Trump's Parallel Universe of Energy

Trump's Parallel Universe of Energy

Donald Trump’s highly promoted speech last Thursday on U.S. energy policy was the most anti-environment and most detached from the realities of energy markets of any ever delivered by a major presidential nominee in American history.

Fending off criticism in 1980 he was anti-environment, then candidate Ronald Reagan bragged about passing the nation’s strictest air pollution laws when Governor of California – an assertion that was factually correct. Until 2016, both parties, including the GOP of Reagan, have sometimes differed over the balance between energy and the environment but have generally agreed there had to be some balance. No longer.

Trump’s assault on American efforts to slow climate change could hardly have been more total. First, he wants to jettison the Clean Power Plan. He fails to realize that the Supreme Court in 2007 mandated that the Environmental Protection Agency deal with climate change. While the Court has yet to rule whether EPA’s current approach relies on correct legal reasoning, it will certainly require that the next president enforce something pretty much like it. Since the Obama administration has bent over backwards to protect coal-producing states in its plan, the irony is that any Trump success in scuttling the Clean Power Plan could well lead to rules even more stringent on coal.

Second, he pledges to ditch international agreements on climate, even though President Obama has been able to get India and China to pledge they too will act. Climate skeptics have long cited the slow responses from the Asian giants trying to raise their populations from poverty as reasons to slow American efforts, but now the skeptic-in-chief wants to scrap those hard-won agreements.

Trump’s tendency to blame all the ills of energy on environmental regulation produces some pretty tortured logic. Several analysts have already shown that Trump is incorrect in blaming the declines in the coal industry primarily on environmental protection. The evidence clearly shows that the attractive price of natural gas is a much bigger factor. If Trump really wants to help the coal industry, he’ll have to severely limit the fracking of natural gas, the big threat to coal.

Analysts have not been quite so observant that the major loss of coal mining jobs occurred well before the boom in American gas. When I entered the depths of a coal mine two decades ago, I found a couple of guys at computer consoles running giant trains that sheared and collected the coal from the cavern walls. Due to the expanded use of such robotic equipment, coal-mining jobs were disappearing even when the use of coal was growing. For Trump to fulfill his pledge to return mining employment to its historic peak, he’ll have to end environmental regulations on coal (bring back the sulfur and mercury!), sharply limit the domestic production of gas (sorry about that Texas!), and require miners to use traditional picks and shovels (be careful what you wish for!).

In Trump’s parallel universe of energy, President Obama has “done everything he can” to block the oil and gas industries, so they surely have suffered immensely during his time in office. And surely, customers must be paying more to fuel their cars. In the real world, Obama has presided over the biggest oil and gas boom in the nation’s history. We can expect some drop in domestic oil production in the near future, but this is due to overproduction and low prices, not regulation or the lack of places to drill. Another jolt of reality – on Friday, the Energy Information Administration announced that gasoline prices going into the Memorial Day weekend were the lowest since 2009.

In Trump’s world, Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton are to blame for any drop in the number of rigs drilling for oil. American energy prices will no longer be affected by international markets. There will be no legal or judicial restraints on any of his proposed actions. Somehow a contribution to the Clinton Foundation probably led to Barrack Obama’s effort to try to keep us dependent on foreign oil. (Yes, Trump actually said that.) If all this is contained in what supposed to be Trump’s most serious speech on energy, we can wait with eager anticipation for his less serious efforts.

In his 2008 book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Thomas Friedman decried a growing mood of “dumb as we wanna be” in the American political dialog that stymied dealing with climate change and other national challenges. The primary question about Trump is not so much where he stands on the climate change spectrum as where he stands on the “dumb as we wanna be” spectrum.

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