Gage SkidmoreYesterday in a press conference and speech in North Dakota, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced what some are terming his energy policy. His announcement was extremely short on specifics, included factual inaccuracies, and in some cases contained obvious internal contradictions.
As such, what he said might better be termed “energy aspirations.” We’ll have to wait for the details to see how these aspirations might eventually lead to policy.
What were those aspirations? There were two related themes in the announcements: extraction is good, and regulations are bad because they tend to limit extraction.
So Trump will get rid of a lot of the latter in order to boost the former.
But, at the same time, he’ll preserve our air, water, and natural resources.
At one point, Trump estimated that “75 percent of our rules and regulations are bad for us.” So he’d get rid of most of them: “Any regulation that’s outdated, unnecessary, bad for workers, or contrary to the national interest will be scrapped, and scrapped completely.” Lest there be any confusion about whose rules were problematic, he went on to accuse the Environmental Protection Agency of using “totalitarian tactics” and accused the Obama administration of blocking extraction.
There’s a small problem with that narrative: under the Obama administration, the US has become the world’s single largest producer of oil and natural gas.
To sustain this criticism, Trump had to find a statistic that sounded bad; he settled on blaming Obama for “the lowest oil rig count,” even though that clearly has no relationship to production.
This sort of cognitive dissonance pervaded the speech.
Trump promised to make US energy independent and free from international markets yet at the same time promised to approve the Keystone pipeline, which would bring in oil from another country. His promised approval got applause from the crowd in North Dakota even though the Canadian oil would be competing with their own local production.
Trump promised to make US energy free from international markets, yet at the same time promised to bring in oil from another country.
Regarding other extractive industries, Trump claimed that “We’re going to save the coal industry.” When a reporter pointed out that coal is dying largely because of cheap wind and natural gas, as well as falling foreign demand, Trump claimed coal would be much cheaper and therefore more competitive if there were less regulation. “All I can do is free up the coal, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he responded.
When speaking of renewable energy sources, Trump basically said we’d use them, but they’re terrible.
After claiming “I know a lot about solar,” Trump went on to say it had a 30-year payback time, which is simply false except for some very specific and rare circumstances. Unsubsidized wind power, which is cheaper than coal in many areas of the country, was also targeted. “Wind is very expensive—without subsidy, wind doesn’t work,” Trump misstated, before saying, “You go to various places in California, it’s killing all the eagles.”
Eagles, then, would seem to be in the “real” category in Trump’s statement, “We’re going to deal with real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been hearing about.” Although he never said so explicitly, climate change appears to be in the phony category, based on his intended policy changes.
“We’re going to rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions, including the Climate Action Plan,” Trump promised.
But he apparently doesn’t know what the Climate Action Plan is, since earlier he had claimed it was cap-and-trade (it will include that only if states choose to implement emissions reductions that way).
In any case, given that the EPA has already made an endangerment finding under the Clean Air Act, it’s not clear Trump would have the legal authority to stop these emissions limits.
Everything in this set of announcements needs clarification.
Similarly, he claimed the Paris climate agreement—which he’d also back out of—would give foreign bureaucrats the ability to control US energy policy.
In reality, the agreement calls for each nation to individually craft and implement its own plan for controlling carbon emissions.
As for the 25 percent of regulations that would remain in a Trump administration, they would be modified based on “trust [in] local officials and local residents.” Businesses generally hate this, as it’s a recipe for facing a patchwork of regulations rather than a single set of nationwide standards. Yet Trump has also claimed that he’ll provide the exact opposite: regulatory certainty for industry, something he said was very important.
Despite getting rid of most regulations, Trump promised that clean air and water would be priorities (something the local officials he praised have frequently been indifferent to), and he’d preserve our natural beauty.
But he also promised he’d preserve our wealth of fossil fuel resources, while at the same time arranging to extract them as quickly as possible.
This may mean that his definition of “preserve” needs clarification.
But everything in this set of announcements needs clarification.
It has become normal for politicians to over promise during the campaign and even to take positions that are at variance with reality should those play well with the voters.
But the frequency of those instances in these announcements, along with the large number of times the promises are incompatible with each other, means that there’s nothing here that approaches a policy.