Scott Pruitt has been confirmed and is now the Administrator of the USEPA. His history and stated opinions about environmental compliance are different from probably every previous Administrator. What are the implications for us environmental professionals?
During the campaign, Donald Trump spoke robustly about his disdain for environmental regulations, probably because of the costs and delays he had to endure as a real estate developer. He clearly believes in removing barriers to short-term business growth and that complying with environmental regulations is one example. He has also stated a belief in using whatever source of energy is most convenient, cheaper, and home-grown, and not concerned about whether it is cleaner or not. Finally, President Trump has expressed strong skepticism about the science of climate change, although he has moderated his stance more recently. Scott Pruitt appears to mirror these beliefs of the President, and has shown to perform actions to argue against environmental laws to help industry produce more, faster, with less to clean up.
Therefore, we can expect to see an attempt to boost production of US-produced coal, natural gas and oil. While Pruitt may attempt to remove environmental barriers to business and energy growth, there are other factors at play, such as a nation with an oversupply of cheap oil from domestic producers looking for markets and foreign companies needing the revenues. Plus, we already have an excess of natural gas due to fracking. Even if environmental rules are relaxed, coal may well be the source of energy left out because of the large cost to mine and process it and to combust it.
As this is written, it appears to be a certainty that President Trump will issue executive orders to keep older coal plants competitive and to repeal (or never put in place) the Clean Power Plan, meant to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Clean Power Plan was written and signed into law by President Obama as the US’s response to the Paris Climate Conference to reduce GHG emissions significantly.
Administrator Pruitt has written that he believes that it should be more the states and less the federal USEPA that make most environmental decisions as they are closer to the impacted populations than a Washington bureaucracy. The problem with this is that pollutants know no borders and can drift and impact the health of people in other states.
Ultimately, President Trump and Administrator Pruitt value business growth and the American jobs that will come from them more than cleaner air, a more stable climate, etc. They believe that this is a zero-sum game and that you cannot have good business growth while respecting the environment. This despite the calls of hundreds of major American companies to retain many current federal environmental rules and of a growing number of Republicans to introduce a carbon tax with the proceeds returned to the public to reduce GHG emissions. Even major oil industries, which are big in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma, have put out statements in favor of a carbon tax to replace the patchwork of international climate change rules. They well may favor this, too, because many also produce and sell natural gas and many are investing in renewable energy.
Another concern for all of us in the industry is the research and development function of the USEPA. There is talk that Administrator Pruitt will end or greatly reduce the research funding that the USEPA provides, research into alternative ways to treat contaminated air, soil, etc. and cleaner energy, not to mention the communication of such advances. All to reduce the budget deficit. Some Republicans have said that it is not right to “bet” public money on certain technologies. On the other hand, that little upfront funding has resulted in breakthrough technologies that are cheaper than older ones. There is a long history of federal funding of new technologies, such as through NASA. It is almost certain that Administrator Pruitt will cut some R&D; how much is the question. Might there be enough private money to continue such research, such as sponsored by Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and others?
Perhaps the biggest concern about the new administration of the nation and energy and environmental policy is whether it will be taken over and impacted by idealogues or whether some practicality and stability will remain. There has been talk about eliminating an agency; the Dept of Energy is now being headed by Rick Perry, someone who called for its elimination a short time ago. It is not likely to happen because Energy oversees nuclear weapons and the public would not allow scenes that are in the news recently of people in China, India, Poland, and other countries having to walk around with masks on during routine walks and travel. It is likely that the new administration will cut down on regulations and their enforcement, but keep enough on the books to save companies compliance fees, but not cause a catastrophic deterioration of quality of life. Of course, if they miscalculate and an accident happens, the tide can turn. Also, it is certainly important and proven that being energy efficient and conserving the environment makes good economic sense to all businesses.
It is unlikely that even repealing many existing rules and paring back the operations of the agencies will impact us in the long-term. Energy and environmental issues will not go away; neither will ignoring climate change. In fact, more private businesses – in a competitive field – understand good environmental policy is good business. And we professionals will be needed to implement the best science to move forward.
CCES has the experts to keep you abreast of changes in environmental and energy rules and their impacts to your operations. We can perform the technical assessments for you to determine compliance and recommend appropriate, cost-effective technical strategies. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.