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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

President Trump and his administration have gone to extreme lengths to wipe climate change from the U.S. federal government’s lexicon and question whether it’s a real issue at all. That’s got people working to tackle the problem wondering, paradoxically, how to make progress without the Trump administration acknowledging it.

The bottom line: A surprisingly large amount of progress is being made, actually, including on certain federal policies, within corporations and by local governments. Ultimately, though, the scale of the problem needs not only federal acknowledgment but also concerted backing.

“I think you can fudge it for a couple of years,” said Julio Friedmann, a former top Energy Department official in the Obama administration. “There is a lot of progress that is possible, but it’s not enough to fully deliver.”

Just this month, there’s been government action to address climate change, just not wrapped up in those semantics.

Let’s take a look at what is being done regardless of Trump acknowledging the issue, and then get to why bigger things are out of reach as long as Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and others continue to dismiss climate change.

Congress earlier this month approved a narrow but important tax incentive that would support projects capturing carbon emissions from coal plants and other facilities. Climate change wasn’t a focus of many of the bill’s backers, and it wasn’t mentioned in the legislation itself.

I asked Steven Winberg, the assistant secretary of fossil energy at the Energy Department, whether he sees his support for this type of technology as key to addressing climate change. “It’s not my job to set policy on climate change,” Winberg said after an event late last year in Washington. “It’s my job to develop technologies that might address climate change but could address a lot of other issues as well.”

Companies are also increasingly investing in renewable energy regardless of its climate-change benefits.

"To the extent we’re able to buy renewable energy via a long-term contract, we’re able to fix the price of electricity for that location,” Neha Palmer, director of energy strategy at Google, told me recently.

“Those are known costs, which is helpful for running a business,” added Palmer, whose firm is among the world’s largest corporate buyers of renewable energy.

That sentiment is echoed by Neil Chatterjee, a Republican commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency.

“I certainly believe that climate change is real, is man-made and we need to take steps to mitigate emissions,” Chatterjee told me last week. “But I also don’t think that’s the sole benefit of renewable energy either ... One of the things I find most attractive about the increased deployment of renewable energy is the economics. You have no fuel costs.”

FERC approved a rule last week aimed at removing market barriers to batteries and other technologies that can store energy, which is key for the widespread adoption of intermittent renewable energy like wind and solar.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met last week with executives making electricity from biomass, a term used to describe organic waste like scrap lumber.

Pruitt told the industry he’s working to complete a process first started under Obama that would officially recognize biomass as carbon-neutral because it’s making use of material that would otherwise be burned or put into landfills. Biomass is considered renewable and powers about 1.5% of U.S. electricity as of 2016, slightly more than solar.

Climate change didn’t come up in a conversation Pruitt had with Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association, according to Cleaves, but the end goal could still help.

“There’s no question that climate change is an important issue for us, and we provide an environmental benefit that should be recognized,” Cleaves said.

More than a dozen states and hundreds of U.S. cities have pledged to cut carbon emissions despite Trump vowing to withdraw America from the Paris accord.

But they only represent up to 35% of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report the group released at a climate conference last year — which brings me to the big "but" of this column.

All of these efforts pale in comparison to the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal or scale back nearly every policy Obama issued to address climate change. And layered on top of that is government-endorsed skepticism of an issue most of the rest of the world considers business as usual.

“If we are not able to even have a conversation about climate change, then it’s virtually impossible to imagine passing policies that would do anything meaningful about it,” said Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank working with Republicans on the issue.

Taylor says he's had private conversations with congressional Republicans who have, paradoxically, indicated a heightened interest in addressing climate change in the wake of Trump’s election.

But, Taylor added: “None of that matters unless it translates into action.”

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”

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