Trump takes the complexity out of energy for voters
Friday, June 10, 2016
Energy market watchers had been eagerly awaiting Republican candidate Donald Trump's appearance May 26 at a North Dakota oil and gas conference. Until then, his campaign had been hazy on the details of any energy policies a Trump presidency might bring, other than generic endorsements and calls for support of America's fracking and coal industries. Analysts were left to dig among scattered tweets.
That is strange, given how insistent Trump is that oil is the "lifeblood" of the American economy, and his view that New York's neglect of its "beautiful, beautiful natural resources" has left the state playing second fiddle to Pennsylvania, where citizens are "driving in their Cadillacs."
Trump's bite-size energy industry
It has long been claimed that the oil industry has enough power to alter the voting geography in U.S. elections. Trump's pro-coal, anti-EPA comments in Dakota came as little surprise. But they did illustrate Trump's tried and tested tactics of breaking down complex industry dynamics into bite-size, if disputable, pieces for voters.
Rather than delve into the delicate balance of "jobs versus environment" inherent in any energy policy debate, he presented his audience with a straightforward choice of "wealth versus poverty." He promised, for example, to use a simple test to scrap any regulation that is "unnecessary or bad for workers" without exploring what that might mean in the short and long term.
Nevertheless, the rhetoric plays well with blue-collar workers in coal and fracking states. Trump, along with other Republicans, has blamed Barack Obama and his "war on coal" (aided and abetted by the "totalitarian" EPA, which Trump would also dismantle) for bringing the coal industry to his knees. In the Appalachian coal fields, Trump has been taking votes from the Democrats at a rapid rate.
So what, if anything, can we deduce from the new comments? What we can see is the outline of a policy of rapid unraveling of Obama-era policies — denounced as an all-out assault on America's energy industry and its employees.
1. Resurrection of Keystone XL
Unsurprisingly, first on Trump's hit-list is the resurrection of the thwarted Keystone XL pipeline. He has said he would revive construction immediately on coming to power, a move likely to get past new Canadian PM Justin Trudeau despite their noted ideological differences.
However, how this suggested reliance on Canadian oil would square with the Trumpian goal of "complete American energy independence" was not made clear.
2. Dismantling Paris climate agreement
Trump's climate change credentials were made clear (or unclear) when he said in an interview last year that he "believes in weather." He has claimed climate change is a problem that either doesn't exist or was fabricated by the Chinese.
Trump had casually announced prior to his Dakota appearance that high on the agenda of a Trump administration would be the cancellation of the Paris climate agreement signed last year by 195 countries.
The idea that one nation can "cancel" a multiparty, soon-to-be-ratified agreement has, however, even been dismissed by Trump's own advisors. A new government could, however, find alternative ways to backtrack on climate change commitments and take the momentum out of the last administration's goals.
3. Wavering stance on renewables
Trump asserts he wants "clean air and clean water" but gives little detail on how to achieve that, particularly when he plans to scrap the Clean Air Act and a key advisory is urging him to "tackle" the Clean Water Act.
His stance on renewables is ambivalent at best. In principle, he is into "all types of energy" but rejects the idea of government interference to help them compete with fossil fuels — which rules out wind, which he has said would be impossible without subsidies.
Depending on when you speak to him, Trump finds wind technology a marvel ("You know, where they can, out of nowhere, out of the wind, they make energy") or an "obsolete" technology and dangerous experiment. But in any case, he has used Twitter to cast doubt on the wisdom of wind farms because, he tweets, they are killing all the bald eagles (the claim was soon debunked).
Solar gets a better report ("I know a lot about solar") but is also dismissed as too expensive. Clear as mud.
4. Breaking the back of foreign cartels
Internationally, it seems Trump sees oil as the key to resolving many of the world's most intractable conflicts. He has, for example, suggested defeating ISIS by taking over seized oil fields and giving the money to U.S. war veterans ("See, I love them," he added emphatically).
He has suggested OPEC is solely to blame for oil price volatility and setting the price of oil rather than markets, a view at odds with that of seasoned observers of recent movements in the global industry. He continues with the military rhetoric with his desire to turn OPEC's energy weapon back on them — he is only interesting in intervention in Libya if we can "take Libya's oil."
"Something is going to change ..."
Trump's statements on energy policy are as full of the bragadoccio and far-fetched proposals we have come to expect from the outlandish candidate. He knows his territory — a 2015 Gallup poll found 66 percent of Republicans favor fracking, and the survey found scarce sympathy for the environmental movement. His rhetoric may sound muddled, but his harnessing of the calls for a "new energy revolution" are likely to strike some chords, however shakily grounded in evidence.
Like most of Trump's comments, beyond the sound bites there is little said that is substantial enough for proper analysis. He is promising voters they can have their hydrocarbon cake and eat it, too.
The best we can conclude, perhaps, is with the words of an Ohio carpenter on Trump: "Something is going to change if he's president; we just don't know what."
- To fight crime, engage kids in quality after-school programs
- Can employees take time off from work to vote?
- The stress of 911 call-takers and emergency dispatchers
- The Social Security shell game
- Oklahoma City’s First Americans Museum: A celebration of native culture
- Trails for two-wheelers: A look at the United States Bicycle Route System
- What the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act means for small employers
- Hail to the chiefs: An in-depth look at America’s presidential libraries and museums
- A sound plan gives strength to New Year’s resolutions
- Revenge travel: Making up for lost time, but at what cost?
- 7 ways to balance your work-from-home routine
- What to do when you notice your team ‘quiet quitting’
See your work in future editions
Your content, Your Expertise,
Your Industry Needs YOUR Expert Voice & We've got the platform you needFind Out How