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2017-06-21

Energy Department Closes Office Working on Climate Change Abroad

Republished from nytimes.com

 


By Brad Plumer



WASHINGTON — The Energy Department is closing an office that works with other countries to develop clean energy technology, another sign of the Trump administration’s retreat on climate-related activities after its withdrawal from the Paris agreement this month.

 

The 11 staff members of the Office of International Climate and Technology were told this month that their positions were being eliminated, according to current and former agency employees. The office was formed in 2010 to help the United States provide technical advice to other nations seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

The small office also played a lead role preparing for the annual Clean Energy Ministerial, a forum in which the United States, China, India and other countries shared insights on how best to promote energy efficiency, electric vehicles and other solutions to climate change.

 

Word of the closing came right before Rick Perry, the energy secretary, attended the latest Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in Beijing on June 6 to 8, agency employees said.

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The Energy Department did not respond to a request for comment.

 

In May, President Trump released a budget for 2018proposing the “elimination of climate change initiatives” within the Energy Department, including the international climate office. While the budget will require congressional approval, Mr. Perry has authority to reorganize parts of the Energy Department before lawmakers decide on spending levels.

 

The office is the only one in the Energy Department to have “climate” as part of its name.

 

The Trump administration has scaled back the federal government’s involvement on global warming on a number of fronts, scrubbing mentions of “climate change” from a variety of agency websites and unwinding climate regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency.

 

Closing the Office of International Climate and Technology could make cooperation on clean energy with other countries much harder, said Graham Pugh, who headed the office from 2011 to 2014. While both the State and Energy Departments still have separate programs to engage with China, Brazil and other countries, the office being eliminated specialized in applying the agency’s technical expertise to other nations’ efforts to advance clean energy projects.

The office played an important role, for instance, in helping India develop its own lighting efficiency standards and start a program to purchase LED lamps in bulk for consumers. “That program will lead to massive savings in terms of avoided carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution,” said Jonathan Elkind, who was an assistant secretary for the Energy Department’s Office of International Affairs during the Obama administration.

 

“Unfortunately there is an incredible dissonance between the declared interest of this administration to continue to lead on clean energy, and their actions,” Mr. Elkind said.

 

Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said a day after President Trump announced the withdrawal from the Paris accord that the United States would continue to engage with other nations on climate change by sharing clean energy technology.

 

“We need to export the technology and natural gas to those around the globe, India and China, and help them learn from us on what we’ve done to achieve good outcomes,” he said.

 

It is possible that other ongoing technology-sharing initiatives spearheaded by the Energy Department, like collaboration with China to develop carbon capture for its coal plants, will survive. But Mr. Pugh said the shutdown of this office made it far less likely that new opportunities for cooperation on energy technology would emerge.

 

The annual Clean Energy Ministerial will continue, as the previous energy secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, transferred responsibility for leading that forum to a new secretariat housed within the International Energy Agency headquarters last July.

 

Other changes to the Energy Department being contemplated by the Trump administration, like sweeping reductions in spending on research into renewable energy, nuclear power and carbon capture, will still require approval by Congress. Even some Republican lawmakers have expressed opposition to those proposed cuts.