Trump’s Energy Policy: More Shale Gas and a Return to Coal

November 25, 2016

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. On Monday, President-Elect Donald Trump shared a video update on the status of his transition, and he also outlined some policy plans for his first 100 days in office, and his, quote, “Day One Executive Actions”. Let’s take a look at a clip of what he says about his energy issues.

DONALD TRUMP: On energy, I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs. That’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been waiting for. On regulation, I will formulate a rule which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.

KIM BROWN: So, will any progress on climate change made under the Obama Administration be undone by President-Elect Trump? Well, with us here to discuss Trump’s energy policy plans is Janet Redman. Janet is the US Policy Director at Oil Change International. She’s also an Associate Fellow with the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. Janet, thanks so much for being here.

JANET REDMAN: Thank you very much for having me.

KIM BROWN: Well, Gina McCarthy, who is the outgoing head of the Environmental Protection Agency, she said on Monday that, “The inevitability of our clean energy future is bigger than any one person or nation.” So, is that the case, or can Donald Trump, with a Republican-controlled Congress, can they in tandem rewrite all of the environmental laws?

JANET REDMAN: Well, no, they can’t rewrite all of the environmental laws, but certainly we’ve heard from Trump himself — and there are many folks in Congress, particularly, Republicans in Congress — who said that they would like to rewrite many of the rules for clean energy and that support climate action. I think what we are in part really looking at is two different worlds. One is the world of pushing fossil fuels forward. We’ve taken many steps with the Obama presidency, with some of the Democrats in Congress to think about limiting the role of fossil fuels in our energy sector. So that’s one piece, is the fossil fuel side of the world. And the other piece is the renewable energy side of the energy sector, we’ve seen incredible gains in the renewable energy sector, both here in the United States, but also globally. I think one of the pieces that’s really important for us to think about, and for us to hold our elected officials to account on, is where the world is going. So, while the US may be thinking about being isolationist, turning back toward fossil fuels as an economic driver, really what’s happening in the rest of the world is that renewable energy is taking off, and by ignoring that fact, we are in fact shooting ourselves in the foot both in terms of clean air, clean water, but in terms of clean energy jobs.

KIM BROWN: So, Janet, let’s look at some of the specifics of what he said. He wants to, “Cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs.” So, number one, are environmental restrictions actually killing jobs? And, number two, would cancelling those restrictions “create millions of jobs,” as President-Elect Trump is asserting?

JANET REDMAN: Well, I mean, I can take the second one first. Millions of jobs in the energy sector and in the fossil fuel sector is incredibly unlikely. Right now, we have twice as many jobs in the solar sector as we do in the coal sector, for example. We’re seeing steady growth. We’re seeing steady add-on of new jobs in the renewable energy sector. But it’s still in the hundreds of thousands of jobs — not in millions of jobs. So that’s a number I have a guess that he kind of pulled out of the air to make a big splash, as I think we’ve heard that Trump often does. And let’s talk about jobs that have been lost in the energy sector, in particular in the coal sector, because that’s what Trump has used, I think, to garner favor from folks in rural America and places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, that are certainly feeling a crunch because the coal sector is shrinking. Part of the problem could be regulation. Certainly, there has been some regulation. But the major two drivers are that the price of gas has plummeted, and so coal is no longer marketable. Coal is no longer competitive. And there is a decreased demand for it, internationally in particular, but here in the United States because we can use gas to serve those needs. And then there’s the whole situation of mechanization, which has been shifting the way that we dig coal out of the ground in the first place. Being doing that, it’s happening by machine as opposed to by human hands. So, Trump has made some compelling promises, I think, catering to folks in coal country, but he’s rejected, actually, the kinds of Just Transition policies, like the $30 billion that Clinton promised that would actually retrain folks in coal country because it’s a market problem less [sic] than a regulation problem, really.

KIM BROWN: So, Trump, as well as other Republicans, they love to use the term “clean coal”. So, Janet, I mean, can coal actually be clean and what, in fact, does “clean coal” even mean?

JANET REDMAN: It’s a great question. There is no one definition of clean coal. No, coal can never be clean. If we look at the entire life cycle of coal, we see that it’s dirty when it’s being dug out of the ground, both for ground water, for air quality, for entire landscapes that are destroyed because of the ways we mine coal now, and of course, for the health of those individual coal miners who still are working in mines and digging coal. So, it’s not clean when it’s being pulled out of the ground. It’s not clean when it’s being used. Toxic ash is one of the major by-products of burning coal in power plants, as well as mercury and carbon dioxide. It’s not just a climate problem; it’s a full lifecycle problem. So when people talk about clean coal, often they’re talking about something called “carbon capture and sequestration”. That’s the idea that we can pull CO2 out of the smokestack, shove it underground, and store it there in geologic formations. The problem, of course, is that it’s not tested at scale. There are also questions about its viability geologically. What happens if there’s a crack in the overburden where carbon dioxide will be stored, and it basically belches out into the atmosphere? And it looks incredibly energy- and financially-intensive, so it’s kind of the most cost option for solving a problem we already have a solution to, which is investing in renewable energy.

KIM BROWN: Trump also says, “On regulation, I will formulate a rule which says for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.” Can he bring about a rule like that legally-speaking?

