Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the presidential race stunned climate advocates and threatens to unravel President Obama’s policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand renewable energy.
The Republican outsider flummoxed pollsters and analysts who predicted an easy win for Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of State, who pledged to slash the use of gasoline by a third and oversee an aggressive expansion of solar and wind energy.
Trump, speaking to his supporters in New York City minutes before 3 a.m. EST, promised to “bind the wounds of division” caused by the deeply negative race when he becomes the 45th president of the United States in January.
“I pledge to every citizen that I will be president to all Americans,” Trump said.
Clinton conceded the race in a phone call with Trump but did not address the disappointed supporters gathered in New York City. “Go home,” John Podesta, her campaign chairman, told the crowd at about 2 a.m.
Trump’s success suggests that the United States’ commitment to a global climate agreement, which Obama signed in September, could be terminated. Trump advisers have in recent weeks been collecting options for taking those steps, perhaps on his first day in office.
One idea involves submitting the agreement to the Senate for a vote. That scenario might seem more attractive in the aftermath of the election, since Republicans easily defended their control of that chamber.
Another scenario could involve Trump erasing the nation’s signature on the agreement. That’s the fastest option, according to a source close to the campaign.
“If he wants to focus on the Paris Agreement [on his first day], it’s just a simple executive order to remove the signature,” the source said.
Trump has also pledged to repeal the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s landmark regulation to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the electricity sector 32 percent over the next 13 years. The path toward ending that rule is less clear.
But supporters anticipate that it will happen. They’re also looking forward to Trump short-circuiting potential regulations restricting methane emissions at natural gas facilities, and likely future rules on oil refineries and industrial facilities.
“Donald Trump has consistently said he wants to repeal the Clean Power Plan,” said Chrissy Harbin, director of federal affairs with Americans for Prosperity. “I think he’d have a different approach on the regulatory space.”
Observers struggled to describe the likely redirection of the nation on the world stage under Trump. The United States played a key role in finalizing the Paris Agreement, by in part striking a deal with China to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. A sudden reversal is now being anticipated in diplomatic circles.
“I think there’s going to be profound shock that our country, which has done so much to address the problem, has now turned its back on that,” said Adam Rome, an environmental historian with the University at Buffalo.
“I think around the world, that’s going to send shock waves,” he added.
‘It’s honestly hard not to break down in tears’
Environmentalists reacted with disbelief to the upset victory of a candidate who rejects the scientific foundation for man-made climate change. Trump has called global warming a “hoax” and described it as “bullshit.” His official position is that humans don’t affect the climate.
Gregg Small, CEO of Climate Solutions, a nonprofit based in Washington state, said Trump will be “devastating” to efforts to limit temperature increases worldwide.
“There is no way to overstate the disaster this is for the world,” Small said. “It’s honestly hard not to break down in tears at what this means for the planet.”
Other environmentalists felt whiplash. In the days before the election, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who ran against Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, was focused on pushing a possible Clinton administration to act more aggressively to address climate change. Now that would be a luxury.
“I think it does enormous damage to the national, and global, effort to slow down the planet’s runaway heating,” McKibben said in an email about Trump’s victory.
Asked if he worries about whether Trump’s victory could send a signal to other Republican candidates that rejecting climate science is electorally tolerable, McKibben said, “Sure.”
Others might be wondering that, too. Clinton and her surrogates consistently pointed to Trump’s comments about climate change as evidence that he’s a “denier.” It was a key strategy to turn out voters who are younger, women and minorities.
Climate pollsters might also be searching for answers. Research shows that registered voters are three times more likely to vote for a generic candidate who supports action to address global warming, compared to one who doesn’t.
Faced with that decision in the real world, voters went the other way.
Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, which conducted the polling, said the climate issue plays too small a role in the election to affect the outcome. He said 5 percent of voters, at most, see global warming as a top-tier issue. So Trump’s rejection of climate science likely got lost in the litany of issues raised during the sharply negative campaign, he said.
“That’s one more ludicrous claim in a long list of ludicrous claims in this election,” Maibach said of Trump’s rejection of climate science.
Trump, a shiny tower and climate action?
Even as polls showed a tightening race in Florida and North Carolina in recent weeks, Democrats pointed to a blue firewall in Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania as likely evidence of a Clinton win.
But in a sign of the unstable assumptions underpinning many election forecasts, much of that wall crumbled yesterday. Trump scored a tight win in Pennsylvania and flipped Wisconsin, a state that hasn’t voted for a GOP nominee since 1984.
Leading into the election, some Republicans expressed concern that Trump’s position on climate science could expose the Republican Party to attacks. Now that he has proved those fears unwarranted, some conservatives wonder if the president-elect could make a deal on climate action.
“There could be some opportunity in that approach,” said Jeremy Carl, a GOP energy adviser and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, of Trump’s hardline position on climate. “You want to put a shiny, new Trump tower on Central West from a policy perspective, then maybe he’d be willing to trade something on climate that someone else wouldn’t. But I don’t think that’s the most likely scenario.”
Democrats were just as stunned at their failure to retake control the Senate.
Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) victory could signal continued intransigence on climate change among lawmakers. Environmentalists have called Johnson one of the Senate’s most reliable anti-climate votes, and many believe he would vote in favor of the United States’ exiting the Paris accord.
His Democratic opponent, former Sen. Russ Feingold, criticized Johnson for failing to acknowledge the role of human activities in warming. Groups like the Sierra Club and the League for Conservation Voters poured substantial energy and advertising dollars into the race over the final weeks of the campaign. It didn’t work.
Among Johnson’s top donors for the 2016 campaign cycle was Koch Industries Inc., the conglomerate owned by the politically active and conservative Koch brothers. The firm gave nearly $35,000 to Johnson’s re-election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), himself a climate skeptic, tweeted a congratulatory message to Johnson after last night’s results, saying that “commonsense Wisconsin values prevailed in this race, and we’re proud to have your leadership.”
While they were thwarted in Wisconsin, green groups took heart in neighboring Illinois, where Democratic challenger Rep. Tammy Duckworth decisively ousted incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk, even though Kirk has been more supportive of climate initiatives than many of his peers.
LCV President Gene Karpinski also praised the election of solar energy entrepreneur Raja Krishnamoorthi to assume Duckworth’s seat in the 8th District, calling him one of a number of “strong environmental allies who will fight tirelessly to protect public health, combat climate change and grow our clean energy economy.”
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.