Clean Energy and the Environment in the Age of Pence

October 24, 2017

Increasing speculation on the early retirement of Donald Trump from the presidency naturally leads to thoughts of how federal clean energy and climate programs would fare under President Mike Pence. The short answer, based on his history of public service is not well.

Even should Trump serve his full first term and go the distance as a two-timer, a Pence presidency is within the realm of possibility. Fourteen vice-presidents have gone on to become president, only four have been elected in their own right.

The odds of Pence running for the Oval Office are higher than his gaining it. Six vice presidents have run for the top spot since 1960. They are Nixon (twice), Humphrey, Mondale, G.H.W. Bush, Quayle, and Gore. Only one made it, and he resigned.

Pence’s environmental record strongly suggests his trotting the same path as The Donald. His experience as a congressman, governor and vice president, could make him a more formidable foe of Nature than Trump.

Pence is not only a more polished and experienced politician than Trump; he has a rock-solid relationship with the Republican establishment. Of course, these days membership in the establishment cuts two-ways. Untouchable in his current capacity as Donald’s wing-man, running on his own would likely find him at odds with Steve Bannon.

​Yes, that Steve Bannon–the one who has promised an alt-right jihad against all but one incumbent establishment Republican member of Congress running for re-election in 2018. The one exception being Ted Cruz (R-TX). Yes, that Ted Cruz.

Pence posted Global Warming Disaster (below) to let potential voters know where he stood on the issue. The blurb was published during his first campaign for Congress; he appears not to have changed his opinion since then.

The statement is telling on many levels. Truth is not one of them.

Like many climate change doubters, he is an empiricist. Pence, like his boss and Senator Inhofe (R-OK), sticks his head out on a fine winter’s day to confirm the cold and to declare global warming rumors to have been greatly exaggerated.

Pence does recognize the existence of CO2 greenhouse gases. However, he attributes their presence to volcanoes, hurricanes and underwater geologic displacements. Is he right? Let’s do some math.

  • Volcanoes emit CO2 when they erupt. Volcanic eruptions of the 183 known degassing volcanoes are estimated to spew on average 331 million tons of CO2 per year. A degassing volcano is one that is active with smoking plumes. Mt. Etna, for example, is a such a volcano.
  • There are other types of volcanoes, e.g., active without a plume but release gases through rifts in the earth. Total annual emissions from these are estimated around 123 million tons of carbon dioxide.
  • Volcanic lakes contribute another 94 million tons of CO2.
  • Hydrothermal areas, earthquakes, and inactive volcanoes emit another 66 million tons or so.
  • Carbon dioxide emitted from mid-ocean ridge eruptions is estimated at 97 million tons.

Total estimated CO2 from these sources is 711 million tons as compared to the estimated annual amount of carbon dioxide attributable to human activity of 29 billion tons.


​I couldn’t find any estimated carbon emissions  attributable to hurricanes. Given the magnitude  of destruction of Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, I can imagine that carbon and other greenhouse gases otherwise contained could escape through various channels, e.g., breaks in gas lines, coal ash, and other particulates are blown into the atmosphere.

Even assuming the estimated numbers of the other sources Pence mentioned are off by 500 or a 1000 percent and adding in some amount for hurricanes, the result is the same. Human activity far outweighs the amount of CO2 emitted by the natural events Pence told his constituents.

Secretary of Energy Perry must have been relying on the same scientists as Pence when he said to a CNBC interviewer: most likely the primary control knob [of climate change] is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.  The meaning of Perry’s remarks still eludes observers.  The most charitable interpretation of the statement suggested Perry misunderstood the question.

Pence also warned his constituents the Kyoto protocol would be responsible for the loss of between 12,000 and 100,000 jobs in Indiana alone. He singles out coal mining, while not offering any hint of what the other jobs lost would be.

The way he phrased it was that Indiana mined a lot of coal south of Highway 40 and you can kiss those jobs goodbye. The Kyoto protocol was signed, and there are still mining jobs in Indiana, possibly more than when he made the statement.

Indiana is the 8th largest coal producing state in the Union, so it is easy to understand why Pence would have phrased the statement the way he did. Consider, however, just how many jobs he’s talking about.

The graph below shows the annual number of coal mining jobs in the period 1985 through 2005. Pence made the jobs claim before his first term as the Congressman for Indiana’s 2nd District (2001-2003) at which time Indiana had fewer than 3,000 coal miners. (Indiana Dept of Workforce Development)


The number of miners in the state remained below 3,000 through 2005, the year the Kyoto Protocol came into force. It was signed in 1997 during the Clinton years. However, like Paris, there is a gap between signing and when the required number of nations ratify it and are expected to meet the terms.

