Photo: Richard Masoner / Flickr
In the week following his highly publicized inauguration, President Donald Trump spoke with world leaders about terrorism, enforced travel restrictions on citizens from seven (primarily Muslim) countries, and got the ball rolling on his long proposed border wall. Whether you agree with Trump’s policies or not, one thing can be said: the man is working, and he’s working fast.
As with every president, Trump’s policies and actions have been met with controversy and distaste from certain spectators. His present attempts to repeal Obamacare have sparked fear in many Americans, unclear about what will happen to their healthcare. Protesters have gathered to spew their anger over Trump’s immigration plans and travel restrictions, citing them as un-American. Even Hillary Clinton, who has stayed relatively silent since her election defeat last November, took to Twitter over the weekend, writing, “This is not who we are.”
Trump’s America First Energy Plan has also drawn skepticism from onlookers. It’s a little “vague,” as some like to put it. Details regarding how Trump will enact his promises are sketchily drawn, and fail to give clear ideas about what will occur over the next four years.
Elizabeth Shogren of High Country News writes, “The President’s plan is brief and vague, and doesn’t include citations to research backing up his assertions. Usually presidents and even candidates would accompany their policy blueprints with background materials… Without them, it’s difficult to thoroughly analyze the new president’s vision.”
Instead, the plan reads as an ambiguous ode to the fossil-fuel industry, and vows to take advantage of the country’s vast natural resources, especially on public land. And the best way to do that, according to the plan, is by axing Obama-era environmental protections unfriendly to the fossil-fuel industry.
Here’s what the White House website says about Trump’s America First Energy Plan:
For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next seven years.
The Climate Action Plan was enforced in 2013 to cut harmful carbon emissions and limit the growing effects of climate change. Information presented in the plan suggests that heightened emissions contribute to a wide array of phenomena like flash floods and extended heat waves. It also states carbon emissions fell to their lowest levels in nearly two decades in 2012 “even as the economy continued to grow.” The Waters of the U.S. rule came into effect in 2015, and places specific rivers, lakes and streams under EPA protection.
Trump’s math of $30 billion within seven years has sparked heavy debate. He claims restrictions have wounded wages for American workers, but independent researchers cite mandates within the Climate Action Plan, such as the Clean Power Plan, that have increased jobs within the renewable energy sector. Over a quarter-million jobs are slated to arise by 2040, and the benefits far exceed the present costs.
Yet, Trump’s energy plan doesn’t even mention renewables, which are responsible for most of the new power supply running into the grid and most of the new jobs in the energy industry.
Associate professor at the University of Wyoming Robert Godby points out what he considers to be the next flaw in Trump’s energy agenda. Throughout his campaign, Trump has vowed to revamp America’s coal industry while expanding natural gas production. According to Godby, having both is virtually impossible. Natural gas is the primary culprit behind coal’s fall, and pushing it will only sap citizens’ “coal desires” even more.
“Sooner or later, the administration will have to recognize they cannot help all fossil fuels, and that in the case of natural gas or coal, it is one or the other,” he says.
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa agrees, calling the use of coal a step backward. Since 2015, nearly one-third of the Hawkeye State has received its electricity from newfound solar and wind sources. He claims that solar jobs likely exceed those in the coal industry, and that demand for renewable energy won’t die out anytime soon. Other states, such as California and Oregon, have developed ambitious renewable energy plans that would see residents receiving half their electricity supply from solar and wind sources within the next 20 years.
“It’s a hollow promise,” says Colorado energy expert Susan Tierney of Trump’s pledge. “The market has moved way beyond coal.”
The energy plan also boasts confidence in “clean coal,” but this is also causing a few raised eyebrows. The technology for making coal cleaner is particularly expensive, and could turn Americans away from coal altogether. There is also mention of more drilling, particularly on public lands so as to relieve dependence on foreign oil. Indeed, there is nobility behind the notion, but some say this could only be accomplished through access of protected areas.
Public policy professor at Boise State University John Freemuth explains that lifting restrictions to drill protected lands would be difficult, and that unless companies want to spend the majority of their time in federal court, there isn’t likely to be increased drilling during Trump’s presidency. He says the length of time it takes to approve applications for drilling permits has risen nearly 100 days since 2005, and that resistance to further drilling has grown as a solid result. In order for Trump to ease current restrictions, he would have to rewrite years of regulatory policies, which would ultimately increase his administration’s future court visits.
“I’m not sure how they’re going to do this,” he says. “Right now, they’re talking at the myth level rather than the fact level.”
The Energy Plan also cites the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as a major problem, and seeks to relieve American dependence from oil garnered through OPEC nations. Susan Tierney says that reliance significantly died down during Obama’s presidency, and that only a quarter of the country’s petroleum comes from related sources. It’s possible, however, that Trump views this final quarter as the remaining threat to America’s complete independence, and he wants all sources stemming from U.S. reserves only.
But until he provides more details — along with the science and research to back them up — we won’t know for sure.