Trump’s Pending Repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan


Not so easy because of the EPA Endangerment finding on carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act

Trump has declared that he is repealing the Clean Power Plan, an administrative policy issued by President Obama.  That Plan was designed to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by lowering the carbon dioxide (CO2) from power generators, especially coal plants. States had the flexibility to devise plans best suited to their needs.  Options included: increasing the generation efficiency of existing fossil fuel plants; substituting lower CO2 emitting natural gas generation for coal powered generation; or substituting generation from new zero carbon dioxide emitting renewable sources for fossil fuel powered generation.  States could use regionally available low carbon generation sources when substituting for in-state coal generation and coordinate with other states to develop multi-state plans.  That is, they could get credits, or an off-set, by adopting renewable energy sources at sites other than the polluting plant.

The clear intent was to move power generation away from polluting coal plants to natural gas and renewable energy, as well as to enhance energy conservation.

The problem for the Trump administration is that it cannot simply repeal the Plan, although it was based on an executive action, without replacing it with some regulation addressing the environmental and health effects from CO2 emissions.  The New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, and others have indicated they will sue the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over this action.  That lawsuit will certainly be based, in part, on the so-called Endangerment Finding issued by EPA under President Obama (December 2009), and that Finding grows out of litigation against the EPA under President George W. Bush.

The Clean Air Act requires that EPA set emission standards for any air “pollutant” that endangers public health or welfare. When the Bush administration refused to regulate CO2 emissions, arguing that CO2 is not a pollutant, a number of states, including the New York State Attorney General, cities and environmental organisations filed a lawsuit claiming that EPA was in breach of the Clean Air Act. (The author was an Assistant Attorney General, in the Environmental Protection Bureau, of the NY State AG Office at that time although not directly involved in this litigation.)







After rulings by several lower federal courts, the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), the Supreme Court held that greenhouse gases (GHGs), including CO2, are “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act.   The Court also rejected a “laundry list” of other reasons for inaction advanced by the Bush Administration as not consistent with the relevant provisions of Clean Air Act, which require regulation when EPA finds that emissions of a pollutant endanger public health or welfare.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Barack Obama was elected as President, and a new, more environmentally-friendly EPA was constituted after Obama took office in January 2009.   On December 15, 2009, the EPA determined, based upon a careful review of the scientific record, that greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations – an action that the D.C. Circuit Court upheld.

The Endangerment Finding (“Finding”) held that:  greenhouse gas pollution generated by human activity is causing climate change; that greenhouse gas pollution will endanger public health; and, that greenhouse gas pollution will endanger public welfare.  Those basic tenets of the Finding, that was upheld by the D.C. Circuit court, directly contradict the fundamental basis on which Trump and other Republican party members deny the reality of climate change.


The Trump administration could try to overturn the Finding, on the grounds presumably that it is not supported by facts or science.  But that is likely an impossible task as the overwhelming consensus by the scientific community, including over 95% of peer-reviewed literature, supports the Finding.   While the supporters of fossil fuel interests in Congress continue to turn a blind eye to the consensus on climate change, federal courts will not easily ignore such a record.

Absent overturning the Finding, Trump will have to replace the Clean Power Plan with a different way of regulating GHG emissions from power plants, including coal plants.  While his administration will of course look for a softer, less burdensome regulation, any such effort will be subject to public consultation and judicial review.  Any repeal and replacement may also be subject to Congressional approval, as was the efforts to repeal (and maybe replace) Obamacare, and we know where that went.







All of this will take time and may not be completed by 2018, when the Democrats have a shot at wining back the House, or by 2020, when Trump may be returning to real estate practice or a new reality TV show, “I’m Still the Greatest President.”  A Democratic President in 2020, if not a Democratic House in 2018, would most likely halt any repeal and replace, and re-instate the Clean Power Plan or something even more onerous for power generators.

Despite Trump’s fake tough talk, there is a lot of uncertainty about federal regulations of GHGs, even while states and cities move increasingly more toward a low-carbon economy.

Such uncertainty disturbs most businesses.

