By David J. Hayes
December 17, 2020
Here, at the end, the Trump administration has shed the pretense of pursuing an even-handed energy policy. The administration has been quietly sabotaging clean energy initiatives for nearly four years. But its utter disregard for climate change, its related disdain for clean energy, and its heavy hand favoring fossil fuels, are now out in plain sight.
Exhibit A is this week’s decision to sabotage the Vineyard Wind multi-billion dollar offshore wind project — the first in a long queue of major offshore wind projects that are poised to meet northeast and mid-Atlantic states’ huge market demand for clean energy. In a fit of vindictiveness, the Interior Department abruptly “terminated” the processing of Vineyard Wind’s permit — apparently because the company had the temerity to upgrade to the latest American-made wind turbine technology. Earlier, Interior saddled the project with an excessive two-year delay to undertake a “cumulative impacts” environmental review that it routinely ignores for oil and gas projects and since has attempted to eliminate entirely.
Also this week, the Interior Department’s top lawyer issued a legal opinion that gratuitously offered opponents a new legal theory to challenge offshore wind projects, based on 16 pages of dense and ultimately unpersuasive parsing of a single clause in the governing statute. (The Solicitor “doth protest too much, methinks.”)
This week’s incidents follow a long, consistent string of actions that tie together the administration’s denial of climate change, its antipathy for clean energy, and its naked favoritism of the oil and gas industry.
The administration has not lifted a finger, for example, for clean(er) cars, much less for zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). To the contrary, it has rolled back fuel economy standards and is trying to kill the Clean Air Act’s California waiver which, among other things, mandates the phase-in of ZEVs in California, and in the dozen or so large states that follow its ZEV lead.
Likewise, the Energy Department (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have manipulated wholesale electricity market rules to stifle competition and protect incumbent fossil fuel power producers over clean energy upstarts. And DOE and FERC have done little to promote investment in the long distance, high-voltage transmission lines that are needed to unlock stranded renewable energy resources — with DOE going so far as to delay publication of its analysis of the issue — even as DOE and FERC routinely greenlight natural gas and oil pipelines and export facilities. And tax breaks? The administration has fought in Congress against extending tax credits for electric cars and wind and solar energy projects, while defending long-standing oil and gas industry tax giveaways.
The administration’s crusade against energy innovation has bled over into clean energy’s close cousin: energy (and water) efficiency measures that conserve resources and reduce consumer costs. Just yesterday, DOE released three final rules that cynically create, and then exempt, new categories of washers and dryers, dishwashers and showerheads from energy and water efficiency measures that manufacturers have followed for years. Earlier, Trump’s DOE refused to enforce its statutory obligation to phase out grossly inefficient incandescent light bulbs and failed to update dozens of older energy efficiency standards.
Contrast this treatment of clean energy with the administration’s continued coddling of oil and gas energy interests. Just in the last couple of weeks, the Interior Department has run roughshod over multiple legal requirements in the rush to complete a lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before leaving office. And the ink is still drying on the EPA’s final rule that removes all restrictions on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry — despite the industry’s status as the largest source of that “super pollutant” greenhouse gas, and major oil and gas companies’ candid admission that their methane emissions should be regulated.
Thankfully, this parade of horribles will soon come to an end. But history will not look kindly on the Trump administration’s denial of climate change and its outright hostility to the decarbonization imperative. It shouldn’t be so hard to reduce climate pollution and pivot to a clean energy economy. In a few more weeks’ time, it won’t be.
David J. Hayes is a nationally recognized environmental, energy and natural resources lawyer who leads the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center.