- Ben Geman
- Mar 20
Good morning and welcome to week three of Generate! That's about how long we've been waiting for Donald Trump's planned executive order against Obama-era climate policies to materialize. Is this the day (or the week)? We'll see. Here's what else is going on . . .
Bill Gates meets Donald Trump today
The billionaire tech pioneer and philanthropist will be at the White House this morning. The agenda is kind of vague but we'll be watching for signs that it touches on a longtime Gates obsession: robust R&D into breakthrough clean energy tech.
Why it matters: The meeting arrives just days after Trump proposed a budget that would deeply slash Energy Department spending and end support outright for DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Gates, via his foundation, has bashed the budget plan for several reasons.
- Flashback: Gates told Axios's Ina Fried very recently that he's going to push the Trump administration and Congress to maintain U.S. leadership in clean energy.
Capitol Hill lightning round
Here's a few things I've got my eyes peeled for this week in Congress …
- Oil-and-gas climate rules: The Senate might take up a House-passed plan to kill Obama-era Interior Dept. regs to cut methane emissions from oil-and-gas operations on federal lands. GOP Sen. Rob Portman is a swing vote that people are watching.
- Neil Gorsuch: Trump's SCOTUS pick faces the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Will he get a climate question? The high court has already given EPA power to regulate carbon emissions, but new EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been questioning how much Clean Air Act leeway EPA has over power plants.
- Offshore drilling: Hard to believe that BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is almost seven years old. A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee gathers Tuesday to explore "deficiencies" at the Interior Department's offshore drilling safety branch that was totally overhauled after the spill.
What the executive order (probably) won’t say
Let's get the standing reminder done: Very soon, the White House is slated to issue an executive order or memo that will seek to scuttle big pieces of Obama's climate policy. Some of this can happen fast, like lifting the public lands coal leasing freeze, but unwinding EPA power plant rules will take a long time.
Ok! My sources suggest the executive order will not wage a frontal assault on climate change science. Despite Trump's well-known skepticism and EPA chief Scott Pruitt's break with the scientific consensus on carbon, they don't expect the order to wade into the topic.
- Instead, look for any throat-clearing policy rationale (many executive orders have that kind of chatter upfront) to focus on economics and regulatory burdens, and maybe make the case that Obama's EPA took liberties with the Clean Air Act.
Coal’s comeback is a longshot
Two stories caught my eye that help explain why Trump's pledge to revive the U.S. coal industry is such a heavy lift. A lengthy piece that fronts Sunday's Washington Post biz section says some good signs—higher prices, a boost in deliveries—probably won't change underlying trends. Why?
- The big open-pit mines where the industry is focused in Wyoming and elsewhere need fewer workers than Appalachian mines.
- Cheap gas, cheap gas, cheap gas from the fracking bom.
- Softer than expected Asian demand.
- Trump has shown "no signs" of backing big federal cash for climate-friendly coal tech.
Trump’s multi-dimensional auto gambit
An interesting scoop from our own Jonathan Swan signals that Trump's interest in auto markets and policy goes beyond his high-profile announcement that he's probably rolling back tough Obama-era efficiency rules.
- He reports: "Senior White House officials are quietly preparing to confront China over what they consider unfair practices in the auto industry. It's a move that could profoundly disrupt relations between the superpowers."
Palace intrigue at EPA
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is "bristling" at the presence of one of Donald Trump's political appointees at the agency, the Washington Post reports. Trump's man at EPA is Trump campaign official and former Washington State senator Don Benton.
Scene and heard: the Post says Benton chatters so much during policy meetings that he's no longer invited to many of them. "One of the officials described the situation as akin to an episode of the HBO comedy series 'Veep.'"
One cool thing
National Geographic's photo of the day this morning is cool but kind of vertigo-inducing.
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