More and more of the larger businesses and public authorities accept the basic tenets of climate change, as adopted in the Finding, as well as the need for and economic benefits of renewable energy sources.  They also recognise that renewable energy is the wave of the future for energy and the economy, and that the future is here already.

For example, the State of Arkansas was one of the parties that challenged in court the Clean Power Plan.  Yet the State Public Service Commission, responsible for regulating power plants, is shifting from coal to natural gas, and exploring clean energy options.  The Chairman of the Commission acknowledged that even if the Clean Power Plan is repealed or replaced “with something that doesn’t require us to do very much, you still have to reckon with the fact that ultimately regulations on carbon are coming.”  (Emphasis added)  He added: “You can either be prepared or unprepared … and that’s a pretty simple choice.”  (See Sources: NY Times).

Many of those who resist climate change actions, like the Clean Power Plan, understand that the movement to a low-carbon, or even carbon-free, energy sector and economy is inevitable.  Renewable energy sources and technological developments are ensuring that.

But some of these also know that every year they delay that inevitability, they save enormous sums of money that they have invested, and continue to invest, in fossil fuels.  One suspects that even the Koch Brothers understand this reality.

So like the tobacco industry campaign to fight regulation of cigarette smoking, delay is the name of the game for fossil fuel interests, and their political supporters, even they know the game is essentially over.


Lisa Freidman and Bras Plumer, “E.P.A. Announces Repeal of Major Obama-Era Carbon Emissions Rule” The New York Times (9 October 2017).

David Roberts, “The GOP wants to repeal Obama’s climate plan. Like health care, it’s going to be a fiasco,” Vox (10 October 2017).

Environmental Defense Fund, Overview of EPA Endangerment Finding.




Irish Ambassadors and Champions of Climate Change

Coming soon to a community near you

Recently there has been an announcement about a new program for Ambassadors of climate change to work with secondary schools, college campuses and communities across the Republic of Ireland, co-ordinated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce, with support from the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment. The Environmental Education Unit also operates the widely successful Green Schools, Blue Flag, Green Campus, Clean Coasts and National Spring Clean programs.

Around the same time there has been an announcement of the development of a Cool Planet Climate Champion program sponsored by Cool Plant Experience and the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).   The program will select and train 26 Champions, presumably one champion appointed for each of the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland.










The impetus for both seems to come from the recognition that the general public in Ireland, as elsewhere, needs more exposure to the fundamentals of the problems of climate change, and how they can be understood and addressed. There also seems to be a shared assumption that using climate change experts to reach the public, through national forums (conferences and media appearances), has not been sufficient to build a consensus for the need for progressive climate policies and actions.  More direct engagement with the public, in their own communities or schools, from spokespersons closely tied to those communities is what is needed to address climate change. This focus on citizen engagement is also reflected in the on-going Ireland’s Citizens Assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 people representative of the Irish electorate examining a number of critical “political” issues, including abortion, fixed term parliaments, referendums, population ageing, and climate change. And perhaps the development of the Public Participation Networks in local governments also reflects this focus on citizen engagement. See iePEDIA in Sources.

Cool Planet Champions will be selected from those who apply and are over 18 and have a passion for making a difference to people in their local community. The deadline for applying is October 9, 2017.  The An Taisce Climate Ambassadors program is open to secondary level students, college students and members of the wider community who are 18 or older.  The deadline for applying is October 20, 2017.

The Cool Planet program selection process requires that applicants submit a video of no more than 2 minutes about themselves and why they would make a great Cool Planet Champion. Presumably such a requirement will appeal to younger, more technically capable citizens who own or have access to a video camera (including smart phones) and know how to shoot, edit and deliver the video electronically.  An Taisce requires its applicants to submit electronically written answers to questions.

The training for both programs is similar: material covering all dimensions of climate change, including causes, effects and solutions, as well as skills in communication. The Cool Planet Champions will receive a weekend of training, with complimentary room and board, at the Powerscourt Estate in county Wicklow, the home of Cool Planet experience.   The communications trainng will be provided, in part, by Dr. Cara Augustenborg and Raoul Empey, participants in Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and Climate Talk Ireland.




