WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2017 - The Trump administration “will issue a new regulation withdrawing the Clean Power Plan” and withdraw “regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.”
The assertion that Donald Trump will reverse President Obama’s signature energy and climate policies comes from Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance and the Institute for Energy Research, two oil-industry-funded think tanks. He previously was an oil industry lobbyist, as federal affairs director at Koch Industries.
Pyle has reason to be confident in his forecast because he’s also head of the Trump transition team for the U.S. Department of Energy. In his recent fund-raising letter that promises the Clean Power Plan’s imminent demise, Pyle also notes that Trump “has promised to cancel the (Paris climate) agreement and stop spending taxpayer dollars on wasteful U.N. climate programs.”
Yet there’s another possibility. Obama’s legacy of rapid growth for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources may continue, but led this time by private industry and a score of determined states rather than by the federal government. Also, competition from cheap wind and solar power and cheap natural gas may trigger continuing coal industry bankruptcies, despite Trump’s promises to reopen shuttered coal mines and power plants.
There’s also a possible middle ground between dismantling the Obama legacy and shifting clean-energy leadership to state governments and the private sector. Attorney Scott Segal, a partner at Bracewell dealing with energy and environmental policy, tells Agri-Pulse that “looks can be deceiving.” He explains that although Trump’s cabinet picks include four men with close ties to fossil fuels – former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for Energy Secretary, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for EPA, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke for Interior, and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State – “they also come from states with significant investments in renewable power.”
Segal points out that “Texas under the lengthy governorship of Rick Perry became the largest wind energy producer in the United States” and that “Perry developed policy to encourage wind expansion and energy efficiency as well.” He adds that Pruitt’s Oklahoma “is the home to a great amount of the production chain for geothermal heat pumps, one of the most widely used renewable technologies in the building envelope across the country.”
Adding that the Trump Organization has invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency in its building projects, Segal says “the President-elect himself acknowledged ‘some connectivity’ between human causes and climate, and has said he would consider his options regarding international climate policy.”
“The market for renewables has continued to grow,” Segal says, “based on improved efficiencies in renewable generation and increased consumer interest in the source of generation.” He expects that Congress, after recently extending tax credits for solar and wind energy, is likely to do the same for geothermal heat pumps, fuel cells, combined heat and power, and other alternative technologies “to keep the playing field level.”
Segal predicts that the regulatory reform promised by Trump will include removing “major obstacles for energy production, pipelines, transmission” while supporting “common-sense changes to the renewable fuel standard.” He says these promised changes will benefit not only fossil fuels but renewable energy as well.
Segal concludes that despite environmentalists’ concerns, “The future of renewable power should still be bright.”
National Biodiesel Board CEO Donnell Rehagen is equally upbeat about the prospects for renewables under Trump. “Like so many others we are eager to see what the coming months and the Trump administration will mean for renewable energy, for tax reform and for the renewable fuel standard,” he tells Agri-Pulse. Because biodiesel is “one of the few truly bipartisan issues,” he says he’s confident the new Congress and new leadership “will continue to support a smart solution that is working for America on so many levels.”
Rehagen expects strong renewables programs to continue at the state level regardless of federal policy, noting that state policies guarantee at least 1 billion gallons in total annual biodiesel sales, up four-fold over the past five years. With that state support to help offset “long-established tax and other incentives for fossil fuels,” he says the biodiesel industry will continue its work to keep prices down while delivering “improved performance, higher lubricity, energy security and environmental benefits.”
Pointing out that Trump has supported biofuels and Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) blending requirements, Rehagen is “hopeful his administration will further strengthen opportunities for America’s advanced biofuel even if his Cabinet is not unanimous on the topic.” His reasoning is that “biodiesel is a key driver of American jobs and energy security, two priorities we know the administration values.”
