Trump's conflicting climate agenda - Axios
Top Stories
Featured

Trump's conflicting climate agenda

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

BONN, Germany — President Trump has the potential for a pragmatic climate agenda, but his contradictory and vague policies are undercutting it. That problem will be on display at a conference here today, when the administration will argue that cleaner fossil fuels and nuclear power must be part of the world's solutions to climate change.

Why it matters: Trump's team here has a point: Most studies show that without nuclear power and technology making fossil fuels much cleaner, it's nearly impossible to cut greenhouse gas emissions to levels scientists say we must at reasonable costs. But the administration's broader posturing on the issue is not conducive to any coherent strategy.

Common ground

Top White House adviser George David Banks is bringing together several experts, including executives at coal and nuclear companies and a former energy adviser under President Barack Obama now at a natural-gas company, to talk to the conference about how more efficient fossil fuels and nuclear power can help fight climate change.

I spoke with Amos Hochstein, who was the State Department's top energy envoy for the last couple of years of the Obama administration. He defended his participation in the event, which is likely to face protests.

"I know that some have raised an eyebrow about Obama's energy envoy speaking at this event," said Hochstein, now a top executive at Tellurian, a company working to export liquefied natural gas from the U.S. "But, I believe any opportunity to have an honest conversation about how we can have a realistic approach to reducing emissions should be embraced."

Hochstein, and many other experts across the political spectrum, says natural gas can help transition the world away from coal because it burns 50% less carbon emissions than coal. But some environmentalists are increasingly opposed to natural gas, along with coal and oil.

"Despite what the fossil fuel industry will tell you, the science is unambiguous: Coal and gas are not solutions to the climate crisis, they are the cause of it," said John Coequyt, global climate policy director for the Sierra Club, one of the most influential and largest environmental groups.

That group and others are also opposed to nuclear power, largely because of safety worries. But, the resource is gaining more support among Democrats who back it for its carbon-free profile. That makes it a rare energy source that both the Trump administration and some Democrats can support.

"Anything that is a low-carbon solution has to be pursued, and anything that can get bipartisan support ought to be pursued," said Sen. Brian Schatz, Democrat from Hawaii, in an interview at the conference. "That's not to say nuclear power is necessarily a solution in most instances, but there may be instances where it's the best solution."

Conflicting ground

Trump's team is hosting the event in Bonn against a conflicting backdrop.

For starters, most senior Trump officials don't even publicly acknowledge that climate change is real and a problem. The administration is sending mixed signals, at best, by advocating technologies to address a problem it's not willing to publicly admit is real. Monday's event is an outlier for an administration that's otherwise keeping a very low profile at the conference.

"If it were part of a broad program, and this was one of the eight panels or one of a dozen lines of effort, it might be understandable," Schatz said. "But it's one of the only things they're doing and that makes it unhelpful."

On a more granular level, the administration equivocates on how it defines clean and efficient fossil fuels. The difference matters a lot.

Trump himself has used the term "clean coal." But it appears he's simply calling coal clean, and not referring to equipment that captures emissions at power plants, which is commonly called "clean coal" technology and can capture up to 90% of carbon emissions from a plant. Trump hasn't mentioned the technology itself, which is technically feasible, but currently too expensive to be commercially viable in most instances.

Another group of commercialized technologies making coal plants more efficient, called "high efficiency, low emission," offers gains of up to 30% less carbon emissions compared to older plants, according to the World Coal Association.

A Trump administration official says these technologies can help make the capture kind economically viable, and also that developing countries should use them now for coal plants they would build regardless. Some are worried this shift will be in lieu of supporting the capture technology, which has far greater potential to cut carbon emissions.

"If they're not going to put some real muscle and policy behind making sure the carbon capture portion happens on the back end, then what are we doing?" Just building more, slightly cleaner coal plants," said Ryan Fitzpatrick, deputy director of the clean energy program at Third Way, a centrist think tank.

And so far the administration mostly isn't. Energy secretary Rick Perry recently awarded $36 million to the capture technology, but more broadly the Energy Department is proposing to slash the budgets of the offices that promote fossil-fuel technologies and nuclear power. While Congress is unlikely to pass the cuts as proposed, they nonetheless send loud signals about the president's priorities.

