GOP platform, which calls coal ‘clean’, would reverse decades of U.S. energy and climate policy

Source: By Steven Mufson, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Republican Party platform adopted Monday night would bring a total about-face on U.S. energy and climate policy, declaring that the priority placed on combating climate change under President Obama “the triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it.”

The GOP platform calls coal “clean,” pledges to reverse a Supreme Court ruling on the scope of the Clean Air Act, seeks to open vast amounts of federally protected public lands and waters to oil, gas and coal exploitation, rejects the Paris climate accord and Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and opposes a carbon tax. It takes aim at “environmental extremists” and calls the environmental movement “a self-serving elite.”

The document says the party would “transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission, similar to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

In four pages devoted to energy and climate, the platform tosses aside an environmental regulatory structure built on congressional legislation and judicial rulings over more than four decades, dating to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Richard M. Nixon. The Republican Party platform would limit agencies’ power to make rules to carry out legislation. And it would seek to bar the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions, a power the Supreme Court said unambiguously in a 2007 ruling that the agency possessed.

Responsibility for environmental regulation would be moved from “the federal bureaucracy” to the states, which generally have fewer resources and less commitment to enforcing environmental standards. Oil and gas companies can get drilling permits in as little as 30 days in states such as North Dakota, whereas it can take months to get federal permits for drilling on protected lands.

Sharon Buccino, senior adviser to the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, said “our public lands are assets that belong to us all.  State and local governments can deliver protection, but too often the record shows they bend to pressure to profit rather than protect.”

Few if any states can bear the fiscal burden of managing the millions of acres of public lands.  In Utah alone, for example, the National Park Service, U.S Forest Service and other federal agencies currently spend between $200 million and $300 million a year to manage public lands, Buccino said.

“States have been more likely to open lands to mining, drilling and digging than to preserve them for future generations to enjoy,” she said.

The GOP platform echoes much of the agendas of the main petroleum, coal and nuclear industries. It would, for example, seek to roll back regulations across the board, saying that new equipment and technologies would bring about improvements in air and water quality without environmental rules.

“We assert that private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while some of the worst instances of degradation have occurred under government control,” it says, adding that “the environment is too important to be left to radical environmentalists.”

The Republican Party blueprint would also seek a long-term solution to the disposal of nuclear waste in a bid to help revive the nuclear energy industry.

On the international front, the platform would block U.S. funding for the Green Climate Fund and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, citing the UNFCCC’s inclusion of Palestinians. It calls the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international body regarded as the gold standard for the debate on climate science, “a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution.”

Andrew Rosenberg, director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that “you can’t duck the evidence on this one.” He said that the “science is incredibly strong” that climate change is happening, and that people working on issues such as fisheries and forest wildlife have had to take it into account in their work.

“The agreement in Paris was a major step,” Rosenberg said. “It was necessary but not sufficient. We need to keep moving.”

Environmental groups have been tracking the GOP platform. Sierra Club political director Khalid Pitts said Monday night: “If this extremist platform were ever actually implemented, it would imperil clean air and clean water for all Americans. Donald Trump has vowed to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, and now the Republican Party has codified a radical and dangerous path to enable Trump and his anti-environmental ideology.”