By Tom Regan
My grandfather had a saying that he would use every time I did something too late to have any effect.
“You closed the barn door after the horse was already out past the gate.”
I thought of that saying this morning as I read about President Donald Trump’s plans to undo the climate change regulations that his predecessor Barack Obama had put into place to fight climate change, especially in the late stages of his administration. It’s fair to say that Trump hates Obama so much he will go to any length (or try to, though often not successfully, as we just saw with his Trumpcare debacle) to sabotage anything that Obama did. Trump wants nothing left of the Obama “legacy” by the time he leaves office.
But I’m afraid that on climate change that horse is already out past the gate and despite Trump’s best attempts, he won’t be able to get it back in the barn. While his latest actions will slow down the effects of some of the later regulations that Obama put into place, and cause some headaches for the Paris Treaty on climate change, the United States (like much of the world) is already moving away from fossil fuels like coal and oil and more quickly towards solar, wind and natural gas.
Trump officials say the reason that he is wiping out the Obama era regulations is his desire to make America ‘energy independent’ and help coal miners in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia who carried him to the presidency.
This is, however, only so much hot air. America is already well on its way to energy independence. And broader economic trends have already spelled the end of the line for coal. Robert Murray, the head of the largest privately held coal mining company in the US told the Guardian this week that coal jobs aren’t coming back, regardless of what Trump promises. Murray says the jobs have been lost to competition and technology, not regulations. Also, many of the changes that Trump wants to make will take years to put into place and will make little difference in the end.
Here is what will, and is, making a difference. In less than a week, Elon Musk will start taking orders for his solar roof shingles. They are expected to be tougher than regular shingles but cost less. Along with his Powerwall 2, Musk wants to make renewable energy available to every home. Meanwhile, Amazon has announced that it will cover 15 massive warehouses around the US with rooftop solar panels, generating as much as 80% of each facility’s annual energy needs. And where Amazon goes, others will follow.
As it is, solar power currently employs twice as many people in the United States as does coal and slightly more than natural gas. And here’s the thing. Many of those solar jobs are in installation. They are exactly the kind of jobs that many coal miners or other blue collar workers could be easily retrained to do. If Trump really wanted to create more jobs, he would be continuing Obama’s actions, not trying to blow them up.
Or take the better fuel efficiency standards for cars and lighter trucks that the Trump administration says it wants to “review.” Again, the horse is well out of the barn. Turns out Americans like driving cars that give them more miles to the gallon. And the two states that have the most drivers – California and New York – have sworn to fight the Trump administration on just about everything (about an hour after Trump took office on January 20th, California’s air regulators released a plan to cut emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030). California says it has every intention of continuing its plan to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2015. And seven days ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $70 million electric car rebate. Eligible buyers would get a $2000 rebate.
And that’s not even examining what’s happening with wind or natural gas.
Once again, as is his way, Trump is grabbing the axe by the wrong end. His actions show little foresight and worse planning. It’s like he is only talking to his billionaire buddies who show up to play golf at Mar El Lago on the weekends and who complain to him about the problems of the 1%.
In the end, Obama’s legacy of starting to move this country down the road of renewable energy in order to help prevent climate change will long outlive any ham-handed attempt by Trump to kill it.