Champions – St Francis Assisi by Giotto




An Taisce Ambassadors will be obliged to implement 4 actions, over a year period, within schools or campuses or communities. An Taisce offers examples of a wide variety of actions on climate change that Ambassadors can apply or adapt to their local communities, or use to develop other actions, with support and advice from An Taisce’s Climate Action Officers. The Cool Planet Champions will be responsible for delivering 10 climate talks in their county, to schools, businesses or the general public.


Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Assuming the selection process leads to a broad spectrum of Ambassadors/Champions, the possibilities seem unlimited. What will be interesting is to see how Champions/Ambassadors from different regions and different backgrounds respond to the perceived needs of their communities. What flies in Cork may die in Donegal.

Another interesting issue is how the training program prepares the Ambassadors/Champions to handle the contributions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to climate change from the transportation and agricultural sectors, two leading contributors. While addressing these sectors can be politically sensitive, at times explosive, they are also central to confronting Ireland’s obligations to reduce GHGs. If anything needs to be talked about, it is these two sectors.

Yet it is expecting a lot of these Champions/Ambassadors to be trained in all aspects of climate change, in a day or weekend, and then to be turned loose on their communities, albeit with some guidance and advice from program staff, to communicate and advocate the need for reduced emissions from all those in their audience who drive and/or farm.

Finally, those of us who have talking about climate change for some time understand that whatever we have all been doing so far, it has not worked well enough. Any attempt to open lines of communication between those committed to dealing with climate change and those in the wider community, is to be applauded.

Keep an eye on these two imaginative initiatives.



An Taisce, Climate Ambassador

Cool Planet Climate Champions

“Public Participation Networks” in iePEDIA section of irish environment online magazine




Trump’s climate policies are putting us all at increased, significant risk

At least at the same time he is shooting himself in the foot

Trump (a/k/a T-Rex) has set in motion the destruction of his prized real estate jewel, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.  The good news for T-Rex is that he will be dead when the destruction occurs, unless Steve Bannon actually possesses evil powers and somehow keeps T-Rex alive, forever.  The bad news is that his kids and grandkids will pay the price.

T-Rex has axed a whole range of Obama environmental-protection regulation and efforts, and he has declared that the US is withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

One axe has fallen on an executive order that Obama issued that required federal agencies to account for sea-level rise and extreme weather events when making grants and plans for building any infrastructure.   The rationale is simple enough.  Why build infrastructure, like bridges and coastal defense systems, for the future unless you build something that will survive changing climate conditions, like sea level rise and extreme weather events.  If you don’t account for such developments, the money spent will be wasted, as will the lives of those who will depend on the protections allegedly offered by such infrastructure.

Another axe is about to fall, and will add to the injuries from the first axe.  The future conditions, that will likely occur and have to be accounted for, are assessed in the US Climate Science Special Report.  The report is currently pending before various federal agencies and the T-Rex White House (or more appropriately, the Dark House).  This Report, and its possible future application, is discussed in some detail in the Reports section of the current issue of irish environment.  The report assesses the current and future impacts from the human-induced climate change that is rapidly unfolding.  In a worse case scenario, it is expected that global mean sea level (GMSL) could rise as high as 8 feet (2.4 m) by 2100.

In another recent study, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has projected a worse case of a 10-12-foot rise in sea level by 2100.  The probability of such extreme rises may be difficult to estimate, but it is disturbing that it can happen, as a result of the unfolding impacts from climate change.  Florida will be most vulnerable to such sea level rises.






Florida with 10-foot rise




If there is no planning that accounts for the sea level rise, and if the T- Rex administration ignores or undermines the pending Climate Science Special Report, then here is what Mar-a-Lago would look like in 2100, assuming a 10-foot rise.

A fitting watery grave for T-Rex’s real estate jewel.   Unfortunately, all his neighbors will suffer as well.

But does he care?


Sarah Frostenson and Eliza Barclay, “Trump axed a rule that would help protect coastal properties like Mar-a-Lago from flooding,” Vox (19 August 2017).

Juliet Eilerin, “The Trump administration just disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change,” The Washington Post (20 August 2017).





