Trump Order on Clean Power

Food Companies, Others Still Moving Toward Renewable Energy

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The agricultural community and rural American have benefited from the explosion of biofuel production, wind and solar production, and the switch from coal to natural gas. (Power plant photo courtesy EPA; windmill photo by DTN Staff Reporter Emily Unglesbee)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- On the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the Clean Power Plan, the world's largest beer company announced it would buy 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Anheuser-Busch InBev will start renewable energy shifts in Mexico, which is home to the company's largest brewery. The company will be buying power from a major wind and solar project being built in Mexico.

"Climate change has profound implications for our company and for the communities where we live and work," said AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito. "Cutting back on fossil fuels is good for the environment and good for business, and we are committed to helping drive positive change. We have the opportunity to play a leading role in the battle against climate change by purchasing energy in a more sustainable way."

Further, AB InBev has joined RE100, a group of major global businesses committed to converting to 100% renewable energy. AB InBev estimates its renewable-power conversion will reduce the company's carbon footprint by roughly 30%.

The AB InBev announcement highlights that at least some global corporations aren't in lockstep with the Trump administration when it comes to energy production and the push to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Rural energy providers on Tuesday praised Trump's actions.

"Affordable and reliable power is fundamental to a successful economy," said former Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, now CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The rural electric co-op group praised the Trump administration for "working to protect American families and businesses from the potentially devastating impacts of the Clean Power Plan. Today's announcement is welcome news for electric cooperatives across the nation seeking flexibility and fairness -- but it's not yet the end of the journey," Matheson said. "Now that President Trump has issued his executive order, we look forward to EPA undoing this rule and taking a closer look at other current regulations."

Ernie Shea, executive director of the 25X'25 coalition, a group pushing for 25% renewable energy sources by 2025, said renewable energy is cost effective, and regardless of the stance of federal policy right now, the world is moving toward lower carbon emissions. The risk, he said, is that other countries become the leaders in renewable energy.

"Our lack of alignment where the rest of the world is going puts us at an economic disadvantage," Shea said. "We can either watch someone else take the lead like China or we can use our intellectual capacity to lead the way and benefit from it. Putting our heads in the sand and not capitalizing on the opportunities that come from these newer, cleaner energy solutions is a fundamental mistake."

Further, the agricultural community and rural American have benefited from the explosion of biofuel production, wind and solar production, and the switch from coal to natural gas. If U.S. energy policy ends up reducing demand for renewable feedstocks, that will have a ripple effect across the rural economy, Shea said.

"This is the same community that elected the president. There needs to be a recognition that this voter block has benefited from the clean-energy solutions they have delivered. They are not going to go quietly if these energy solutions are dismantled," Shea said.

The 25X'25 team is still confident the country can achieve that goal of 25% renewables by 2025. Currently, the country is closing in at about 11% in renewable production, which has about doubled since 2005.

Millennials are the generation with the most disposable income now. People from that generation are more focused on how products are made and the impact on the environment.

Trump's executive order actually states that it is in the national interest to produce "affordable, reliable, safe, secure and clean" energy whether it is from coal, natural gas, nuclear, water, or renewable energy.

The executive order calls on agencies to remove rules that hinder the development of energy while rescinding several of former President Barack Obama's executive orders on clean energy. The White House also stops the production of federal climate action plans and strategies. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt must also begin reviewing the agency's Clean Power Plan and consider withdrawing it. The White House also disbanded a federal working group that created a per-ton economic cost of carbon dioxide emissions called the social cost of carbon.

The biggest move in Trump's order is lifting a moratorium that would open up federal lands to coal leases, which could increase fossil fuel production. The move will bring back jobs to the coal industry, the president said. "We will unlock job-producing natural gas, oil and shale energy," the president said. "We will produce American coal to power American industry."

The executive order likely reflects that the Trump administration won't be advancing any efforts to reduce emissions from other industries, such as agriculture. That would prevent livestock farmers, for instance, from having to report emissions from livestock.

Rescinding the Clean Power Plan likely will still require a long legal battle once the rulemaking process begins at EPA. If successful, it also likely means the U.S. doesn't have a plan for showing reduction in carbon emissions agreed to by the Obama administration in the Paris climate agreement in 2015. The U.S. had committed to reduce emissions by at least 26% from 2005 levels by 2025.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association along with 39 rural power cooperatives petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2015 to reject the Clean Power Plan, leading to the current legal stay of the power rule by the Supreme Court.

"Today's announcement is an important step toward protecting our cooperatives and millions of Americans from the costly impacts of the CPP as co-ops continue innovating and moving toward cleaner energy production," Matheson said. "We look forward to working with the administration to advance our common goals and improve the lives of every rural American."

Suzy Friedman, senior director of agricultural sustainability at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the group is disappointed by the Trump administration's move, but she believes there is still positive work being done to help build resiliency in agriculture.

"We're very confident the business interest in sustainability in agriculture is going to continue, consumer interest in this is not going away and we're seeing continued work in the supply chain," Friedman said. "There's also continued interest by farmers in the real value conservation brings to agriculture we're still seeing a lot of support for improvements and increases to USDA conservation programs."

When it comes to agriculture and the food supply, the biggest driver for reducing greenhouse gas emissions may be Walmart and not the federal government. Just days before the 2016 election, Walmart became the first global retailer with an emissions reduction strategy to get in alignment with the Paris climate agreement. Under its plan, Walmart will push to get 50% of its energy from renewable sources to lower its emissions 18% over the next decade. Through the supply chain, Walmart plans by 2030 to reduce emissions by its suppliers by 1 Gigaton, an amount equivalent to taking more than 211 million cars off U.S. roads for a year.

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Chris Clayton