American Wind Energy Association lobbyist Rob Gramlich tells Agri-Pulse that “we think Mr. Trump will want to keep growing all sources of American-made energy, as promised on the campaign trail, especially those that benefit rural America economically.” He points out that “Wind energy in particular has become a drought-proof cash crop for farmers,” paying rural landowners $222 million in annual lease payments for hosting wind turbines, helping them keep their farms and ranches in the family. He says that along with taxes and other revenues to rural communities from wind projects, “Overall, tens of billions of dollars in private investment are being made in rural America, with more on the way, as 98 percent of wind farms are located in rural communities.”
“Wind power supports 88,000 jobs across all 50 states and polls show the vast majority of Americans, including 77 percent of Trump voters, support keeping it growing,” Gramlich says. “Lower costs and state policy are driving wind energy growth and we expect that to continue.” He concludes that “Keeping the wind energy success story going is one of the best ways this new administration can keep its promise of advancing all forms of energy and increasing U.S. energy independence.”
AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan calls wind power “the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to keep the air clean while keeping electric rates low” and “an economic powerhouse for rural America,” Kiernan said the Trump administration can be expected to support wind and other renewables since they provide precisely what Trump calls for: new jobs and energy security from increasing domestic energy supply.
Calling wind part of an “unstoppable shift to a cleaner energy economy,” Kiernan said “states, where most energy policy is made, are likely to continue their clean energy policies.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a 2016 presidential contender, agrees that states will still be key. He says that if the Trump administration favors fossil fuels, “The American people are going to have to take matters into their own hands and demand, and in their own ways, state by state, transform their energy system away from fossil fuels.”
Significantly, Perry said in a 2009 speech that “Texas is the very picture of a state aggressively seeking its future in alternative energy, through incentives and innovation, not mandates and overreaching regulation.” Now, as Trump’s choice to become the next Energy Secretary, Perry will have a national opportunity to encourage states to play an active role in supporting renewable energy as he did in Texas when he supported wind power and new transmission lines to bring wind from the Texas Panhandle to its major cities. As one result of Perry’s support, Texas now leads the U.S. in total wind generation, meeting more than 12 percent of the state’s electricity demand.
A number of states are actively proving that if the Trump administration won’t take the lead on renewables, state governments will. Last week, Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed Republican legislation that would have turned the state’s renewable energy standard into a voluntary program. Kasich’s veto message warned that limiting the growth of renewables would result in “self-inflicted damage to both our state’s near- and long-term economic competitiveness.”
Ohio’s Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger argued against re-activating Ohio’s renewable energy mandate, which had been frozen since 2014. He said that with the incoming Trump administration likely to act quickly on rescinding federal renewable energy mandates, “We shouldn’t be stuck in a mandate.” But unless Ohio’s House and Senate both vote to override Kasich’s veto, the renewable energy standard restart as of Jan. 1 will require Ohio utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from advanced energy sources by 2025, with half from wind, solar or other renewables.
Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder took similar action in December, signing legislation that increases Michigan’s renewable energy requirement by 5 percent to 15 percent by 2021, sets the goal of meeting 35 percent of state energy needs from energy efficiency and renewables by 2025, and rejects proposed reduced payments to customers for their excess electricity sold to utilities.
Here are other recent state measures that will maintain clean-energy momentum regardless of Trump administration actions:
· California passed legislation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
· Maryland passed legislation signed into law by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan requiring a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2030, as unanimously recommended by the state’s bipartisan Climate Change Commission in 2015.
· Massachusetts passed legislation that includes clean energy procurement and transmission requirements for hydro, wind, solar and other renewable sources, with the goal of meeting up to 40 percent of the state’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2030.
· New York set a target to meet 50 percent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2030, with the goal of reducing emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
· Oregon passed bipartisan legislation to double its renewable portfolio standard from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2040 and requires the state’s two largest utilities to phase out coal generation imports by 2035, creating demand for cleaner energy sources.
· Rhode Island passed legislation that increases the state’s renewable energy standard by 1.5 percent per year, to require 38.5 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2035. Also, Rhode Island now hosts the first offshore wind project in the Western Hemisphere.
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