Both credits were widely expected to lapse last year, but in a somewhat miraculous last-minute deal in December, they were extended for five years, over which time they will slowly phase out.
This would have served as a kind of bridge for renewables, carrying them to the point when the Clean Power Plan kicks in. Now the CPP is likely toast. And the big question is whether Republicans in Congress might scale back the solar and wind credits.
There's some reason to think they are safe for now. In Politico, an unnamed "major Trump financial contributor who said he is a member of the transition team" assures us that the ITC and PTC "will remain in place." Then again, oil baron Harold Hamm, a key Trump energy adviser and rumored contender for energy secretary, recently said of solar and wind, "None of it should be subsidized, none of it. If it makes it in the market, fine." So who knows?
Meanwhile, Trump has also talked about zeroing out all federal research and development for clean energy, which would include work the Department of Energy is doing on solar, wind, nuclear power, efficiency, electric cars, batteries, and more, including the cutting-edge research being done at ARPA-E.
In the past, House Republicans have shown an eagerness to scale back this research (though not, oddly enough, R&D for fossil fuels). A move like this could throttle the next generation of low-carbon technology.
7) Dramatically limit the EPA's ability to regulate in the future
Most of the environmental policy progress in the US over the last 40 years has come through "green drift," i.e., through agencies like the EPA adapting and expanding America's foundational green laws — the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act — to address new problems.
This occurs because those laws were written to be incredibly open-ended. They were designed to be flexible, to apply to whatever new threats agency scientists uncovered. The Clean Air Act tells the EPA to update its rules over time to reflect the best available science about the health impacts of pollution; the EPA does just that.
This process has always driven conservatives crazy. In part, they think the flexibility encourages executive overreach; in part, they just hate environmental regulations.
They have a way to put a stop to green drift. It's called the REINS Act (Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny). It would mandate that every "economically significant" federal regulation — any rule that has an annual impact of $100 million or more — be affirmatively approved by the House and Senate and be signed by the president. If a regulation is not voted on within 70 legislative working days of being sent to Congress, it is "tabled." That is, it dies.
This law would radically constrain EPA's ability to issue new environmental regulations as situations and science evolved (to say nothing of what it would do to other federal agencies). It would be a fundamental change in the administrative state and a radical increase in Congress's power relative to the president.
It would slow progress on all fronts, but on environmental policy, where there is such unified Republican antipathy, it would almost certainly result in a total freeze — no new substantial regulations as long as Republicans control any of the three branches of government.
The GOP House passed REINS several times during the Obama years, only to see it stripped out or blocked in the Senate. With a GOP Senate and Trump as president, there's a very real chance it could become law.
8) Reverse the White House's climate guidance to federal agencies
In August, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a somewhat obscure but extremely important guidance to other federal agencies. All agencies, when considering any new project, have to do a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review to assess the project's environmental impacts. CEQ's guidance instructs agencies to consider direct and indirect climate impacts as part of those NEPA reviews.
And it clarifies that agencies should not ignore climate impacts merely because a single project might be a small fraction of global emissions — a position many agencies had been taking. The guidance says, effectively, that climate should matter in every federal decision. (More on the details of the guidance here.)
It has its inconsistencies, and did not carry the force of law, but the guidance was an important signal, the kind of background nudge that shifts the direction of the ship of state.
Trump has not specifically said he will rescind the guidance, but if he puts a clever industry lobbyist in charge of CEQ, it's tough to see how it will survive. If it is rescinded, federal agencies are likely to go back to ignoring climate impacts.
9) Make the Supreme Court more hostile to environmental regulation
Conservatives, states, and businesses have sued against virtually every environmental regulation in the past 40 years. Very often, those suits have failed. Since the Supreme Court's Chevron decision in 1984 (ironically written by Antonin Scalia, though he turned on the doctrine in later years), the Court has given executive branch agencies wide latitude in how they write and implement rules to carry out congressional intent.
The conservatives on the Court have been seeking to rein in executive agencies lately, especially after Obama, who built a progressive policy legacy almost entirely out of executive actions.
Trump will get to select at least one, and possibly up to four, Supreme Court justices, who are likely to be to Scalia's right. For every justice he picks, the Court as a whole is likely to become more hostile to executive action, meaning that lawsuits against environmental regulations are likely to find a much more amenable venue in coming years.
