinction.

Most recently the administration made headlines for refusing to join the international community in its efforts to address the problem of plastic waste and refusing to sign a brief on the Arctic because it includes references to climate change, they have even rolled back Obama era light bulb efficiency standards.

With the exception of the Trump administration almost every government in the world has agreed to address the issue of dumping plastic waste at a UN-backed convention in Geneva, Switzerland. A total of 187 countries agreed to control the movement of plastic waste across national borders. The new agreement will add plastic to the Basel Convention which regulates the movement of hazardous materials. Although the US is not a signatory they will be bound by the agreement if they try to move plastic waste out of the US.

The Trump administration also refused to sign an Arctic Council declaration protecting the Arctic because it references climate change. This is the first time that the Arctic Council has cancelled a declaration since its inception. The eight nations on the Arctic Council met in Rovaniemi in Finland with the hope of being able to minimize climate damage in the far north and to find a sustainable development path for resource extraction in the vulnerable region.

The US specifically objected to references to climate change as a serious threat. In his address Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed climate change in the Arctic and particularly melting sea ice. He said it makes the Arctic a "21st century Suez and Panama Canals," that will afford new opportunities for trade. Pompeo is likely eying the regions fossil fuel reserves. Pompeo specifically referred to the fact that the Arctic contains 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas. He also mentioned other Arctic resources including uranium, rare earth minerals, gold and diamonds. At one point Pompeo even mocked the Paris Agreement.

It is hard to imagine that Pompeo is genuinely misguided about the deleterious effects of climate impacts on the Arctic which includes interfering with global weather patterns. The region is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. The resultant fires and melting permafrost could trigger tipping points from which we may not be able to recover. It is more likely that he is parroting his boss who has previously tried to open the Arctic Ocean and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for hydrocarbons.

It would appear that this administration wants to ferret out everything that reduces energy demand including light bulb standards first enacted under the George W. Bush presidency. This is an administration that has adopted what can only be called an energy inefficiency policy.

However, states see value in efficiency and they are resisting the Department of Energy's proposals that would eliminate efficiency standards. This bipartisan resistance is coming from states like Vermont, Washington and Colorado all of which passed bills designed to protect the lighting efficiency standards.

Why would you want to do away with standards that reduces energy demand and saves the average household more than $100 each year?

"The idea that we are returning to some by-gone era is nonsense," Clark R. Silcox, general counsel for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), was quoted as writing by the Hill. "Yes, there is still a little way more to go to this lighting market transformation, but this is not the ‘nightmare’ nor is it as ‘bad economically’ that some of our colleagues in the energy efficiency community are portraying."

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