Inequality is bad for the environment


And the environment is bad for inequality


Inequality impacts on the environment

One way of understanding inequality between countries is by adopting a measure of the ratio between the best-off tenth to the worst-off tenth of the population.  The higher the ratio, the more inequality there is in the country.  In more equal countries there is a more balanced distribution of wealth.  It is not a comparison between rich countries versus poor countries.

Studies have shown that the most unequal affluent countries contribute more to a range of environmental problems than their more equal counterparts.  This is because people in higher unequal countries: produce and consume more, eat more meat per person by weight, waste more energy and heat and water for personal use.  They also contribute more to climate change through their higher emission of carbon dioxide (CO2).   

In more unequal countries, for instance, there are more products that are designed for a short life cycle, which produces greater profits and more waste.  The poor in unequal countries tend to eat cheap fast food, largely meat, in part because it is widely available.  The more affluent in these unequal countries have access to even better meat and lots of it, so that obesity becomes a major health problem.

People in unequal countries, on average, consume more water for personal use, or are more wasteful.  For instance, water consumption per person in the US is 3.5 times higher than in Germany.

In most unequal countries, the “car is king” for transport.  Obesity is a problem not only because of lots of meat but also because the people spend lots of time in their cars.  In the US, for instance, less than 5% cycle or walk to work compared to 50% in the Netherlands.  And the people in unequal countries, like the US and Canada, also consume more than double the amount of gasoline as in other affluent countries.

In general, the more unequal the rich country is, the more CO2 is emitted.  For example, people in the US emit more CO2 than any other of 25 rich countries, with emissions per person twice those of the Japanese and three times those of the French.

While the rich in unequal countries waste heat and power because cost is not determinative of use, the poor in such countries use power inefficiently because they cannot afford to retrofit their homes.


Environmental impacts on inequality

The relation between inequality and the environment is a two-way street.  Just as inequality has direct impacts on the environment, the environment, and particularly climate change, can deepen or aggravate inequality.

Generally, a 1% Celsius (C) temperature rise will cost the US economy 1.2 % in lost gross national product (GNP), on average.  But that loss will be felt much more sharply in different parts of the US.  The poorest 100 of the counties in the US will lose on average about 11% of their gross domestic product (GDP) if temperatures increase by 5°C by 2100, based on analysis of impacts on agriculture, crime, coastal storms, energy use, climate-related deaths, and disrupted working conditions.  At the same time, the richest counties in the US are projected to lose only about 1% of their county GDP.

States in the south and lower mid-west are the poorest parts of the US and they will become the warmest parts of the country, leading to increasingly worse heat waves.  Further warming will aggravate the already existing disparity between poor and rich in these states.

While states like Texas, Louisiana and Georgia will feel the adverse impacts from climate change, Florida remains the poster child.   Union County Florida is the poorest county in the state and it is projected to lose 27% of income by 2100, and summer highs will rise from 90° to 95°.  That increase in high temperature is considered a tipping point that will lead to more heat-related deaths, and a drop in labor productivity, as well as more violent crime.

At the same time, states in New England and the pacific north-west, already more economically advantaged than southern states, will experience somewhat warmer conditions that will lead to fewer deaths from cold winters and allow more crops to grow.


One factor in this growing disparity is that in unequal countries the attitude often prevails that people are entitled to do what they want irrespective of the consequences on others, usually less fortunate.  Such an attitude can develop where pay differentials and the highest incomes are quite high and there is often little empathy from those who have toward those who do not.  In effect, the rich assume the power to pollute the environment of poorer people.

We should not be surprised at these impacts as we have seen how inequality is also insidious when it comes to armed conflict.  Security agencies in the US and Europe, and elsewhere, have long understood that: “Poverty reduces the opportunity cost of violence. Scarcity intensifies competition over resources. Inequality pits have-nots against haves. And poor states are weaker — less able to contain conflict once it breaks out.”  See Porter, New York Times.

These lessons seem totally lost on T-Rex (a/k/a Trump) as he is gutting international development aid to poorer countries in favor of arms “deals” at the same time he has announced that the US is withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord.   Both actions will make this earth a more vulnerable place. 


