The National Climate Assessment, released the day after Thanksgiving, highlights the risks to which federal policymakers are exposing the country — including very pointedly the Midwest — by attempting to roll back limits on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, according to an environmental policy expert at Washington University in St. Louis.
And it is fodder for future court decisions.
“Since President Trump took office, he has been directing and supporting efforts to weaken limits on greenhouse gas emissions and to protect the coal industry from market forces, which have made coal-fired electricity more expensive than renewable energy,” said Maxine Lipeles, senior lecturer in law and director of the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic.
For example, Lipeles said:
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed weakening limits on greenhouse gas emissions from two major sources, power plants and motor vehicles.
- The Department of the Interior has lifted restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.
- And the Department of Energy has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to subsidize and otherwise protect uneconomical coal and nuclear plants from cheaper sources of electricity.
“The climate report notes that climate change is ‘already being felt in communities across the country’ and that it presents ‘growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.’
“While the administration’s actions and pending proposals increase greenhouse gas emissions, the report warns that ‘the continued warming that is projected to occur without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century,'” Lipeles said.
The report shines a spotlight on the enormous gap between science and the current administration’s policies, she said.
“While this thorough, lengthy report was released over the Thanksgiving weekend, when many were more focused on family and football than on news, it will undoubtedly get considerable attention in the lawsuits challenging climate-related rollbacks,” she said. “The courts typically give agencies considerable discretion to exercise judgment, but the agencies have to show a rational basis for their decisions and the well-documented science in this report calls for tighter, not weaker, limits on greenhouse gas emissions.”