Expert Voices Featured

Basting with the best: Thanksgiving tips from 5 top chefs

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

It's our first Thanksgiving here at Axios, a fine occasion in its own right to raise a glass and polish off a few plates of food. The big meal seemed like a good time to invite helping hands into the kitchen, so we asked a group of chefs and food writers for their favorite holiday tips.

The culinary experts:

  • Alison Roman, food writer and recipe developer: A host's guide to staying sane
  • Molly Lopez, baker: Thanksgiving with a global twist
  • David Lebovitz, cook and pastry chef: A secret sauce in seconds
  • Bill Yosses, former White House pastry chef: A prep essential for every dish
  • Aaron Silverman, chef and restaurateur: How the French do mashed potatoes
Featured

Sessions orders review of firearm background check database

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to review the U.S. database used for background checks on firearm buyers, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: Sessions used the Sutherland Springs shooting as evidence of a need to review the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), as the shooter was able to buy a gun despite having been convicted of domestic assault. The Air Force said it failed to enter his information into the federal database.

Featured

Lyft is raising another $500 million

Josh Edelson / AP

Ride-hail company Lyft is raising up to $500 million in additional funding, according to a share authorization document filed yesterday in Delaware. This comes one month after Lyft announced a $1 billion infusion led by CapitalG, an investment arm of Google parent Alphabet. A company spokesman stresses that the $500 million is not yet closed, but adds: "Increasing the potential for this round will allow us to further accelerate our commitment to serving passengers and drivers."

Details: The new investment would be an extension of the CapitalG-led round, at the same share price of $39.75. That means the $10 billion pre-money valuation remains static, but the post-money could now value Lyft at $11.5 billion.

Below is the Delaware document, which was provided to Axios by Lagniappe Labs (creator of the Prime Unicorn Index)


Featured

Two more women say Franken groped them

Sen. Al Franken. Photo: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx

Two women told the Huffington Post that Sen. Al Franken "touched their butts" in unrelated incidents. Four women have now accused Franken of unwanted contact.

Why it matters: Senate leadership have called for an Ethics Committee investigation into the Minnesota senator, which Franken himself has said he will cooperate with.

  • One woman said Franken groped her during a photo at an event hosted by the Minnesota Women's Political Caucus in 2007: "People are saying that this is a right-wing conspiracy...It's not. I'm a liberal person...I voted for him after this happened."
  • The second woman said Franken "cupped her butt" in 2008 at a Democratic fundraiser: "My immediate reaction was disgust...but my secondary reaction was disappointment. I was excited to be there and to meet him. And so to have this happen really deflated me."
Featured

ICE is seeking a program to monitor the social media of visa-holders

ICE agents at a home in Atlanta, during a targeted enforcement operation. Photo: ICE via AP

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said at a tech industry conference last week they are seeking algorithms that can "conduct ongoing social media surveillance" of visa holders that are considered high risk, according to ProPublica.

Why it matters: The announcement of the program, later named "Visa Lifecycle Vetting," spurred backlash from civil liberty groups and immigrants. ProPublica notes that, taken in conjunction with Trump's calls for "extreme vetting" and his campaign proposal for a Muslim ban, there is concern it could be discriminatory toward Muslim visa holders. Acting deputy association director for information management at ICE Homeland Security Investigations, Alysa Erichs, said the goal is to have "automated notifications about any visa holders' social media activity that could 'ping us as a potential alert.'"

  • But, but, but: According to Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology, ICE is "building a dangerously broad tool that could be used to justify excluding, or deporting, almost anyone."
  • A group of engineers, computer scientists, and other academics wrote to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke of their "grave concerns" about the program, saying it would likely be "inaccurate and biased."
  • Carissa Cutrell, an ICE spokeswoman, told ProPublica the "request for information...was simply that - an opportunity to gather information...to determine the best way forward."
Featured

Peter Thiel might try to buy Gawker.com

Kevin Moloney / Fortune Brainstorm Tech

Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire investor who funded ex-wrestler Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, is seeking to pause the sales process of the now-defunct website, arguing that he was unfairly excluded from making a bid, according to a bankruptcy court filing obtained by BuzzFeed.

