Trump’s road to ‘energy dominance’ excludes clean energy

Environmental advocates call president’s speech a fitting end to “dirty energy week.”

President Donald Trump speaks at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. on June 29, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump speaks at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. on June 29, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Donald Trump on Thursday touted a list of actions that he said will allow the United States to achieve “new era of American energy dominance,” while environmental groups decried the actions as gifts to corporate polluters that will harm both the climate and the clean energy sector.

The full potential of the nation’s “vast energy wealth” can be realized only “when government promotes energy development,” Trump said in a speech at the Department of Energy’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

However, experts counter that the nation’s economic security depends on taking measures to address climate change. The vast amounts of fossil fuels in the United States and around the world will have to be left in the ground to prevent dangerous climate change.

Trump told energy executives in the audience that they have “gone through eight years of hell.” Under his administration’s initiatives, “the golden era of American energy is now underway,” the president said. The president’s statement overlooked the tremendous growth in natural gas production and renewable energy that occurred during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office.

Declaring an end to the “war on coal,” Trump announced that the Department of Treasury will remove barriers to U.S. government financing of new coal plants overseas. Led by the Obama administration, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reached an agreement in 2015 that removed financial support for large coal-fired power plants, while allowing support for smaller coal plants in developing countries.

Studies show that building new coal-fired plants, including in developing countries, will disproportionately affect the world’s poor and. With most of the households in developing countries beyond the reach of electricity grids, new coal-fired power plants will unlikely bring them electricity.

Most experts also agree that low natural gas prices, not federal regulations or policy decisions, have had the greatest impact on declining coal production in the United States.

Other prominent items on the list were a presidential order to conduct a review of the nation’s nuclear energy policy. Trump also said his administration will implement a new offshore oil and gas leasing program that will create access to “the energy wealth right off our shores.” The Interior Department said Thursday that it is publishing a “request for information,” seeking comments from the public on what areas should be open for drilling, the first step in redoing the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s five-year plan.

As part of the theme of using exports to create “energy dominance,” Trump said the Department of Energy plans to approve two new applications for liquefied natural gas exports from the Lake Charles export terminal in Louisiana. He also said he has approved plans to build a new petroleum pipeline from the United States to Mexico. “It’ll go right under the wall,” Trump said.

With newly elected South Korean president Moon Jae-in scheduled to meet with Trump on Thursday, the president noted that San Diego-based Sempra Energy has formally agreed to negotiate a potential LNG export contract with South Korea.

Environmental groups condemned the administration’s list of actions. “Trump’s rhetoric on energy falls short of the reality in which he’s cancelling life-saving public health standards that protect clean air and water just to boost the profits of fossil fuel executives,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Trump’s speech marked an “appalling conclusion” to what the administration has called “energy week,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters.

“If President Trump wanted the United States to be truly ‘energy dominant,’ he’d invest in clean energy innovation instead of slashing renewable energy research. He’d have us lead on climate change, instead of retreating from leadership on the world stage by withdrawing the Paris climate agreement,” Sittenfield said in a statement. “Without a doubt, Trump’s dirty energy week was a failure, with only vague policies that would benefit corporate polluters, while putting our natural heritage, our families’ health and our economic well-being at risk.”

President Donald Trump is flanked by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump is flanked by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Trump’s speech was preceded by a roundtable, moderated by energy industry consultant and author Daniel Yergin, that included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Perry explained it was research conducted at the DOE’s national laboratories that helped create early-stage directional drilling that allowed companies to extract natural gas at a much cheaper cost.

As part of its budget, though, the Trump administration requested a cut that would take about $900 million from the Office of Science, which oversees the DOE’s 10 national laboratories.

Pruitt said the job of the EPA is to “let the markets make decisions on what provides stable, cost-effective fuel to generate electricity” and not stand in the away of technology that helps to meet emissions standards.

David Turnbull, campaigns director at Oil Change International, said the “energy dominance” tagline “reveals an attitude toward our environment and energy policy that would destroy communities and our climate in order to feed his own desire to feel powerful over others.”

“Want to know what Trump’s idea of energy dominance looks like? Look no further than his crony cabinet. Thanks to this administration, Washington is more dominated by Big Oil, Gas and Coal executives and their shills than ever — and they’re having their way with American democracy,” Turnbull said in a statement. “Someone should put the leash back on Donald Trump, while the rest of us keep working to make America the leader it needs to be in renewable energy innovation and job creation.”

Also in his speech Thursday, Trump again addressed his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, describing it as “one-sided” and burdensome to U.S. businesses. The president left the door open for re-joining the agreement. “Maybe we’ll be back into it some day, but it will be on better terms. It will be on fair terms,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”