Trump’s Policies: Energy and the Environment

This article is the first in the “Trump’s Policies” series. The purpose of this series is to analyze and predict the implementation of President-elect Trump’s announced policies. Be sure to look out for “Trump’s Policies: Taxes” and “Trump’s Policies: Immigration” next.

By John W. Nikolaou (CMC ’19)

Donald Trump’s election surprised both his detractors and supporters. It also prompted them to start seriously considering the policies he laid out on the campaign trail. Trump’s energy and environmental policies are some of his most divisive. While many ridicule the candidate for his claims that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, others support his pro-energy policies that seek to spur an “energy revolution” in America, creating thousands of jobs in the process. Now that Trump is the President-elect, policymakers must seriously consider what Trump’s stances on energy and the environment will mean for Americans today and for generations to come.

While Trump has gone back and forth with his statements on climate change, his policies certainly reflect less concern about the issue than Clinton’s or Obama’s policies did. His energy and environmental policies are primarily framed in terms of economic growth. For example, a key tenet of his plan is to take advantage of America’s estimated $50 trillion worth of shale, oil, natural gas, and coal reserves. This includes opening onshore and offshore federal lands for fossil fuel extraction. While the value of those reserves are contested, Trump predicts that their development would create more high paying jobs and increase the supply of energy, thereby decreasing the cost of energy nationwide, making the United States energy-independent, and better protecting the United States from shocks in the global oil market.

Continuing with this economic focus, Trump has repeatedly campaigned on the issue of coal. Specifically, he believes that the Obama administration’s misguided “war on coal” has led to the loss of thousands of coal mining jobs and the shutdown of important coal plants that have historically fueled America. Trump’s energy arguments begin to contradict themselves when it comes to the coal industry. For example, he has repeatedly said that the energy market should be free, that the government should not be able to pick winners and losers. However, he campaigned with the promise to specifically “save the coal industry.”  Further, one of the primary downward forces on the coal industry has been cheap natural-gas prices that directly compete with coal. Analysts predict that even if Trump were to significantly scale back government regulations that have targeted the coal industry, this would still not be enough to fully restore coal’s market share given the fast rate at which natural-gas production has grown in the last decade. The opening of more federal land for fracking (which extracts natural-gas) would further this trend. So while Trump’s energy plans may lead to more jobs, more government revenue, and a freer energy market, they may not be able to deliver on his emphatic campaign message of saving the coal industry.

Trump’s purely economic approach to environmental policy has many concerned that he will pursue economic growth at the expense of environmental degradation. His main environmental platform focuses on “reigning in the EPA,” which he believes to have repeatedly stepped well beyond its jurisdiction with regulations like the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is currently being challenged in court after a large coalition of states sued the EPA, saying the plan was unconstitutional. To the dismay of environmentalists across the country, Trump clearly agrees that the CPP would kill jobs, hurt industry, and constitute an unprecedented overreach of the EPA’s power. Though the specific issue of the CPP will be settled by the courts, not the president, Trump’s position on the CPP informs his plans for other environmental regulations. Trump has vowed to exit the Paris Climate Agreement citing that he does not believe that foreign bureaucrats should have influence over American policies. While this action would be largely symbolic, it would nonetheless make an international statement that the United States under President Trump does not agree with the global warming consensus. Domestically, Trump’s apparent appointment of Myron Ebell, a well-known climate skeptic, to lead the transition at the EPA further cements the idea that climate change-oriented policies will take the back seat in Trump’s administration.

While his energy promises may not play out in the exact ways he mentioned during his campaign, Trump’s economic approach to energy could potentially create some of the growth he has promised. Many are concerned, however, that his approach to environmental regulations could mean that this economic growth will come at great expense to the environment. While his energy plans and rollback of environmental regulations may face significant resistance from a Republican Congress, state policies will still play an important role in the future of America’s energy sector and environment.


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