10) Pack the executive branch with industry-friendly appointments
One thing that's become very clear over the past few decades: When it comes to the federal government, personnel is policy. The people who staff and head executive branch agencies make a stream of daily decisions, the vast majority of which never rise to the level of public attention. Those agency decisions pile up over time. They can lead to steady, effective government or to incompetence and corruption.
George W. Bush legendarily stocked his government with industry executives, lobbyists, and cronies. Under his Interior Department, officials used to trade favors to the oil and gas industry for hookers and blow. (No, seriously.) Reports on the agency submitted to Congress "portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration's watch."
Under Bush's EPA, meanwhile, administrator Stephen Johnson "suppress[ed] staff recommendations on pesticides, mercury, lead paint, smog, and global warming." In Bush's White House Council on Environmental Quality, James Connaughton denied global warming and defended the air quality in Lower Manhattan just after 9/11. Philip Cooney, also at CEQ, was busted doctoring scientific reports on climate change and left the administration to lobby for Exxon. FEMA had Michael Brown. The list could go on.
The kind of crude collusion between industry and government that characterized the Bush administration looks, from all indications, to be Trump's model.
His pick to lead his EPA transition is Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, mostly famous for his sheer persistence in denying climate change (he's been at it since 2000). He recently said that "Congress should prohibit any funding for the Paris Climate Treaty, the Green Climate Fund, and the underlying UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."
There are several more industry lobbyists on Trump's energy and environment team; see Robin Bravender at ClimateWire for more.
11) A flurry of anti-EPA budget bills that will emerge every year, without end
The above list is by no means exhaustive. Trump has also indicated that he would like to repeal the EPA's Waters of the United States rule, which would limit the number of rivers, streams, and lakes that fall under the Clean Water Act. The oil and gas industry is already eager to kill Obama-era rules to plug leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from pipelines and wells. Trump could do both of those through executive action.
Then there's Congress. Various Republicans in the House have a whole flurry of anti-EPA bills they're eager to push forward, and they will try to attach these "riders" to must-pass budget and spending bills at every turn.
In 2015, there were riders to prevent the federal government from updating its flood-map plans to incorporate climate change forecasts. Riders to block the EPA from even researching the environmental impacts of fracking. Riders to halt upgrades to wastewater management systems. Riders to block the Department of Energy's efforts to improve climate change modeling and forecasts. Riders to hinder citizens from suing the federal government if it falls down on the job of enforcing the Clean Water Act. You can check out the full smorgasbord here.
Resistance will be fierce, but it lacks leverage
Climate and environmental groups will not simply sit back and watch this happen. "If Donald Trump thinks he can launch a big polluter assault on our air, waters, wildlife and lands," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement, "we'll build a wall of opposition to stop him."
In politics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. An assault on environmental laws and regulations will spark fierce, organized resistance, just as it did during the Bush years. Many of the internal squabbles within the climate community — carbon tax or cap and trade? research or deployment? — will rapidly come to seem quaint. The stakes will be higher, the sides clearer.
But there's no getting around it: The victories will be fewer. Even during the Bush years, the environmental community had more to work with, including an occasionally Democratic Senate and a few old-fashioned Republicans who cared about local pollution. (Oh, and the filibuster.)
Now it has none of those. The GOP controls the House, the Senate, the presidency, the Supreme Court, and, soon enough, lower courts. If Republicans kill the filibuster, they will be virtually unrestrained at the federal level, limited only by their ability to overcome infighting and internal disagreement (which, admittedly, is no small thing). The 2018 Senate map is incredibly favorable to Republicans, and right now they look poised to strengthen their majority in the midterms.
The GOP also dominates at the state level, controlling 68 out of 99 state legislative chambers (both chambers in 33 states) and 32 governors' mansions.
What's more, the GOP has become much more radicalized since the Bush years, and the country much more partisan. "Negative partisanship" — hatred of the other side — is increasingly the prime motive force in US politics, with less and less willingness on either side to compromise or even negotiate. There is virtually no Republican support left for environmental or climate policy, other than to dismantle it.
While there is always some chance Trump could lunge off in an unexpected direction (he is Trump, after all), the overwhelming likelihood is that GOP operatives and industry lobbyists will control energy and environmental policy for the next four years. What lies ahead now is triage, a long string of terrible choices, desperate battles, and wrenching losses, the consequences of which could reverberate for millennia.
Commentary by Vox writer Brad Plumer.