Advertisement

Trump’s newest policy promises show a deep misunderstanding of energy and the economy

Surprise, surprise.

CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

On Saturday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump laid out his plans for the first 100 days of his presidency, including seven actions he would take on day one to “protect American workers.”

But there’s reason to believe his promises — lifting restrictions on fossil fuel extraction while allowing projects like the Keystone XL pipeline to go forward — would yield little benefit for American workers and simultaneously hasten the climate crisis.

In his plan, Trump promised to lift restrictions on the production of shale, oil, natural gas, and “clean” coal. He also promised to lift “roadblocks” to “vital” energy infrastructure projects, “like the Keystone pipeline.” And he pledged to cancel payments to the U.N. climate change programs, saying he would instead funnel that money back to clean water and infrastructure projects.

This is far from the first time Trump has promised to enact policies that would effectively halt — if not completely dismantle — much of the environmental progress championed by President Obama. And his promises here dovetail nicely with earlier policy ideas: open up federal lands for unfettered coal extraction, support offshore oil drilling, and generally move away from any kind of international climate cooperation.

Individually, Trump’s statements that he would undo much of Obama’s environmental legacy can be taken with a grain of salt — according to experts, undoing existing regulation is burdensome process that would require a lot of work and even more time. But Trump’s promises in his 100-day plan indicate the Republican candidate has no interest in softening his support for almost unrestricted fossil fuel extraction, a stance climate scientists argue would lead to drastic global warming and dangerous climate consequences.

Advertisement

It is true that coal production has, generally, been on the decline in the United States in recent years — but that’s largely because of innovation in the energy sector, the declining price of natural gas, and a growing realization that coal is a threat to public health. It’s hard to see how opening up restrictions on coal mining would do much to bolster an already declining coal industry, especially as several large infrastructure projects that would have shipped domestic coal to markets overseas have struggled to become a reality.

And while the oil and gas industry don’t face the same kind of market forces plaguing the coal industry, they certainly aren’t the only types of energy to offer job-creating potential. In 2014, the solar industry added more jobs than oil and gas — 50 percent more jobs, in fact, than either the oil and gas pipeline construction industry or the crude oil and natural gas extraction industry. And that trend continued last year, with solar adding more jobs than oil and gas in 2015 as well.

There’s also reason to doubt that the energy projects Trump claims are currently roadblocked by “Obama-Clinton” policies would actually lead to permanent job creation. According to PolitiFact, the pipeline, had it been constructed, would only have resulted in 50 permanent, long-term jobs. The rest of the jobs created by the pipeline would have been temporary construction jobs, many lasting only four or eight months. Of the pipeline’s effect on the larger U.S. economy, the Washington Post said “the impact is barely a ripple.”

There is one promise in Trump’s day one plan that would potentially have a global impact on climate action: canceling the United States’ payments to the U.N. climate fund. Refusing to make payments to the climate fund — a pool of money used to help developing countries finance adaptation and mitigation projects — bolsters Trump’s previous statements that he would effectively pull the United States out of the U.N. Paris climate agreement. As many experts have noted, doing this would be difficult — there are provisions baked into the agreement that prevent any country from withdrawing until it has been in effect for a year, and the withdrawal process takes three years to complete.

Advertisement

But by refusing to make payments to the climate fund, and by stopping domestic climate action, a Trump presidency would likely have a chilling effect on global climate action, undermining the United States’ position as a global leader on climate and making countries like China and India — which are crucial to climate action and have been slow to act — less likely to achieve and strengthen their own climate commitments.

When Trump released his first energy plan back in May, Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told ThinkProgress Trump’s plans constituted “an existential threat to this planet.” As his most recent proposals make clear, Trump has no desire to mitigate that threat anytime soon.