Overnight Energy: EPA chief joins criticism of climate report | Incoming Oklahoma gov taps Pruitt ally for post | Coal plant closures double in Trump’s second year

Overnight Energy: EPA chief joins criticism of climate report | Incoming Oklahoma gov taps Pruitt ally for post | Coal plant closures double in Trump’s second year
© Anna Moneymaker

WHEELER CRITICIZES CLIMATE REPORT: Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler joined others in the Trump administration Wednesday in criticizing last week's major climate change report for describing a "worst-case scenario."

At a Washington Post event, Wheeler said the report "was written in 2016, and was at the direction of the previous administration," speculating that the Obama administration "told the report's authors to take a look at the worst-case scenario for this report."

"I think a lot of the worst-case scenario information in that assessment is what's concerning a lot of people in this administration," he said.

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Wheeler said the latest National Climate Assessment, released last week by the federal government, largely ignored the likelihood that innovations in the future would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, instead assuming that emissions will remain steady.

"I don't think the assessment really took into account the innovation that we've seen and the technological advancement that we've seen in recent years. It basically freezes technology going forward," he said.

The assessment forecast that by 2100, climate change could cause billions of dollars in economic losses -- as much as a 10 percent loss of gross domestic product (GDP) -- and kill thousands of people, among other impacts.

Trump team on same page: Wheeler's critique largely reflects recent comments by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump visits Arlington National Cemetery for wreath-laying Zinke blames 'false' attacks in resignation GOP lawmaker jokes about Trump's next Interior chief: It's going to be Mulvaney MORE and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The EPA chief on Wednesday acknowledged that the worst case was just one of many scenarios the report examined, but he criticized the media for focusing on the worst case.

He argued that even the better cases "downplay innovation, innovation we've already seen in the marketplace."

Read more.

 

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OKLA GOV-ELECT PICKS PRUITT ALLY: Oklahoma Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt (R) on Wednesday tapped a close ally of former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittInterior chief Zinke to leave administration EPA to pursue final 'science transparency' rule in 2019 Trump administration to unveil strategy for fighting lead exposure MORE to be the state's top environmental official.

Ken Wagner, senior adviser for regional and state affairs to acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, joined the EPA last year after he was brought on by Pruitt.

"Wagner is well respected among environment leaders, energy industry experts, and state regulators in neighboring states," Stitt said in a Wednesday statement. "He will play a critical role in advising my administration on policy that encourages robust and responsible development of our natural resources, ensures clean air and clear water for all Oklahomans, and makes our state an example for others to follow."

As secretary of energy and environment, Wagner will oversee numerous state agencies. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) combined the energy and environment roles in 2013. Wagner's position doesn't require confirmation by state lawmakers.

Wagner has for years worked closely with Pruitt, who resigned from the EPA in July under multiple spending and ethics scandals. The two men were in the same University of Tulsa law school class, and Wagner was treasurer of Pruitt's political action committee. Both were part owners of an Oklahoma City minor league baseball team.

Read more about Wagner here.

 

COAL PLANT CLOSURES DOUBLE IN TRUMP'S SECOND YEAR: During his 2016 campaign Trump promised he would end Obama's "war on coal," but nearing the end of his second term, the number of coal plant closures are scheduled to double.

A total of 14.3 GW of coal fired power plant capacity are anticipated to retire in 2018, up from 7.0 GW of capacity retired in 2017, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis released Wednesday.

The future picture is proving just as bleak. There are another 23.1 GW of coal plant retirements has announced or approved for between 2019 and 2024.

Coal's inability to compete in the energy market is a major reason for its decline. Utilities have cited higher costs of maintenance, aging plants and regulatory uncertainty for their decision to close down.

The closures come despite various administration attempts to subsidize the fossil fuel, and promises that coal was key to the government's energy independence goal. The shifting public opinion on coal has also likely added to its demise, with many consumers opting for cleaner forms of energy. Coal is one of the biggest contributors to carbon in the atmosphere--a significant greenhouse gas.

BRAZIL WON'T HOST UN CLIMATE MEETING: Brazil backed out of hosting next year's United Nations climate change summit this week, just a month before the inauguration of far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

The summit was scheduled for November 2019, and the U.N. will now have to find a new venue.

In a statement provided to The New York Times, Brazil's Foreign Ministry said the decision was made to save money. It also cited the "transition process" as Bolsonaro prepares to take office.

The decision to pull out appears to be the latest signal that Brazil is no longer interested in being a leader in fighting climate change.

Read more.

 

ON TAP THURSDAY:

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Alexandra Dunn, Trump's nominee to lead the EPA's chemical office.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's energy subpanel will hold a hearing on more than a dozen bills in its jurisdiction.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Coal ash ponds for nearly all of Illinois's coal-fired power plants are contaminating nearby water, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Patagonia Inc. is donating its $10 million windfall from the GOP tax law to environmental groups, Bloomberg reports.

United Kingdom environment minister Michael Gove says he supports Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal, Reuters reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories ...

- Incoming Oklahoma governor picks Pruitt ally for top environment post

- Brazil backs out of hosting UN climate meeting

- CNN's Sciutto on climate change: 'We don't want to be slowly burned to death'

- Two pipelines in Pennsylvania, Ohio amass more than 800 violations: report

- World's largest pork producer to harness methane gas to fight climate change

- EPA chief criticizes climate report over 'worst-case scenario'