In years 2005-2006 the number of Indiana miners was 2,858 and 2,968 respectively. Coal mining jobs in years 2014 and 2015 were 3,810 and 3,311—higher than the year Pence made the claim, or the year the Kyoto Protocol came into force. (Source of the job numbers 2005-06 and 2014-15 Energy Information Administration)

Pence also pulled out the denier’s bromide that carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring phenomenon in nature. The presumption is if Nature produces it how can it be harmful? There are indeed many natural things that have proven harmful to humans and the environment. Radon gas, a known carcinogen, immediately comes to mind. Other naturally occurring phenomena known to have harmful environmental consequences include hurricanes; tornadoes; floods; cow farts; kudzu; et al.

Congressman Pence, in six-terms of service, achieved a lifetime score of 4 out of a possible 100 by the League of Conservation Voters. His clean energy and environmental record as governor wasn’t any better.

Governor Pence, in 2014, told Chuck Todd of MSNBC climate change was a myththe science behind it suspect and unresolved. He acted on this notion once the Clean Power Plan was released in draft form.
Pence wrote President Obama in June 2015. The correspondence was more belligerent and in-your-face than I would have imagined a man of Pence’s sensibilities would write:

If your administration proceeds to finalize the Clean Power Plan, and the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved from the proposed rule, Indiana will not comply. Our state will also reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented. I believe the Clean Power Plan as proposed is a vast overreach of federal power that exceeds the EPA’s proper legal authority and fails to strike the proper balance between the health of the environment and the health of the economy.

Indiana was part of the group of states, including West Virginia and Oklahoma, that sued EPA and obtained the order staying implementation of the CPP from the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). Pence and Pruitt were undoubtedly in communication, as both their states were in the forefront of those looking to block the Plan.

It would not be surprising to learn Pruitt had a hand in suggesting other language in the Pence to Obama letter:

Our nation needs an “all of the above” energy strategy that relies on a variety of different energy sources. Energy policy should promote the safe, environmentally responsible stewardship of our natural resources with the goal of reliable, affordable energy. Your approach to energy policy places environmental concerns above all others….

 …even more important than affordability is the reliability of our energy…Hoosiers need to know that electricity is available when they flip the switch. Reliability becomes a significant concern under your policies. The Clean Power Plan and your administration’s policies seek to deprive Hoosiers of the very energy source that has provided us with reliable electricity for generations: coal. (emphasis added)

Pence’s view that he was just standing up for Indiana’s economy when vowing to ignore the CPP was not universally accepted as an altruistic act of a dedicated servant of the people. According to The Journal Gazette (Ft. Wayne, IN):

When Gov. Mike Pence threw down the gauntlet and said Indiana would not comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, he says he was standing up for Indiana’s economy.

But, he was also standing with big political donors – utilities and coal companies.

Indiana utility companies and related political action committees have given more than $160,000 to Pence’s gubernatorial campaign committee and a huge $1.7 million to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Foundation. Coal companies kicked in an additional $91,000 to the campaign war chest.

Those numbers don’t include donations from individuals in the mining and energy field, including a $25,000 contribution from a Texas man in August. (The Journal Gazette, 9/13/15 and emphasis added)

Pence’s letter to Obama was not the first time he threatened the CPP. In July of 2014, he wrote the Indiana congressional delegation encouraging them to choke off any EPA funding having to do with the proposed regulation.

Governor Pence also helped kill the highly successful energy efficiency program Energizing Indiana. The program was estimated to save 11 million megawatt hours and to create almost 19,000 jobs.

The program was deep-sixed by Republican legislators who argued that the energy efficiency mandates that drove it were too expensive. Pence didn’t sign the legislation ending the program but neither did he veto it. In Indiana, the governor must sign or veto legislation within seven days of transmittal, or it becomes law without his/her signature. The rule is followed by many states, although the time a governor has to sign, or veto varies.

To be fair, VP candidate Pence acknowledged during the 2016 presidential campaign that humans do have some impact on the environment. He never really said, however, what that might be or the difference it makes in the overall scheme of things.

Pence offered an interesting interpretation of the term climate denier in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Mathews. The Vice President suggested the only rejecting going on was in the mainstream media, where there is a denial of the growing skepticism in the scientific community [on] global warming.

Pence is right about one thing, most in the mainstream media do deny the skepticism of the 3 percent of the scientific community who contend global warming is neither happening nor harmful. The mainstream media are not the only ones who disavow the conclusions of the deniers.

