Live long enough in Capital City and you can’t help but gain a feel for what Alice must have felt as she tumbled down the rabbit hole. Had Lewis Carroll been born a century and a half later and needed a city to use as the inspiration for his Wonderland Washington, in the Trump era, might just have filled the bill.
I can hear Donald J. Trump wistfully wishing:
If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?
Yes Donald, I see. I don’t understand, but I see.
As I sat down to write Part 3 of Paris Yearning I had a fairly clear idea of where I would be heading. I made the mistake of checking the evening news stories and, now like Alice, I am a bit disoriented.
Today in Trumpland three events of interest to the clean energy and environmental sectors took place.
“Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited New Zealand today, where despite torrential rains, his motorcade was greeted by a flock of birds—not of the fine feathered variety.”
It was reported that Greenpeace managed to get some hundreds of people to brave the storm and express their opinion of President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris table by raising a middle-finger salute. Not very diplomatic perhaps but eloquent in its way and difficult to report otherwise.
Tillerson defended Trump’s decision:
The US has an extraordinary record of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Possibly unparalleled by anyone else…That’s been done with 50 million more energy consumers than we had in the 1990s with an economy twice as large. So we’re very proud…That’s been done without heavy handed regulation. It’s been (dealt with) by technology, innovation, entrepreneurship. We have every expectation that…will continue. There is no reason to stop.
It is doubtful the Kiwi nation was convinced of the Trump administration’s commitment to combat climate change. For some reasons, I will go into in a moment.
It’s hard to believe—or would be if we hadn’t all fallen down that rabbit hole with Alice—but Tillerson’s New Zealand experience is not the most bizarre occurrence of the day. Leave it to The Donald to one-up his hapless Secretary of State.
Meeting with Republican House and Senate leaders to discuss how they might best move the items of healthcare, tax reform, infrastructure and a FY 2018 budget through the Congressional gauntlet, President Trump suggested adding solar panels to the border wall.
According to The Week three people at the meeting told Axios the President was now thinking of a wall 40 to 50 feet high, a real “beautiful” structure, with solar panels. The electricity that is generated from the panels would be used to pay for the wall’s construction…[and] stressed …this wall would be much better than other walls, which typically are only 14 or 15 feet tall.
The third headline that grabbed my attention was more heartening—certainly more comprehensible. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit gave the EPA until the 15th of June to justify its having halted implementation of a rule requiring it to monitor and reduce methane emissions resulting from oil and gas drilling. The rule was finalized by the Obama administration.
This is the same federal appellate court that recently granted the Administration’s request to hold in abeyance any decisions about the Clean Power Plan still pending—at least until the Agency finishes the review it was ordered to undertake by the president at the end of March.
The case was filed by a green group of organizations including the Sierra Club, NRDC and the Environmental Defense Fund just after EPA had published, in the Federal Register, its intent to stay the rule for 90 days while it thought what it might want to do with it—other than enforce it.
The groups are alleging EPA failed to follow the procedures prescribed for such a temporary suspension. Methane is a much more harmful a greenhouse gas emission than CO2; so harmful, in fact, the Senate refused to follow the House in overturning the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule.
Truth is at a premium in terms of the Trump administration’s explanation of why it chose to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement and what it actually intends to do now that it has. It doesn’t appear, for example, the President has any inclination to use a portion of the $3B President Obama had pledged the U.S. would contribute to the UN Green Climate Fund by 2020.
In the entirely unlikely scenario of the 40-foot border wall covered in PV panels Trump suggested this evening, he gave no indication of how the money would be fronted, only that the wall would pay for itself through the sale of electricity. Neither is there a hint of Administration putting any priority on clean energy or environmental protection in the recently proposed FY 2018 budget.
KYSS: Keep Your Statistics Simple
I want to reiterate the suggestion I made in Parts 1 and 2 to clean energy and climate advocates:
“Keep your use of statistics in arguments simple and straightforward—where possible deal in concepts and some showing of provable intent.”
Remember the numbers don’t always matter much. The President ,and increasingly his surrogates, has never really paid much attention to them.
His supporters believe him. If he says it’s so, then it’s so. Obviously, it is difficult to support a position without some substantiation and that will inevitably involve numbers. Stick to challenging grossly overstated claims that can be attacked by simple logic or substantiation of intent.
The disingenuous nature of The Donald’s promises of what he will do, as much as the fallacies of his assumptions, are responsible for the pushback that seems to be frustrating him to the point of increasing his twitter tirades. Tirades occurring at exactly the time they should be curtailed and now directed at his own advisors.
Two things are occurring which ultimately will result in his losing control of the situation. First, his claims of the bad things he intends to stop and references as the basis for decisions, like pulling out of the Paris Agreement, are becoming increasingly disassociated from readily apparent realities.
For example, the claim he made in his Rose Garden statement last week that coal mines are opening again. We’re having a big opening in two weeks. Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, so many places. A big opening of a brand-new mine. It’s unheard of. For many, many years, that hasn’t happened. They asked me if I’d go. I’m going to try.
It’s simply not true, at least to the extent implied. What’s more, the mines that are opening are tiny, covering 20 to 300 acres, and many of them will be producing metallurgical coal for the steel industry, not for generating electricity.
