5 terrible, horrible, anti-sustainability Trump-era policy proposals

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The turbulent political environment in Washington is creating uncertainty for just about every aspect of American life.

Among these are efforts by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to roll back progress on U.S. climate action. As companies of all types, from retailers to apparel makers to electric utilities, work to cut their emissions and move toward a clean-energy economy, efforts to derail U.S. policies that support cheaper, cleaner and better ways of doing things for businesses and consumers, threaten investments in new technologies by businesses and other institutions.

An analysis by the World Resources Institute found that if Trump’s policies are put into effect, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 will be much higher than they would be if the United States stuck to policies established under the Obama administration.

It can be hard even for policy wonks and news junkies to keep track of the plethora of proposals, not to mention business people trying to plan ahead on energy and sustainability efforts, given the speed and variety of proposals being launched.

We've removed the Republican tax bill from our watchlist of bad policy proposals, since Republican lawmakers reportedly deleted the portions that would have harmed the renewable energy markets, including provisions that would have reduced the value of wind production tax credits and made them harder to claim, and that would have ended tax credits for electric vehicles.

Below is our updated  list of five policy proposals that pose the biggest threats to  renewable energy, progress on climate change, the nation’s competitive electricity markets and energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

1. Power market rule changes

The Trump administration has proposed changing the rules for the competitive power markets by allowing coal and nuclear power plants to recover their costs from market sales.

Coal and nuclear power generators such as FirstEnergy and Exelon Corp. support the proposal, which is being fast-tracked at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The long list of opponents include the wind and solar industries, the oil and gas industry, public power utilities, consumer advocates and several states, including California, New York and Ohio. They argue that the proposed changes would create unfair subsidies for coal and nuclear plants at the expense of other generators and unnecessarily would increase power prices for U.S. consumers and businesses, creating an undue hardship.

Clean-energy supporters argue that imposing market-based subsidies for mature, 20th-century technologies will stifle investment in new and cleaner technologies, such as energy management, storage and artificial intelligence that would allow more renewable power to be added to electric grids and increase efficiency and resiliency.

Winners: Coal and nuclear power operators, coal miners

Losers: Consumers, businesses, renewable energy developers and customers, natural gas producers, natural gas power generators, states that have clean-energy goals

What to watch: The FERC will decide how to proceed, and whether to pursue part of the Trump proposal, pursue another avenue, or drop it altogether. Timeline: The FERC faces a Jan. 10 deadline to respond to the DOE’s "notice of proposed rulemaking."

More information: FERC docket for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

2. Clean Power Plan Repeal and Replacement

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with new emissions "guidelines." The agency proposed last October to repeal the Obama-era rule, which would have required a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions from the U.S. power sector by 2030. 

Now, the EPA is asking the public to weigh in on “the roles, responsibilities, and limitations of the federal government, state governments, and regulated entities in developing and implementing such a rule," as well as defining and identifying the "Best System of Emission Reduction" including carbon capture and storage that could be used at existing power plants to comply with potential rules or guidelines.

The Clean Power Plan was a key component of the United States' pledge under the Paris climate agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels, by 2025. The regulation would have required utilities to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy use, and reduce their use of coal  to generate power.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has expressed a dislike of regulation, which suggests the agency is unlikely to get tough on carbon.

Winners: Coal producers, coal-burning utilities

Losers: Energy efficiency providers, wind and solar power developers and customers, clean-technology developers, global climate

What to watch: The EPA is accepting comments on its proposed repeal of the CPP through Jan. 18, and will hold "public listening sessions" in San Francisco, Gillette, Wyoming and Kansas City, Missouri at dates and locations to be announced "in the coming weeks." The agency is accepting comments for 60 days on whether it should issue new emissions rules  and if so, what they should look like.

More information: EPA's proposed repeal of the Clean Power PlanNRDC : What is the Clean Power Plan, EPA's Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

3. Solar trade case

The solar trade case being pursued by U.S.-based manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld could prompt Trump to impose new tariffs on imported solar panels, which is widely expected to drive up prices.

Solar-panel prices already have increased over the past several months amid a buying frenzy by developers eager to lock in prices before potential tariffs are imposed.

The International Trade Commission found that the two companies have been injured by an influx of cheap panels, primarily from Mexico and South Korea. The ITC has proposed a range of remedies, from tariffs as high as 35 percent to quotas, a cap on imports and import licensing fees. Chinese panels also have done damage to U.S. solar manufacturing; however, the Obama administration already imposed tariffs on panels imported from China and Taiwan as part of an earlier trade case filed by SolarWorld.

The Solar Energy Industries Association strongly opposes tariffs, arguing that they would drive up solar prices, which would reduce demand, which in turn would cause job losses in the fast-growing solar industry.

Winners: Suniva, SolarWorld

Losers: Solar developers, installers, consumers, corporate renewable energy buyers, state renewable energy goals

What to watch: The U.S. Trade Representative, which will advise Trump on a trade remedy, was scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday. Trump is scheduled to decide what remedies, if any, to impose by the end of January.

More information: The ITC issued a November report (PDF) on the case, E&E News reports that Suniva contacted Trump officials before seeking tariffs

4. Energy Star blaze-out

The Trump administration has proposed eliminating Energy Star, a longtime voluntary labeling program for energy-efficient appliances, buildings and equipment. It is widely regarded as one of the federal government's most successful marketing brands and has high regard among both companies and consumers. A separate Republican proposal in the U.S. House aims to move the program from the EPA to the Energy Department and make changes that would weaken the program, which saved consumers and businesses $34 billion in lower energy bills in 2015, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

Winners: Manufacturers and suppliers of less-efficient appliances, equipment and technology

Losers: Consumers, businesses, manufacturers and suppliers of energy-efficient appliances, services and building products.

What to watch: Budget legislation is still pending in Washington; the Energy Star Reform Act of 2017, proposed by U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), has yet to be formally introduced. Timeline: Ongoing.

More information: Alliance to Save Energy, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers

5. Endangered endangerment finding

The Heartland Institute, coal miner Murray Energy and conservative political groups are pressing the Trump administration to overturn the "endangerment finding," a 2009 determination by the Obama-era EPA that greenhouse-gas emissions endanger public welfare. The finding formed the basis for environmental rules, such as stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and the Clean Power Plan, a regulation the Trump administration repealed, that would have cut carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Winners: Coal miners, coal plant owners, petroleum industries

Losers: Renewable energy developers and buyers, states, companies and organizations with clean energy goals, U.S. and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

What to watch: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt plans to question mainstream science on climate change. Timeline: Ongoing.

More information: CNBC reports on efforts to reverse endangerment finding, E&E News reports on the EPA’s plans to discredit climate science, The Hill reports on Exxon Mobil’s opposition to repeal effort