What effects will the Trump Administration’s announcements to roll-back Obama-era climate policies have on efforts to reverse global warming? Skeptics might argue that the battle has been lost, but a more optimistic picture is being painted by Harvard Kennedy School Associate Professor Joseph Aldy

Aldy, who served as a special Assistant to President Obama on energy and environmental issues, argues in a new research report that the president and his administration face significant obstacles in their attempts to dismantle climate change policy and to “bring back coal” as a major energy source in the United States, and those attempts may fail altogether in the end. 

"Coal is not coming back."

Professor Joseph Aldy

“Coal is not coming back,” Aldy writes. “The dramatic growth in domestic natural gas production has caused natural gas prices to fall by about three-quarters since their peak in 2008. The major shift away from coal to natural gas in the power sector reflects simple economics; power producers favor lower-cost energy sources to serve their customers.”

Moreover, Aldy argues, presidential executive orders alone won’t achieve the president’s objective of removing regulations that may burden domestic energy development.

“Efforts to advance a deregulatory agenda must go through rule-making process open to for public comment. This will slow down the deregulation train and create opportunities for legal challenges. Indeed, several Trump Administration efforts to undermine Obama climate regulations have been successfully challenged in the courts,” Aldy posits.

Perhaps even more important, Aldy argues that efforts to combat global warming occurring outside Washington might be enough to counterbalance the damage being done at the federal level. 

“State and local governments as well as businesses and investors are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Aldy argues. “From California’s ambitious climate change program, to major cities working together to cut emissions, to private businesses making investment and planning decisions based on a carbon price, the American progress on climate change and clean energy may be resilient to the abrupt change in federal policy under the Trump Administration.”

Aldy concludes that there are viable reasons to believe that the world will overcome the climate change challenge despite current political realities. 

“The long lifetimes of energy technologies and energy-using capital mean that the impacts of past policies can endure short-term policy aberrations, like the Trump administration. Looking forward, Trump Administration efforts may introduce short-term policy uncertainty, but few energy decision-makers foresee a fundamentally different long-term policy environment, especially as state and local policymakers fill the void left by the federal government.”

Aldy’s paper is published in the November 2017 edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Joseph Aldy Photo

Joseph Aldy

Teresa and John Heinz Professor of the Practice of Environmental Policy

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