There is a mine opening in June in Pennsylvania, as he had mentioned in his statement. It is the Acosta Deep Mine near Somerset. It will employ 70 workers—not all miners—and produce under 400K tons a year. Sounds like a lot—but not when compared to the nation’s largest coal mines with annual production of around 100M tons annually.
These numbers are easily validated, as is coal’s inability to compete economically with natural gas for the generation of electricity. It’s not as if the natural gas industry isn’t subject to regulation—even under a Trump regime—either by what will be left of federal protections, state protections and court ordered protections as may be true in the methane case mentioned above.
Trump’s willingness to throw alternative facts out no matter how inflated or simply false and his increasing attacks of his own appointees, e.g. Jeff Sessions, are causing others to follow suit. Administrator Pruitt of the EPA made the rounds of Sunday talk shows and made a number of outlandish claims.
On This Week on ABC he stated the coal industry had over 50,000 jobs since last quarter — coal jobs, mining jobs — created in this country. He repeated similar claims over on NBC and around town.
Why is this an outlandish assertion? First, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates there are currently only 51,000 jobs in total in the coal industry. The figures for the first quarter of 2017 did show an increase of 6 percent or so of all coal-related jobs in Central Appalachia in the first quarter of the year—but that was off a base of around 15,000.
The increase during the period was less than a thousand—which is good for Central Appalachia; and the number is consistent with the 70 workers going back to work in the Somerset, Pennsylvania mine.
You don’t have to be a statistician to know that if 50,000 coal miners were put back to work in just the past few months, mine owners and workers would be slavish in their praise and thanks of the President. The number would also have shown up in the monthly job growth numbers—which in May was less than 140K for all sectors.
And, of course, coal-state Representatives and Senators would be speechifyin’ all over the place. When’s the last time you heard praise for President Trump from any of these quarters?
The President has made a number of promises that will require funding to keep; funding that seems not to be found in his proposed FY 2018 budget. To jump ahead for a minute, I understand the FY 2018 budget likely to pass will not bear much resemblance to the one prepared by OMB Director Mulvaney and recently sent up to Capitol Hill. It is likely to be a repeat of Congress’s action in the passage of the Omnibus 2017 ½ legislation finally passed in March.
Once again this is a case of the numbers not being nearly as important as what it is they reflect—as in The Donald’s priorities. It also reflects the competency of the Trump budget office and Director Mulvaney even to prepare a budget.
To the question of OMB’s competency. Almost within minutes of its delivery on The Hill, the Trump budget was being ripped for several major mistakes. The most heinous of which were:
- Failing to account for TRILLIONS of dollars of lost revenues due to the proposed tax cuts.
- Predicting a growth rate unlikely ever to be sustained for the period promised by any historic measure.
In the first instance OMB preparers simply didn’t use what amounts to a net income figure. It’s what all of us live by—net not gross income. Mulvaney seemed to think it was OK to cut taxes—actual revenues in—without adjusting projected future revenues.
This is budgeting 101. According the Atlantic the budget fails to properly use what is called dynamic scoring, which tries to capture how policy changes will affect future revenues. In the budget, the administration forecasts healthy economic growth in the years ahead—specifically, that the economy will grow at a rate of three percent annually in many of the coming years.
The second mistake is significanly over-estimating how stimulative the proposed tax cuts—mostly to corporations and high-income taxpayers—will be to the economy, without considering that tax cuts are actually expenses.
The former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Obama explains it this way:
Even if you accept that the tax cut will unleash all this growth [3 to 4 percent annually], the budget somehow forgot to include the cost of the tax cut that is producing all of that growth.
This isn’t a matter of politics; it is a matter of accepted accounting practices and sustainable historic growth rates.
Trump, Pruitt and Tillerson, among others, have made a number of compensatory promises in an effort to assuage concerns of the President’s actual commitment to a sustainable environment. These include:
- Developing/exporting clean coal technology, presumably Carbon Capture and Sequestration;
- Continuing to reduce the national carbon footprint at a rate like what has occurred over the past decade and a half;
- Promising the cleanest air and water in the world.
The issue for the President, his administration and supporters is how they plan to make these things happen–given a flawed budget proposal that cuts environmental regulation by 30 percent or more, clean energy research by nearly 20 percent, does not provide for carbon capture and slashes scientific research and development, as well as needed monitoring programs.
Ask publicly if what Mr. Trump and company have put together is a clear and capable business plan? His reputation is built upon his management ability and business acumen. What would he say to an apprentice that brought him what he is now trying to pass off?
This should be an easy standard for him to meet. The approach doesn’t require accomplishing anything more than a clear, consistent and realistic planning document. A business plan that sets out goals, objectives, pathways and milestones.
If he doesn’t consider the commercial development of carbon sequestration a priority, then all he and his team must say is: it’s not a priority. The same goes for his other promises.
Even if it’s not the business case we might want proven, a bit of honesty may go a long way in calming the debate. Rather than complicating, perhaps a bit of simplification is in order?
I am not suggesting that other courses of action, e.g. legal challenges and campaigning for climate defenders, should be abandoned. I am suggesting, where possible, to consider simplifying some of the dialogue. I sometimes think in an effort to convince we confuse; what I call substance abuse.
Let’s make this more about the President’s abilities and performance. In doing so, I think it possible to turn what he has claimed to be his strength into an acknowledged weakness.
Illustration: Robert Ingpen/http://www.fairyroom.ru/?p=10917 . Also on Pinterest 1651 best images about Alice in wonderland on Pinterest