Trump war on West saps state efforts
On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement.
The action prompted sharp disagreement within the U.S., and some officials resolved not to let Trump settle the matter. Governors and mayors announced they would continue compliance with the agreement and formed the United States Climate Alliance to carry out that policy.
Hundreds of mayors and a growing number of governors signed on. On March 12, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak joined the alliance, making Nevada the 23rd state. Those 23 states account for most of the population of the nation.
This action has not always been welcomed. In Wisconsin, for instance, when Gov. Tony Evers signed up last month, a business lobby group called Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce denounced his action with a prepared statement:
“Complying with the Paris climate accord would cost the U.S. economy 2.7 million jobs—440,000 of which are in manufacturing. Since the state’s largest industry is manufacturing, this will have a devastating impact on Wisconsin. In addition, electricity rates would go through the roof, making it more expensive to live here and more expensive to run a business.”
Sisolak has not faced that kind of harsh indictment. Some businesses with a stake in climate or energy policy—including businesses that would like to slip away from the NV Energy power monopoly—have praised his action.
“In joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, Gov. Sisolak has set the stage to help usher in a clean energy future here in Nevada, an essential step to ensuring a thriving outdoor industry for future generations,” said Patagonia’s Meghan Wolf.
“Nevada’s leadership in statewide carbon reduction will help spur innovation and allow companies like Caesars to meet its sustainability goals,” said Eric Dominguez of Caesars Entertainment Corp.
If there were businesses or business groups that disagreed with Sisolak, they chose to stay silent.
Meanwhile, supporters of the Paris agreement want action to implement Sisolak’s pledge. Initially, that means increasing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 50 percent by 2030. In November, voters approved a ballot measure that requiring that “by calendar year 2030 not less than 50 percent of the total amount of electricity sold by each provider to its retail customers in Nevada comes from renewable energy resources.” So the enactment of implementing statutes is next, and Sisolak has said he will sign it.
At the same time, Sisolak has not committed to the Green New Deal, a Democratic proposal by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts that is intended to deal with both climate change and economic justice issues. Governing, a magazine for policy wonks, has reported that after Democrats in Congress were indifferent to the GND, its supporters “have been turning to states and cities to find support for some of the tenets of a Green New Deal.”
Their first victory has come in Illinois, where the state legislature has enacted a bill that seeks to get the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, an ambitious goal given that the state is at four percent currently. Nevada is currently at about 25 percent.
U.S. Rep Jacky Rosen, who spoke at the Nevada Legislature this week, seems to be one of those congressmembers who is lukewarm on the GND.
“We have to do it in a measured way so that as we go forward, whatever we’re changing … we’ll make sure that we take care of people who might lose jobs or what unintended consequences there are,” she said, adding that she will be working on the issue with Sisolak.
State governments, however, are going to be increasingly limited in what they can do while Trump is in the White House. Aside from his fetish for coal, his new budget is unfriendly both to renewables and to the West. The new Trump budget recommendations released this month attempt to eliminate, for the third time during his term, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which in Nevada provides funding for wildlife habitat, Great Basin National Park, Toiyabe National Forest, historic sites and state and local parks. It’s unlikely Congress will allow the virtual elimination of the program—it has twice rejected Trump’s recommendation—but its funding could be reduced.
Nevada and other states in the intermountain West are deep into energy research and development. And those efforts have had an impact. EcoWatch recently reported, “Power purchase agreements for wind and solar projects in states like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas have reportedly ranged between $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour, well below the cost of natural gas generation—and the technologies are positioned for further cost reductions to continue to be low-cost options even as federal tax incentives change.”
Nearly all nuclear plants are in the east, and the West has been carving out a major renewables effort, which is dependent on federal funding. The Trump recommendations cut $3.7 billion from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In addition, there were sweeping cuts to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Trump called for eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy entirely.
Trump’s $4.7 trillion recommendation for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—key in climate issues—would cut its budget 31 percent. Trump also recommends a four percent cut for the Interior Department and an 11 percent cut for the Energy Department.
Fortunately for Democrats, some of the Trump recommendations are so outlandish that even congressional Republicans, like Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, have been dissing the Trump energy proposals, with some lawmakers in the GOP treating them less than seriously. Nothing hurts more in legislative politics than irrelevance.
But the existence of those recommendations makes it difficult for state legislatures to plan and to appropriate funding. In Nevada, where the legislature meets for only a hundred days every other year, it complicates things enormously.
This week, the National Security Forum of Northern Nevada will bring retired vice admiral Lee Gunn to speak at a breakfast in Reno on national security and “assured” electrical power, specifically the benefits of clean energy in closing vulnerabilities in the nation’s electrical grid. Even with climate skeptic Trump in the White House, the Pentagon is seen as one agency that is moving aggressively to deal with climate issues.