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How Trump’s energy endgame could go

Expect President Trump to redouble his efforts loosening regulations and questioning climate-change science should he win reelection next month.

Driving the news: A second Trump administration would supercharge efforts by certain states, countries and companies to address global warming. But some wildcards could have a greener tinge.


Where it stands: Let’s take a look at the highlights when it comes to a potential second Trump administration. Next week, I’ll assess a potential Biden presidency.

Climate change

It’s a foregone conclusion that Trump will withdraw America from the Paris Climate Agreement on Nov. 4, the official day he’s able to do so. (It’s a chaotic coincidence that it comes a day after the election.)

  • Beyond that, people close to the administration say it’s likely he could move more aggressively to instill bureaucratic changes to processes and reports surrounding climate change.
  • In recent weeks, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has hired two experts who question at least some tenets of mainstream climate-change science.

What I’m watching: Myron Ebell, director for energy and environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, who was on the Trump transition team in 2016, says he hopes the Environmental Protection Agency will roll backits 2009 scientific findingthat concluded greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. That finding underpins all federal climate regulations.

  • Ebell and other like-minded conservatives have been wanting Trump to undo that for years, but EPA has declined.
  • This move could be bolstered by a more conservative Supreme Court, assuming Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. Justices could revisit a landmark 2007 high court decision that paved the way for the 2009 finding.

Yes, but: Other longtime Washington insiders say there’s a chance Trump could moderate his position dismissing climate change.

  • “I’m not sure what additional meaningful pressure there would be on this front," said Scott Segal, co-head of Bracewell Policy Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm.
  • Segal said a reelected Trump wouldn't have to play to his base as much and instead could acknowledge the "clear market forces in favor of addressing carbon emissions and developing cleaner energy."

Beyond Washington

Some states, cities and other regions of the world would likely act even more aggressively to address climate change under a second Trump administration.

  • Notable recent moves include China’s aggression toward Trump’s climate agenda last week and California announcing it will ban sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.

What I’m watching:

  1. Whether Europe follows through on an oft-mentioned remark (and veiled threat) that it may impose a border tax on imported goods coming from countries without similarly aggressive climate-change plans.
  2. To what degree cities and other localities in America and around the world seek to ban natural gas.

Wildcards

If Trump is going to pivot (that’s a big if), these two are near the top of the actions he could take:

  1. Supporting global and bipartisan efforts in Congress to clamp down on hydrofluorocarbons found in refrigerants of common appliances, like air conditioners. EPA has moved to roll back efforts on this front, despite rare universal business support. “That should move,” Segal said, citing the industry support and jobs it could create.
  2. Rejecting the Pebble Mine, a large gold and copper mine proposal located at a prominent salmon fishery in Alaska. Trump has already indicated he’s receptive to pressure from influential conservatives who oppose it given their penchant for fishing.

Regulations

Trump’s top focus here will be defending in court his aggressive — and constantly litigated — agenda undoing virtually everything then-President Barack Obama did on climate change and broader environmental regulations.

  • Trump supporters say they’re watching most closely the legal battle over the EPA’s effort to revoke a waiver California has had for more than a decade that allows it to set more aggressive greenhouse gas standards for vehicle tailpipes.

Oil, natural gas and coal

Trump is likely to continue extolling — and exploiting — America’s global dominance on oil and natural gas.

  • Bob McNally, founder and president of the consulting firm Rapidan Energy, expects Trump to keep “going to bat” for U.S. oil companies, via tweets and bilateral meetings, as OPEC and other producing nations keep coordinating on production cuts.
  • On coal, BloombergNEF speculates in a new election report that Trump may talk less about his 2016 campaign goal of reviving coal, considering it is “irredeemably void due to inexorable economic competition from natural gas and renewables.”

Renewable energy

Trump is likely to continue to mostly ignore and not prioritize renewable energy, but BloombergNEF says to expect the unexpected.

  • Simply assuming a second Trump term would be as devoid of support for renewables carries some minor risk, however,” BloombergNEF said in its recent report. “The president’s penchant for disruption and political opportunism complicate conventional forecasting.”

What I'm watching: I would closely follow how offshore wind fares. The industry has so far faced a lukewarm reception from the Interior Department, while the president himself is not a fan of wind.

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