Trump can make it impossible to count global carbon emissions

You can’t manage what you don’t measure – and US President Donald Trump’s new budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will leave too little funding for the country to measure its carbon emissions. Craig Morris takes a look.

protest puppet in front of white house labelled "Pruitt the polluter"

Trump faces opposition for his choice of EPA’s administrator, even as budget cuts to the EPA make it impossible to count climate emissions (Photo by Lorie Schaull, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The United States currently has no ambassador to Germany. Half a year into Trump’s first year in office, he has yet to nominate anyone. As president-elect, he announced that all foreign ambassadors were fired upon his oath of office.

New presidents often replace almost all ambassadors, but what’s unusual about Trump is how many he has not replaced. According to this official list, the EU, Spain, France, the OECD, and the UK still lack ambassadors along with Germany. One has been appointed, but not yet approved, for Japan. Of the 188 positions on that list, 61 are still empty for a lack of nominations, with another 10 nominations pending.

At home, the picture’s no different. In March, Trump fired all the US attorneys (prosecutors from the Department of Justice or DOJ) appointed by Obama, also not unprecedented. Of the 94 positions, 62 are still held by interims according to this official list. Without attorneys, the DOJ can hardly do its work.

We currently lack an FBI head (but one is appointed), there is no one at the helm of FEMA (which handles natural disasters, such as hurricanes), the Drug Enforcement Agency, Transportation Security, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, which monitors the climate). That list is probably not even exhaustive. But while the Chicago Tribune calls Trump “profoundly incompetent” for these omissions, the lack of leadership currently crippling US governmental agencies is a dream come true for those who have wanted small government all along. The US government is currently more rudderless and ineffective than it has ever been.

Keep in mind that US presidents have from early November (when the popular vote is tallied, thereby determining the electoral college) until mid-January to prepare. Other countries hold their entire election campaign during such a time-frame. US presidents have eight weeks to form an administration, even allowing for a two-week Christmas break.

Most people have focused on the appointments made, not those left vacant, so we have overlooked this major accomplishment towards the decades-old Republican agenda of limiting the government to protecting the US militarily. (“Government is not the solution to our problem,” President Reagan famously stated on Inauguration Day in 1981, “government is the problem.”) So we pay attention when climate denier Scott Pruitt is appointed head of the EPA, and when Trump steps away from the Paris Accord. But even if the US stayed in the Accord, the proposed budget cuts to the EPA would make it impossible for the US to fulfill the only actual requirement in the accord: reporting emissions.

Trump’s budget proposal cuts funding for emissions measurements at the EPA by 86 percent. The Greenhouse Gas Inventory (enjoy this website while you can) would be crippled. With the US making up a sixth of global GHG emissions, the world will have a much harder time estimating emissions (well, we still have ppm).

What’s worse, the flailing US may encourage other countries to be lax in their carbon reports. For the upcoming G20 meeting, German Chancellor and host Angela Merkel wanted the countries to reassert their commitment to the Paris Accord. According to Der Spiegel (in German), Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau has asked, however, for the mention of the Accord to be struck from the wording of a declaration to be signed at the meeting. Top leaders are thus already trying to accommodate Trump. Down the slippery slope we go.

It’s not certain that Trump’s EPA budget will go through as proposed, and not all Republican-friendly experts are happy about Trump’s climate agenda (my favorite here). But the Republicans in power want a small state, and Trump has given them a useful new tactic: utter chaos. Indeed, the main vacant office is arguably the presidency itself.

Furthermore, the Republicans have set up a frame in which they cannot fail. George W. Bush was never blamed for 9/11, but Obama would have been blamed had a major terrorist attack occurred under his watch. If one happens under Trump, it will be an opportunity, not a failure. As long as Republicans can’t fail, Democrats are on the defensive.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.


Craig Morris (@PPchef) is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende.

1 Comment

  1. There is a small error in the list of unfilled posts: Trump has chosen a reasonably qualified head for FEMA, Brock Long. I don’t know if the dysfunctional White House has actually sent his name to the Senate – several ambassadorships are in this particular limbo.

    An advanced US destroyer, the Arleigh Burke class USS Fitzgerald, was in a very serious collision with a Japanese container ship a few days ago, with heavy loss of life. The destroyer has AEGIS and was part of the monitoring of North Korean missile tests. There is no US Ambassador to Japan to handle the minor crisis. The area desk at the State Department is also vacant. One of these days something much bigger is going to happen.

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