Trump Targets NASA's Climate Research as He Invests in Dakota Pipeline Project
November 25, 2016 Oliver Milman / The Guardian & Daniel Gross / Slate
NASA's Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding as president-elect Donald Trump seeks to shift focus away from our home planet in favor of deep space exploration. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sunoco Logistics, a crude and natural gas pipeline company, has agreed to acquire Energy Transfer Partners, a large pipeline company, in a transaction worth $21 billion. On CNBC, Jim Cramer called it "the first Trump deal."
Trump to Scrap NASA Climate Research
In Crackdown on 'Politicized Science' Oliver Milman / The Guardian
NEW YORK (November 23, 2016) – Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by NASA as part of a crackdown on "politicized science", his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.
NASA's Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century.
This would mean the elimination of NASA's world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. NASA's network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division's budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.
Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for NASA to do what he has previously described as "politically correct environmental monitoring".
"We see NASA in an exploration role, in deep space research," Walker told the Guardian. "Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission.
"My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing NASA programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies. I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing. Mr Trump's decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science."
Trump has previously said that climate change is a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese, although on Tuesday he said there is "some connectivity" between human actions and the climate. There is overwhelming and long-established evidence that burning fossil fuels and deforestation causes the release of heat-trapping gases, therefore causing the warming experienced in recent decades.
Walker, however, claimed that doubt over the role of human activity in climate change "is a view shared by half the climatologists in the world. We need good science to tell us what the reality is and science could do that if politicians didn't interfere with it."
It's understood that federal government scientists have been unnerved by Trump's dismissal of climate science and are concerned that their work will be sidelined as part of a new pro-fossil fuels and deregulation agenda. Climate scientists at other organizations expressed dismay at the potential gutting of Earth-based research.
Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said as NASA provides the scientific community with new instruments and techniques, the elimination of Earth sciences would be "a major setback if not devastating".
"It could put us back into the 'dark ages' of almost the pre-satellite era," he said. "It would be extremely short sighted.
"We live on planet Earth and there is much to discover, and it is essential to track and monitor many things from space. Information on planet Earth and its atmosphere and oceans is essential for our way of life. Space research is a luxury, Earth observations are essential."
Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, said NASA has a "critical and unique role" in observing Earth and climate change.
"Without the support of NASA, not only the US but the entire world would be taking a hard hit when it comes to understanding the behavior of our climate and the threats posed by human-caused climate change," he said.
"It would be a blatantly political move, and would indicate the president-elect's willingness to pander to the very same lobbyists and corporate interest groups he derided throughout the campaign."
NASA has appointed two officials, Tom Cremins and Jolene Meidinger, to lead the transition to the new Trump administration. However, the president-elect's team has yet to formally review the space agency.
"The NASA community is committed to doing whatever we can to assist in making the executive branch transition a smooth one," a NASA spokesman said. "The agency remains focused on the future, a future that will improve our understanding of our changing home planet from NASA's unique platforms in space."
The Company Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline
Is Being Sold for $21 Billion. Is Trump the Reason Why? Daniel Gross / Slate
(November 21, 2016) -- Merger Monday started with a bang. Sunoco Logistics, a crude and natural gas pipeline company, agreed to acquire Energy Transfer Partners, a large pipeline company, in a transaction worth $21 billion. On CNBC, Jim Cramer called it "the first Trump deal."
The thinking: Energy companies are likely to be attractive investments and acquisitions under the incoming administration. Donald Trump is less concerned with the environment than his predecessor, and has promised more drilling for oil, fracking for natural gas, and mining for coal.
Companies like Energy Transfer Partners -- in which Trump owns shares -- are therefore likely to encounter fewer obstacles to building pipelines, which will mean more liquids coursing through their metal veins.
Indeed, Energy Transfer Partners is the parent company of the entity that is struggling to build the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. (On Sunday, law enforcement deployed water cannons in frigid weather to try to disperse the Native Americans and environmentalists protesting the project.)
Simplistic explanations can be right. And it's true that pipelines, especially those carrying oil, are a politicized topic. A case in point is the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was proposed to carry expensive, tough-to-get oil from the Alberta, Canada, tar sands, and which was ultimately stymied both by the Obama administration and shifts in the oil market. On the campaign trail Trump vowed to resuscitate it.
But there's something else going on here. The Energy Transfer Partners deal happens to be motivated by two macroeconomic factors that Trump staunchly opposes: the war on coal and the open global trade of a vital national resource. The US has an oil glut at the moment.
Oil production rose about 88 percent between 2008 and 2015. But with prices having fallen sharply since 2014 -- largely due to a vastly increased supply -- the boom is subsiding; in August, US oil production was off 6.5 percent from the year before. It would be nice to have more oil pipelines, but the US isn't exactly starved for them.
Natural gas is another story. And natural gas pipelines are the asset that Energy Transfer Partners has -- in spades -- and that Sunoco Logistics lacks. Sunoco Logistics owns 5,900 miles of crude oil pipelines, a small amount of pipelines that carry liquids derived from natural gas, and storage facilities for products refined from both natural gas and oil.
By contrast, Energy Transfer Partners owns and runs about "62,500 miles of natural gas and natural gas liquids pipelines," the company claims, mostly in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania.
Thanks to fracking, natural gas production has boomed in those states and others. Nationwide, natural gas production soared 40 percent between 2005 and 2015. At the same time, demand for natural gas all over the country (and around the world) has been booming. For a variety of reasons, ranging from cost to the desire to meet environmental mandates, power plants in every region have been switching from coal to natural gas.
In 2008, coal and natural gas accounted for 48 percent and 21 percent of electricity generation, respectively; so far this year, coal accounts for only 27 percent of electricity generation while natural accounts for 34 percent. (And more broadly, fossil fuels are losing market share to renewables.)
The election of Donald Trump won't change that. In coming years, power plants will be using more natural gas rather than less. And that means it is really valuable to have pipelines that can move natural gas across great distances.
There's a second factor weighing in favor of natural gas pipelines. During the Obama years, natural gas exports grew rapidly -- rising more than threefold between August 2008 and August 2016. Most of those exports travel via pipeline across the southern border to Mexico.
But this year, for the first time, natural gas -- and liquids derived from natural gas -- is being piped onto ships at terminals in Louisiana and Pennsylvania that are bound for Europe, South America, and Asia. There is surely much more of that to come. (Sunoco owns a storage facility at the Marcus Hook terminal in Pennsylvania, which is one of the places from which shipments of natural gas derivatives are shipped overseas.)
So, call it a Trump deal if you want. But the rise in demand for the cleanest-burning fossil fuel -- and for the conduits that carry them -- is predicated largely on the displacement of coal and the formation of new global trade routes. And Trump has nothing to do with those facts.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.