Ninety-seven percent or more of the scientific community believes in the reality, threat and anthropogenic causes of global warming. Still, the claim shows some real imagination and a much better command of the English language than Trump. Pence’s statement is certainly more believable than the Chinese pulled a fast one on us.

A translator of Trumpisms, candidate Pence tried to explain what The Big Guy meant when he called climate change a hoax foisted on the world to gain an advantage over U.S. businesses:

What Donald Trump said was a hoax is that bureaucrats in Washington…can control the climate of the Earth. 

The right-standing Republican pitchman from Indiana falls into the fold of seeing climate change as a political philosophy rather than scientific fact. Responding to questions concerning Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, Mike Pence  called the issue of climate change a paramount [issue] for the left.’ 

Pence supports Trump’s desire to do something to bring the nation’s coal sector back from the brink. In this regard, Pence is in lock-step with other senior Trump advisers including Secretary of Energy Perry and EPA Administrator Pruitt.

Perry’s recent letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission suggesting a new rule requiring utilities to keep a 90-day supply of coal on hand has unleashed almost universal condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike. Pence hasn’t made any public statements on the letter, but it would be fair to assume a President Pence would have been supportive of Perry’s plan.

Pruitt recommends eliminating tax supports for solar and wind leaving them to stand on their own to compete against coal and natural gas and other sources, and let utilities make real-time market decisions on those types of things as opposed to being propped up by tax incentives and other types of credits that occur, both [in] the federal level and state level.

As President of the Senate, Pence has given an indication of the types of issues he would support and the personnel appointments he would make as president of the country. He confirmed the controversial nomination of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education, advanced the healthcare bill to the Senate floor for debate,and pushed through a plan to allow states to block funding for planned parenthood.

Not without a sense of humor, Pence has described himself as Rush Limbaugh on decaf. Neither has the Vice President escaped being a topic of others humor. The Onion posted a ridiculous article about Pence wanting to eliminate wasteful spending on environmental programs whose goals include the reckless and misguided federal protection of elk, a species of deer that chooses not to engage in a lifelong monogamous. The story was a take on Pence following Billy Graham’s rule of never eating alone with a woman other than his wife.

Less humorous from an environmental point of view is Pence’s strong ties to the Koch Brothers. It is a collaboration Steve Bannon–the now unleashed attack dog of the alt-right and chief executive of Breitbart–has expressed concern over. A misgiving shared by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

If Pence were to become President for any reason, the government would be run by the Koch brothers—period. He’s been their tool for years.

Pence was a favorite of the Koch Brothers and ultra-conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation and Freedom Partners long before Trump ever grabbed the Republican nomination or won the White House. Establishment Republican conservatives may have misgivings about Trump; they do not exhibit these same feelings about Pence. House Speaker Ryan has said of Pence:

This is a man out of the conservative movement. This is a man who really does know his principles. This is a man who has the courage of his convictions.

The Brothers are renowned for their setting and advocating on behalf of the ultraconservative agenda, including support for fossil fuels, the denial of climate change and opposition to investment and production tax credits for solar, wind and other clean energy technologies. They support several organizations in addition to the Freedom Partners.

As Vice President, Pence was the keynote speaker at the Americans for Prosperity’s (AFP) Defending the American Dream Summit in August 2017. AFP, another Koch Brothers favorite, has 3.2 million members.

In their own words, the organization means to protect the American Dream by fighting each day for lower taxes, less government regulation and economic prosperity for all. In their actions, they opposed the Clean Power Plan and are actively working in consort with other conservative Republican organizations asking Trump and Pruitt to repeal the endangerment finding.

Given Pence’s close association with the Koch Brothers and his consistent refusal to accept the preponderance of scientific evidence of the causes and consequences of global warming, it is fair to assume as President he will continue efforts to prop up the coal industry and work with conservative congressional Republicans to roll back environmental regulations.

Whether stepping in to fill the remainder of a Trump term or gaining the White House through election, President Pence will most assuredly continue dancing with the girl what brung ‘im. A girl who comes from a long and wealthy line of fossil fuel interests. ​

Image credit: From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository/https://twitter.com/SpeakerRyan

Joel Stronberg

Joel B. Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years of experience, based in Washington, DC. He writes about energy and politics in his blog Civil Notion (www.civilnotion.com) and has recently published the book Earth v. TrumpThe Climate Defenders' Guide to Washington Politics based on his commentaries. He has worked extensively in the clean energy fields for public and private sector clients at all levels of government and in Latin America. His specialties include: resiliency; distributed generation and storage; utility regulation; financing mechanisms; sustainable agriculture; and human behavior. Stronberg is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops.

Tags: American politics, environmental regulations