JANET REDMAN: Again, I think that Trump is largely bluffing. There are moves in Congress to slash regulations that have been put in place of the last six months of the Obama Administration. I think we need to look at the kinds of hyperbole that Trump is using across the board. Let’s look at what he talked about the UN Climate Summit. He’s going to slash the Paris Agreement. He’s going to pull out of the Paris Agreement. And then yesterday, he said, “Well, I’ll consider the Paris Agreement. I’ll look at it, and I’ll give it a fair shake.” So, I think what we need to examine are bluff and big, boisterous statements, and then think about how he pulls back. I think one thing that’s actually critical about these kinds of very blustering statements is that we don’t think, “Ah, we’ve won something, because he’s come back from the edge of something really outlandish to something really mildly metered,” for example, saying that he will consider what’s going on with the Paris Agreement. That’s not really a victory. That’s still… that’s kind of him pulling back from the edge of ridiculous, but we shouldn’t be considering that a compromise, for example.

KIM BROWN: Well, the President-Elect also said that he came up with a list of plans with the aid of his transition team. So what do we know about his energy advisors and their ties to fossil fuels, do we have some of that connection and overlap? We know that the President-Elect is at least a small investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline out in North Dakota.

JANET REDMAN: Yeah. We’ve been looking at the people who have been advising him on energy for some time now, and they are… it reads, basically, like a list of invites to an American Petroleum Institute awards ceremony. We’re looking at folks who not only invest in the fossil fuel industry but in large part are CEOs and leaders of the fossil fuel industry. For example, looking at the Department of Interior, he’s talking about a person named Forrest Lucas, who right now is an oil executive. He’s talking about Sarah Palin, who is infamous for, “Drill, baby, drill.” Harold Hamm is a fracking mogul and billionaire who has been courted for the Department of Energy, Department of Interior. We’re looking at Rick Perry, who has investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline company… owner(?) companies, as potential appointee as the secretaries of many of these agencies. So, yes, his entire list of potential appointees and advisors who have been catching his ear on some of the most critical energy and climate issues are deeply, deeply embedded in the fossil fuel industry.

KIM BROWN: So, Trump’s friendly stance towards gas pipeline combined with his investment, as I mentioned, in the Dakota Access Pipeline, is also inviting scrutiny. Might we see legal or other political action on this front?

JANET REDMAN: I think we’re expecting to. He’s, of course, made the assertion that by putting his money into blind trust, or by turning his business interests over to his family, he no longer has a conflict of interest. I think many people in the environment community and in the government accountability community will be challenging that assertion. I think what we really need to look at also is just the political mandate that Trump has from the people who voted for him, and some of the people, frankly, who didn’t vote for him. What people are sick of is having a corrupt government, feeling like the people on the inside are colluding with one another and rigging the rules. So, if Trump is playing both sides of, for example, the pipeline game, talking about expanding it but also benefiting from it financially, I think he’s going to alienate some of his own voters — the people in those middle states who said, “We’re really, really sick of government officials making money off of the decisions that are hurting us.” And pipelines will certainly folks in rural America. It’s the infrastructure that’s going through people’s backyards, that’s leaking and affecting people’s streams, eminent domain through people’s property. I think he’s making a big mistake when he thinks about expanding infrastructure that will hurt the little guy across America.

KIM BROWN: Donald Trump has said that he wants to dump the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement, but, as you’ve mentioned, that he’s sort of waffling back on the latter, at least. But a recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 71% of Americans support the Paris Climate deal, so he may have a battle with the American public on his hands if he reneges on this, as you just mentioned, Janet. So, how can people try to hold Donald Trump’s feet to the fire, as it were? Because, you know, as you know and as many of our viewers know, that we are approaching critical mass on a lot of environmental fronts, and should the United States renege on its commitments, it could be disastrous, whether or not we’re a part of the agreements or whether or not we’re not part of the agreements. So, what can the American people do, as a whole, especially those who did not vote for Donald Trump, as you mentioned, to make sure that the United States is at least headed in the right direction when it comes to environmental responsibility?

JANET REDMAN: Yeah. I think we should take some solace in the fact that we have pulled out of international agreements before. We were never part of the Kyoto Protocol, and the world went on without us. I think it’s important for us to recognize and remember that there are another 194 countries who signed on to the Paris Agreement. Certainly, we are one of the two top major emitters on the planet, and so we’re a big deal, but it doesn’t mean that other countries aren’t going to go forward and, again, the global market for renewable energy is taking off. That being said, we certainly have to hold Trump’s feet to the fire in terms of not tanking the climate and not hurting people here in our own country, because of the pollution that comes with the fossil fuel build-up that he’s promising. So, one thing, and I think we’re seeing it across the country, is turning out in the streets. We’re seeing it with the Dakota Access Water Protectors, who are holding their ground there. I think those kinds of fights are going to be increasingly important as Trump attempts to build out infrastructure via his energy plans, but even more broadly via infrastructure plans. And there’s a lot of hope I think at the state and local level. Again, we’ve seen the message from mayors from 30 different rural and urban cities, big and small cities, saying, “Trump, we need to work on climate,” so that’s one tack. And, of course, with the Clean Power Plan, many states are moving forward with state plans to reduce emissions from power generation without the help of the EPA. They are moving forward with that even as the Clean Power Plan has been locked up in court battles. So, I think, again, individual direct action on the streets, local, municipal action, what can happen in cities and towns across the country, and state-level action, is going to continue and may actually see increased energy knowing that the federal space is going to be a bit more mired for the next four years, at least.

KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with the US Policy Director of Oil Change International, Janet Redman. She’s also an Associate Fellow with the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. Janet, we appreciate your time today. Thanks a lot.

JANET REDMAN: Thanks for having me. Great to talk to you.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.