Why it matters: The buyer of Gawker.com (the rest of Gawker Media's properties were acquired by Univision last year) will be able to do with its contents as they please, including deleting specific articles. There are still ongoing legal actions over a few articles in the archive. Though Thiel never admitted as much, it was long rumored that his decision to help Hogan was fueled by unflattering coverage of him and his business activities over the years, including a 2007 story about the fact that he is gay.

Featured

The blowback from Uber's data breach

A man exits the Uber offices in Austin, Texas. Photo: Eric Gay / AP

Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut are planning investigations into Uber's recently announced 2016 breach that left 57 million customers' and drivers' data vulnerable to criminals, and the FTC might launch a probe as well, according to Recode.

Why it matters: Most states (48) have some form of a law requiring companies to reveal data breaches to consumers, but Uber did not immediately disclose the details to consumers and reportedly tried to cover up the hack.

The FTC may also launch a probe into Uber, Recode reports, citing two sources who say Uber has already briefed the agency. The FTC said it was looking into the matter.

  • The FTC just penalized Uber in August for other privacy and security practices and had asked Uber to maintain all records related to privacy and security for investigators. This apparent cover-up could throw a wrench in those conclusions issued in August.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal urged the FTC to take "swift enforcement action and impose significant penalties" on Uber, and Rep. Frank Pallone is calling for a Congressional hearing on the matter.

Global blowback: Authorities in Australia and the Philippines said they would also be investigating, and the UK's data protection regulator brought up potential penalties for Uber, per Reuters.

Bottom line: The news is not good for Uber on a global scale. It could face penalties and fines in addition to paying the steep legal price associated with suits after a year filled with other headaches related to security, privacy, and its culture.

Featured

Men behaving badly

The bombshell report from The New York Times last month on decades of sexual harassment and assault by producer Harvey Weinstein started a domino effect as other women spoke out about mistreatment by men in positions of power.

Featured

Trump Org. walking away from SoHo hotel

The Trump Soho hotel. Photo: Seth Wenig / AP

The Trump Organization has made a deal allowing it to walk away from the Trump SoHo hotel by the end of the month, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: Per the Times, the hotel has "struggled to attract guests" and had to close its main restaurant in April due to what the restaurant's lawyer called a "decline in business since the election." The Trump Org. faced several lawsuits over building the hotel, per the Times, one of which alleged it "was backed by felons and financing from Russia." Russian-born businessman Felix Sater, who has been in the news following the election for having pushed for a Trump Tower in Moscow, was involved in the deal.

Featured

Video released of North Korean defector crossing DMZ

Photo: United Nations Command via AP.

A video just released by the United Nations shows the North Korean soldier who defected to the South on November 13th making his getaway in a green jeep, running towards the border separating Panmunjom, North Korea from the South, and then collapsing on the South Korean side.

Why it matters: The event amounts to a violation of the armistice, since he was shot five times in his successful effort to defect from the North Korean regime, South Korea says. He was ultimately rescued by South Korean soldiers. Pyongyang has yet to say anything about the defection but the UN Command says it has requested a meeting to discuss the apparent armistice violations.

The scene, per the AP's Foster Klug: "It's 3:11 p.m. on a cold, gray day on the North Korean side of the most heavily armed border in the world, and a lone soldier is racing toward freedom."

  • "His dark olive-green jeep speeds down a straight, tree-lined road, past drab, barren fields and, headlights shining, across the replacement for the Bridge of No Return..."
  • "The shock of soldiers watching the jeep rush by is palpable from the video released Wednesday and no wonder: They're beginning to realize that one of their comrades is defecting to the South."
  • The defector crashes his jeep into a ditch.
  • The South says North Koreans fired about 40 rounds from AK-47s and rifles at the defector. No fire was exchanged between North and South Koreans.
  • The defector makes it over the border, and then turns around and runs back towards the North before collapsing by the wall. South Koreans crawl to pull him to safety.
  • "The entire sequence, from the first appearance of the jeep to the soldier's frenzied crossing, lasts four minutes."

A clue to life in North Korea: The defector had two surgeries to repair internal organ damage and is conscious. Surgeons "removed dozens of parasites from the soldier's ruptured small intestine, including presumed roundworms that were as long as 27 centimeters (10.6 inches), which may reflect poor nutrition and health in North Korea's military."

Watch: