Trump woos Republicans hit by ‘bomb cyclone’

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Had he come a few days prior, the president might have needed a snowplow to get to his final destination, as one of the largest and most powerful April snowstorms in recent memory tracked across the Great Plains and set a bull’s-eye on Minnesota.

Between Wednesday and Friday, the storm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow across southern and central Minnesota, while 50-mph winds downed trees and splintered utility poles across the state’s southeast corner. Its 900-mile frontal boundary deposited airborne dust on Minnesota yards from Texas and New Mexico, giving the fresh snow a brownish tint.

Climate scientists say the massive storm — considered a “bomb cyclone” by many meteorologists — was atypical for even the Midwest in spring, and its high moisture content and rapid intensification bore the signature of a warming climate (Climatewire, April 11).

Yet for a climate skeptic president who routinely conflates “weather” with “climate,” last week’s Midwest blizzard passed without comment. It didn’t even merit a tweet like the one Trump posted in January when Minnesota was in the grip of a bone-chilling polar vortex.

“In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded,” Trump wrote at the time. “In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!”

Climate change did “come back fast” — just not in the way the president perceives it.

February brought record precipitation to the Great Lakes, including 39 inches of snow in Minneapolis. The pattern was part of what NOAA meteorologists said was the nation’s wettest winter on record, with 25% more precipitation falling across the nation than in an average year (Climatewire, March 7).

Climate scientists have warned that parts of the country, including the Midwest, will see marked increases in precipitation and extreme weather events under a warming climate. For many, last week’s megastorm — coming on the heels of an even stronger bomb cyclone that flooded parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri in mid-March — was a sign of things to come.

Twin Cities meteorologist Paul Douglas, who is nationally recognized as an evangelical Christian voice for climate science, noted in Saturday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune that the last two years have brought two record April snowfalls to Minnesota.

“For the record, I’m just a bewildered spectator and reluctant messenger,” he wrote.

Yet even reluctant climate messaging from conservative Minnesota weather experts won’t necessarily sway the president, who relishes the prospect of winning a state he narrowly ceded in 2016 to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

He aims to do it in places like Burnsville, an interstate suburb of 61,000 built atop former farm fields in Dakota County about 15 miles south of downtown Minneapolis.

That’s where Trump is scheduled to visit executives and employees of Nuss Truck & Equipment, a 60-year-old family business that sells heavy-duty trucks as well as municipal vehicles like garbage haulers and snow plows.

In a statement Friday, the White House said Trump will “tout the success of the American economy under his policies, including the implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

Minnesota has shared in the economic good fortune of the last few years. Its economy churns out roughly $3.5 billion in goods and services annually, and it has outperformed many of its peer states in both employment and job growth since emerging from the Great Recession of 2009.

While Trump is likely to claim credit for Minnesota’s economic upturn, experts here say the state has achieved many of its goals by pursuing policies that are antithetical to Trumpism, including transitioning away from fossil fuels in favor of renewable resources like wind and solar power.

Ellen Anderson, a senior adviser on energy and environment to former Gov. Mark Dayton (D) who now heads the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab, said that while the Trump administration has been working to prop up coal mining and fossil fuels, Minnesota has remained on a steady course to decarbonize its power sector.

That shift began in 2007 under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It has made Minnesota one of the nation’s largest wind energy producers, with nearly 3,800 megawatts of installed capacity. Distributed solar generation — from urban rooftops, solar gardens and utility-scale solar farms — has also expanded statewide, from just 1 MW of generation capacity in 2008 to 882 MW today.

Anderson said most Minnesotans see the renewable energy boom as a win for both the economy and the environment. Educated voters are also turned off by the president’s incendiary and often false statements about renewables, such as his recent suggestion that wind turbines have been linked to cancer in humans.

“The honeymoon is long over,” Anderson said in phone interview. “On energy and the environment and climate, the [2018] midterms tell the story. We elected a governor who’s calling for 100% clean energy, and we voted in 39 new House members. The vast majority of those new people are Democrats from suburban districts that swung from red to blue.”

She said conservative Minnesotans are also motivated by environmental concerns and understand that climate change is contributing to weather extremes in all seasons.

“There’s no reason to believe that’s going away by 2020. In fact, it’s likely to strengthen given the extreme, crazy weather patterns people have been seeing,” Anderson said.

But Hamline University political scientist David Schultz, an expert on presidential swing states, said Trump’s disdain for climate science may resonate strongly in the state’s rural quarters, where environmental priorities increasingly clash with traditional industries like hard-rock mining, manufacturing and oil pipeline construction.

Schultz said Trump can rely on at least a third of Minnesota’s electorate to stick by him in 2020. Another 10% would likely vote for Trump over a liberal or coastal-state Democrat.

That leaves about 7% of the electorate, or 180,000 likely voters, up for grabs.

“You’ve got the urban liberals and environmentalists who are locked in” for Democrats, Schultz said. “But go to greater Minnesota, to places where we’ve seen incredible economic hardship. They’re not lined up with that urban, clean energy or environmental agenda. They see a pro-mining, pro-traditional industry president who says, ‘I’m going to get your job back for you.’

“That still means something.”