Trump’s fossil fuel leanings on display
Hopes for positive climate action at the federal level continued to dim last week, as Trump named former Koch Industries lobbyist Thomas Pyle to head the Energy Department transition, and he announced a host of other nominees, whose anti-climate views are catalogued here. An anonymous source “revealed” that Trump’s daughter Ivanka would take on climate change as one of her issues, and she and her father hosted Al Gore for a meeting at Trump Tower—moves whose significance was quickly debunked by Vox and ThinkProgress. Trump’s pro-fossil fuel direction is actually at odds with the views of most of his supporters, according to a poll released last week showing that 75 percent of Trump voters support action to accelerate the use of clean energy. Little help will come from the GOP Congress, as the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee retweeted a misleading story from Breitbart News alleging that global temperatures are cooling. The most cutting response came from Bernie Sanders, who asked, “Where’d you get your Ph.D.? Trump University?”
Army Corps withholds approval from Dakota Pipeline
The Army Corps of Engineers handed a major victory to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its determined supporters last weekend, when it ruled that more detailed study is needed before it grants easements across federal land for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Corps will require a year-long Environmental Impact Statement that considers other possible pipeline routes, punting an ultimate decision on the pipeline to the Trump administration. Trump received $103,000 for his campaign from the CEO of the pipeline’s developer, Energy Transfer Partners, and recently sold a stake he’d owned in the company. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to northern BC, but approved the Trans Mountain Pipeline to the Vancouver area, setting up a fight over indigenous sovereignty, the risk of oil spills, and fossil fuel extraction and worrying MPs of Trudeau’s Liberal Party about public opposition to come.
Megalopolises to ban diesel vehicles; EVs gather steam
The mayors of Paris, Athens, Madrid, and Mexico City intend to ban diesel cars and trucks from their cities by 2025, they announced last week. If those diesels were replaced with electric vehicles, the resulting cleaner air and lighter climate impact would actually come at little to no extra cost per mile even at today’s auto prices, according to the Carboncounter app developed at MIT. That cost per mile reflects a subsidized purchase price for the EVs, because automakers sell them at a loss estimated to average $10,000 per car. They sell the EVs at a loss to meet the Zero Emission Vehicles mandate required under tailpipe emission rules in California and nine other states. At the federal level, the EPA has accelerated its midterm review of the CAFE standards, hoping to lock in the rules that aimed for a 54.5 mpg average new car fleet by 2025.
Illinois to subsidize its nuclear plants
Two economically strapped Illinois nuclear plants will receive a bail-out from state ratepayers in recognition of the carbon-free electricity they provide, thanks to a bill passed last week by the state legislature. The $235 million annual subsidy will save Exelon’s Quad Cities and Clinton plants from closing next year. In return, environmental advocates won a guarantee of retail net metering for rooftop solar and provisions to boost in-state renewables and energy efficiency. In neighboring Indiana, President-elect Trump made hay of Carrier’s decision to keep about 1,000 furnace manufacturing jobs from moving to Mexico, even as reports surfaced that two years ago, Gov. Mike Pence rolled back the state’s energy efficiency standards over protests from Carrier and others that doing so would cost 1,500 jobs.
OPEC reaches deal to cut oil production; price jumps
OPEC countries agreed last week to cut oil production by 1.2 million barrels a day, sending the price of benchmark Brent crude surging from $46 to $53 a barrel. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait promised the lion’s share of the cuts, totaling nearly 1 million barrels between them, which are the first adopted by the cartel in eight years. Oil prices have cratered since mid-2014, when crude sold for $110 a barrel. The effectiveness of the production quotas for OPEC will depend on keeping the price below the point where US oil production leaps again. Meanwhile, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, producer of 2 percent of the world’s oil, told Reuters his firm is planning to diversify further beyond petroleum into the green energy sector.
China’s clean energy transition hiccups
China’s push for solar and wind power has hit a snag: a lack of transmission capacity to wheel the clean power from where it is generated to the urban centers, according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal. A new five-year plan scales back the 2020 goals for new wind power from 120 GW to 80, and the targets for new solar from 107 GW to 67. Meanwhile, the Carbon Tracker Initiative warns that China’s 205 GW of coal plants still under construction—along with 895 GW being operated less than half the time—could lead to half a trillion dollars in stranded assets, as renewables increase and demand growth slows. Across the Himalayas, India opened the world’s largest solar electric plant, covering 10 square kilometers and generating 648 MW.
Glimmers of good news from US, EU, int’l forecasts
The EU is on track to meet its 2020 goal of obtaining 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, says a new report, but it will take further policies for the EU to reach its 2030 target of cutting climate pollution 40 percent below 1990 levels. In the US, coal-fired electricity generation is down, renewables are up, and fuel economy is rising, says the Natural Resource Defense Council’s annual energy report, setting the nation on the path of a clean energy transition. For the world as a whole, the International Energy Agency has boosted its estimates 13 percent for how much renewable energy will be added to global supply—a change its executive director explains in an interview, while also calling for five key areas of global climate action, including reductions in acute air pollution and urban energy waste.
Image: The India One 1 MW solar thermal plant, under construction in Rajasthan. Photo by Brahma Kumaris, via Flickr.