Danny Dorling, “Is inequality bad for the environment? From buying stuff to eating meat to wasting water, there is growing evidence that countries with a bigger gap between rich and poor do more harm to the planet and its climate,” The Guardian (4 July 2017).

Oliver Milman, “As if U.S. inequality wasn’t bad enough, climate change is making it worse,” grist (30 June 2017).

Eduardo Porter, “Is a More Prosperous World More Secure? Not as Trump Sees It,” New York Times (11 July 2017).

Marlene Cimons, “To solve climate change, solve income inequality,” ThinkProgress (24 May 2017).

Brian Kahn, “Climate Change Will Hit the Poorest the Hardest in the U.S.”, Climate Central (29 June 2017).

David Roberts, “The best way to reduce your personal carbon emissions: don’t be rich,” Vox (14 July 2017).


Future of cities: we need more living and work spaces

We need fewer cars


Cars are to cities what cows are to the Irish countryside: engines of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  Since over a number of years we have covered the intractable problem of GHGs, especially methane, from cows and other animals in the Irish countryside, we thought it was only fair to focus on the intractable problem of cars in cities.  Currently across the globe over 50% of people live in urban areas (about 62% in Ireland), and 70% are expected by 2050.  And most insist on bringing their car(s) along.

In Ireland, by 2040 there will be more people, many of them older, living in more houses, but with fewer people per house, and with more jobs, mostly high-skilled ones.  Importantly, the growth in houses and jobs will be concentrated in cities or urban areas.  And Ireland remains a car-dependent society with over 2/3 of commuters driving to work and 1/10 spending one hour or more commuting.  That requires a lot of parking facilities and leads to more urban sprawl.  And those cars in congested urban areas will generate tons of toxic fumes, increasing the health risks to urban dwellers.  So planning for the protection of the air quality in such congested areas is paramount for 2040.  See the Report on The Space We Have: Planning for Ireland in 2040 in the May issue of

For city planning, how do we balance the needs for more living and work spaces for more people in Dublin and other urban areas in Ireland with the need for fewer cars to get from home to work to shop to cultural and recreational activities, and elsewhere.

In Ireland much, if not most, of the talk about city planning is dominated by how high should residential and commercial buildings be: 6 stories, or 8, or 12, or more?   Of course density does not necessarily mean high-rise residential buildings.  It can mean spreading the density out over a horizontal grid with more, lower buildings.  Frank McDonald has suggested that if residential buildings were raised to five or six stories, Ireland could reach European-styled densities of 160-200 housing units per hectare.  See Comiskey in The Irish Times.


Density and “high” rise are relative terms.  In Manhattan New York, the newer residential up-market towers are 65 to 95 floors high; in Dublin a high rise might entail 7 – 10 stories.   While such NY high rises would suggest increased density for Manhattan, that’s not a simple equation.  For the up-market high-rises are quite large, with several thousand square feet of living space for perhaps 2 – 4 people, so not many people are cramming into these spaces.  Moreover, these residences also are not the primary residence for many occupants but often serve as a simple pied-a-terre (at cost of $25 to $90 million, with as high as $5,000 per square foot!), visited occasionally throughout the year.

But density may not be the critical condition that defines whether cities are livable or not; it may be how cars are treated.   There are numerous local and national governments  around the world planning or implementing ways of reducing the concentration of cars in their cities by restricting their access, or banning them outright, or by taxing or charging them for using the city, or limiting their parking spaces.  These are so-called “car-limiting strategies.” But trying to just hide or ban cars may not be enough as people still have to get from place to place within the city.  So before banning or restricting cars, it will be necessary to provide the infrastructure and facilities that lessen or eliminate the need for cars.

In a recent blog post in grist, Henry Grabar explores the unavoidable challenge of fighting cars if cities want to honor the Paris Accord and reduce GHGs.  As he bluntly states: “Want to fight climate change?  You have to fight cars.”  In large cities cars account for about a third of GHGs.  And an imperative within this fight is to reduce vehicle miles traveled.  Which in turn suggests that we have to build residences and businesses close to public transport, and to each other.  And to do that, you cannot escape confronting the need for more density in cities.  If we ignore these connected dots, we end up with Apple building a new Green headquarters in California powered by renewable energy but with 11,000 parking spaces.

