White House Doubles Down On Coal Despite New Climate Report

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By Tim Daiss

President Trump has spent much of the first two years of his presidency at odds with environmentalists over numerous issues, but now that disagreement also includes the federal government. On Friday, a congressionally mandated government report said that climate change will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, ranging across numerous sectors including health care and infrastructure.

The 1,656-page assessment was written with the help of more than a dozen U.S. government agencies and departments and outlines the projected impact of global warming on every corner of American society in what some have called a dire warning. “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century – more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states,” the report, the Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II, said.

The report added that global warming would disproportionately hurt the poor, broadly undermine human health, damage infrastructure, limit the availability of water, alter coastlines, and boost costs in industries from farming, to fisheries and energy production. However, it offered hope if changes could be made. It said that projections of further damage could change if greenhouse gas emissions are sharply curbed, even though many of the impacts of climate change (including more frequent and more powerful storms, droughts and flooding) are already under way. “Future risks from climate change depend primarily on decisions made today,” it added.

White House counters report

However, the White House has countered the report, calling it inaccurate. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said the new report was “largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that…there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population.” She added that the government’s next update of the National Climate Assessment “gives us the opportunity to provide for a more transparent and data-driven process that includes fuller information on the range of potential scenarios and outcomes.”

The report also comes amid a presidential administration that has been the most pro oil and gas industry on record and one whose policies, particularly rolling back Obama-era environmental policies, have set environmentalists on edge. In mid-2017, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris climate change accord, the only country to have approved the historic accord then withdraw from it.

Scientists who worked on the report said it did not appear that administration officials had tried to alter or suppress its findings. However, several said the timing of its release, at 2 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving, appeared designed to minimize its public impact.

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The report, which was written before California’s recent deadly fires, also says the last few years have smashed records for damaging weather in the U.S., costing nearly $400 billion since 2015. “Warmer and drier conditions have contributed to an increase in large forest fires in the western United States and interior Alaska. “We are seeing the things we said would be happening, happen now in real life,” said report co-author Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University. “As a climate scientist it is almost surreal.” Donald Wuebbles, a co-author of the report, and a University of Illinois climate scientist, said, “We’re going to continue to see severe weather events get stronger and more intense.”

The report is mandated by law every few years and is based on hundreds of previously research studies. It details how global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas is hurting each region of the U.S. and how it impacts different sectors of the economy, including energy and agriculture.

Going long on coal

Despite the report, there is no indication that the Trump administration will alter its policies. In fact, Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign pledge of reviving the country’s coal industry is gaining momentum. In August, the Trump Administration released details of a new energy policy that would disregard regulations on coal-fired power plants. The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule would take power plant emissions standards out of federal hands and put it in the hands of individual states to develop their own plans to cut pollution.

Some fear that the ACE Rule will replace the Obama era Clean Power Plan (CPP) which was supposed to address the problems related to climate change. However, ACE has largely been attacked by coastal states as a weaker plan since it allows individual state the latitude to write their own rules on emissions from coal- fired plants. According to a Reuters report in October, the heads of environmental and energy agencies from 14 mostly coastal states, including California, New York and North Carolina, told the EPA in joint comments that the proposed plan would result in minimal reductions of greenhouse gases, and possibly result in increased emissions, relative to having no federal program on the pollution.

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