Donald Trump won the US presidential election in a surprise victory last night — and in a campaign cycle that focused little on climate policies.
When Trump takes office in January, however, he’ll have the opportunity to determine the environmental and energy landscape of the US for years to come. He’ll also enter the White House with a Republican-controlled House and Senate whose policies will help determine if US power-sector and manufacturing emissions continue on their downward trajectory.
In addition to the Clean Power Plan, which Trump has vowed to kill, there are several environmental and energy rules under litigation including the Interior Department’s fracking rule, public lands leasing for drilling, the Dakota Access Pipeline, Arctic drilling, Atlantic drilling and others. And on Election Day, 88 lawmakers filed an amicus brief with a federal court asking judges to block the EPA’s controversial Waters of the US rule, which would expand the agency’s regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act.
Trump has reportedly picked climate skeptic Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead the EPA, suggesting that the agency may roll back its strict emissions and water rules implemented under the Obama White House.
So what can businesses expect from a Trump presidency in terms of changes in policy and enforcement of the country’s environmental laws?
“Businesses should expect a more lax regulations on energy consumption and energy efficiency, and fewer incentives for renewables and other alternatives,” Lux Research analyst Yuan-Sheng Yu told Environmental Leader. “Trump’s pledge to promote more oil and gas exploration could help keep down prices, though as long as global oil prices stay low the actual amount of additional production in the US may be modest — despite Trump’s enthusiasm for coal, it will likely remain disadvantaged, particularly if his openness to fracking keeps gas prices low.
This will benefit automakers, heavy industrials and other energy-intensive businesses, Yu said, adding that consumer-facing businesses and large multi-nationals will continue moving forward with their own carbon targets and adopting renewables and energy-efficiency programs in their operations.
“Large companies are still likely to continue pursuing their own renewable and energy-oriented businesses with global markets in mind, and as costs of these solutions come down they will be used here as well, though the US will lag in adoption (and overall emissions will likely rise),” he said.
Last week Lux Research forecast US carbon emissions would be 16 percent higher — or 3.4 billion tons more — after two terms of a Trump presidency than they would after two terms of Hillary Clinton.
Attorney Chris Carr, who chairs global law firm Morrison & Foerster’s environmental and energy group, says energy sourcing in the US will probably not change under Trump’s leadership.
“States will continue to drive renewables growth with RPS, direct access, and net metering, a trend California has led for many years,” Carr told Environmental Leader. “Corporate sourcing of clean and renewable energy will continue to grow. Gas will still be a critical ‘bridge’ fuel, as contemplated by the Clean Power Plan, regardless of what the Supreme Court does when the suit now before the DC Circuit reaches it. The shale revolution will continue to make the US a gas exporter and provide cheap electricity generation domestically; indeed, decommissioning of nuclear plants will only increase the need for gas generation.”
Despite Tump’s pledge to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Carr notes that the US is already ahead on meeting its initial five-year commitment made at COP21. And global momentum behind meeting the climate targets will make it difficult for the US to sideline itself from these discussions.
“This directional continuity on energy and climate will be reinforced by business and investment opportunities, public and consumer demand, and shareholder activism around climate risk,” Carr said. “When battery storage is installed at scale for electricity generated by rooftop solar in commercial buildings in Orange County, California, a tipping point has been reached. That happened two years ago.”