Laura Bliss, also in grist, reinforces the need to concentrate on cutting vehicle miles travelled (VMT) and how that means that we will have to walk, bike or take public transit to work and play, and that in turn means building more dense residences near jobs, shops and shared transportation options.  Shared transportation, or shared mobility, can include shared cars or small, sometimes automatic driven shuttle services providing transport for that last mile between home and job or public transportation or recreational and cultural facilities.  It does not mean relying on Uber and similar services for a selected population.








Recently, David Roberts in vox has published a series of posts covering a conversation on urbanism he had with Brent Toderian, former Chief Planner for Vancouver.  The first post is titled, “Making cities more dense always sparks resistance. Here’s how to overcome it.”

Vancouver has learned that density can include greater height in existing urban areas or multi-family units in formerly single-family areas or units along back lanes and alleys.  Importantly it can mean extending public transit to new areas.  Or all of the above.






Laneway house in Vancouver

Toderian argues that change in land use is often troubling and there will always be some who oppose change, the Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) argument, just like there will always be developers who want to get rid of government regulation and build as much as they can, the build-baby-build cadre.  See Interview with Oisín Coghlan in the current issue of

Both arguments can be countered by density that has a very high design quality, what Toderian calls QIMBY, “quality in my back yard,” with a diversity of housing types.  Such development must, at the beginning, be multimodal with emphasis on walking, biking, and transit.  It cannot be centered on use of cars.   And the dense development must include amenities that make living in such neighborhoods enjoyable and even exciting.  Amenities include parks and green spaces, public and people spaces, heritage preservation and community and cultural facilities, and places for teenagers to hang out.

To support many of the amenities, Toderian has used “density bonusing” whereby regulations set a base density for areas and a developer can increase to a higher density in exchange for building amenities that the community wants and needs, not basic services.

And when you have done all you can to accommodate as many as possible, Toderian argues that you just have to stand up to the anger of the few.








car free Oslo

Or perhaps adjust your plans.  In Oslo, Norway, the car-limiting strategy was first to ban cars downtown, where about 88% of people did not own a car.  But the automobile lobby fought vehemently against the ban.  So Oslo has decided to limit vehicle movement through the city center by removing all parking spots and converting these spaces into installations and public spaces, for playgrounds, cultural events, benches, bike parking , a beer garden, and an e-bench with wi-fi and charging capabilities.  Then the city will close some streets to vehicle traffic and build 40 miles of bike lanes.  If these efforts fail to slash carbon emissions, then the city will go back to the original plan for an all-out car ban.

So regardless of how high the buildings get, don’t forget about those pesky GHG-vehicles on street level.



Henry Grabar, “If cities really want to fight climate change, they have to fight cars,” grist (16 June 2017).

Laura Bliss, “5 ways cities can fight climate change – with or without the Paris deal,” grist (1 June 2017).
5 ways cities can fight climate change — with or without the Paris deal

David Roberts, “Lessons on urbanism from a Vancouver veteran: A conversation with city-maker Brent Toderian,” vox (20 June 2017).

Here are the conversations between Roberts and Toderian:

David Roberts, “Making cities more dense always sparks resistance. Here’s how to overcome it,” vox (20 June 2017).

David Roberts, “Young families typically leave cities for the suburbs. Here’s how to keep them downtown,” vox (21 June 2017).

David Roberts, “Dense urbanism is great for downtowns. But what about suburbs?”, vox (23 June 2017).

Justin Comiskey, “Dublin’s development plan short on density,” The Irish Times (17 Nov 2016).

Henry Grabar, “Apple Says Its New Headquarters Could Be the Greenest Building in the World. Not With 11,000 Parking Spaces!”, Slate (12 April 2017).

Eillie Anzilotti, “If You Can’t Ban Cars Downtown, Just Take Away The Parking Spaces,” FastCompany (23 June 2017).