Splashed across a large screen Friday at the University of South Carolina were slides showing how one expert believes president-elect Donald Trump will deal with climate change, the phenomenon tied to rising sea levels, drought and soaring temperatures.
“Climate policy is dead, at the federal level,’’ said Washington lawyer Avi Zevin, who spoke during a climate conference at USC’s law school.
Zevin, who works with one of the country’s top energy law firms, said he expects Trump to dismantle many efforts under the Obama administration to curb greenhouse gas pollution that contributes heavily to global warming.
That includes walking away from international climate accords the U.S. signed and dropping proposed rules that would for the first time limit carbon pollution from power plants, he said.
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At the same time, Trump will likely increase a push to bolster U.S. oil and gas production and seek to approve new oil pipelines, such as the controversial Keystone pipeline in the Midwest, he said. Critics say ramping up an emphasis on fossil fuels could worsen climate change.
“There is a fundamental shift that will happen starting in January in terms of the U.S.’s role and commitment to climate change,’’ Zevin said, pointing out a tweet Trump posted that questioned the reality of climate change. The tweet, displayed on the screen at Friday’s conference, said the concept of global warming was part of a Chinese effort to render U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. Most scientists say climate change is real.
“This clearly shows that President Trump does not view climate change as the priority (of) President Obama, and even President Bush,’’ Zevin said.
Trump’s campaign website said he would get rid of “job-destroying” Obama programs, including a climate action plan and he would seek to cancel the recent Paris climate accord. Trump also favors efforts to boost the use of coal, a fossil fuel that when burned creates gases that contribute to global warming.
Climate change is an international issue felt acutely in South Carolina, a coastal state now seeing more instances of nuisance flooding in Charleston and other areas .
The city of Charleston floods about three dozen times a year from high tides, which sometimes blocks streets. But in the 1960s, Charleston averaged only four days of flooding similar to the type of flooding it gets today, according to federal data cited recently in Next City, an independent news website.
“We have billions of dollars to lose from unchecked climate change and sea level rise,’’ said Blan Holman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who did not attend the conference.
Statistics show that more than 50,000 homes are less than four feet above the high tide line on the state’s coast, he said.
Executives with the Maersk shipping line and the Milliken company questioned whether all federal rules accomplish the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But they said many practices that help fight climate change are also good for business, such as making operations more efficient.
“Can we grow our businesses while decreasing the environmental footprint?’’ asked Maersk executive Lee Kindberg? “You can do it.’’
Zevin is with Van Ness Feldman LLP, a law firm that focuses on energy, environment, government relations and land-use. The firm’s lawyers have at times been critical of Obama’s energy policies. The law firm last year hired former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to lobby and Van Ness has represented the company that wants to develop the Keystone pipeline, according to The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La.
Zevin said he believes Trump will walk away from the Paris climate treaty, which commits nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a world leader and a major producer of greenhouse gases, American participation is important, many say.
A key way the U.S. could comply with goals to reduce greenhouse gases is through a proposal called the Clean Power Plan, he said. That plan sets targets for reductions in power plant emissions in every state, but was challenged by many state attorneys general, including South Carolina’s top lawyer, Alan Wilson. The rule is now hung up in court.
Trump could work with Congress to pass laws preventing greenhouse gas regulations from taking effect, Zevin said.
Greenhouse gases now are regulated under the federal Clean Air Act, but that could be carved out of the law, Zevin said. The president and Congress also could move to drop funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to administer greenhouse gas rules, he said.