Time was, picturing what Donald Trump’s presidential energy policies might look like required parsing his fact-defying tweets, forehead slap-worthy comments and threats to seize Middle Eastern oil by force. Now that the presumptive Republican nominee has unveiled his “America First” energy policy, there’s less guesswork to do.
“We’re going to have all sorts of energy,” Trump declared when he parachuted into Bismarck, North Dakota, on Thursday to deliver his keynote speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference. Having just learned that North Dakota’s Republicans had bagged him the final delegates he technically needed to secure the GOP presidential nomination, his mood was upbeat and he exuded even more confidence than usual.
Without saying how he’d accomplish such things, Trump said he’d rescind the nation’s commitment to the global climate deal reached in Paris and roll back regulations and restrictions on oil, gas and coal production.
Reality check: His throwback fantasy is immune to the dynamics of science, diplomacy and markets. It misrepresents the federal government’s role in the oil and gas boom that coincided with the Obama administration. It mischaracterizes the potential of fossil fuel investments like the Keystone XL pipeline to generate jobs and profits when most Canadian and US oil prices remain below their break-even point despite rebounding to the $50-a-barrel mark hours before he spoke.
Trump miscast climate change as a “phony” concern and the coal industry’s demise as a political plot rather than a global development driven by weak demand in the face of cheaper alternatives and the kind of shoddy management that landed former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship behind bars.
In Trump’s parallel universe, we ought to deliberately boost fossil fuel production to transport our nation into a promised land of energy independence — an altered state where we’d never again rely on imports from “the OPEC oil cartel or any nations hostile to our interest.”
In short, Trump sees no reason to leave an ounce of coal or a drop of oil in the ground. He sees no contradiction between going full-throttle on dirty energy and tackling “real environmental challenges” like improving air and water quality after having met his goal of dismantling the EPA.
Trump leans heavily for guidance on these issues on the two men who introduced him at the keynote, oil and gas tycoon Harold Hamm (who gave nearly $1 million to the super PAC backing Mitt Romney in 2012) and climate denialist Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND). In fact, he leans on them so heavily that the relationship may constitute plagiarism. As The Guardian reported, some passages from the candidate’s remarks were pulled almost verbatim from a Grand Forks Herald op-ed bylined by Cramer. So it was no surprise that Trump said little about renewable energy during his address other than to suggest that it’s worse for the environment than fossil fuels, which “are working much better.”
During the press conference beforehand, at which the candidate was flanked by North Dakota Trump delegates, he dismissed wind and solar energy as newfangled fads. In reality, they’ve been the world’s leading source of newly installed electric power since 2013.
Specifically, Trump said solar and wind power cost too much and he claimed that “the windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles.” None of that is true, as Philip Bump explained in The Washington Post. Buildings and cats kill way more birds than wind turbines. If this guy — who made the fortune he inherited from his dad even bigger by building skyscrapers — really cared about bird health and safety, he’d be against big buildings and in favor of renewable energy.
Trump also was misleading or ignorant when it came to subsidies: Contrary to his suggestion that they have been skewed toward renewable energy, the lion’s share of government assistance to the energy sector has historically propped up fossil fuels and nuclear reactors.
In short, Trump wants to short-circuit the green-energy boom. The rest of us may favor action to slow global warming before it turns Miami into Atlantis. But his energy policy rests on the premise that there’s no reason to cut carbon pollution to rein in a phenomenon he has dismissed as a Chinese hoax.
What Trump didn’t talk about was perhaps more telling than what he said. Should our government try to boost energy efficiency? Force purveyors of gasoline to blend it with ethanol? Keep operating aging nuclear reactors, like the troubled ones at the Indian Point power plant outside his hometown? Do more to reduce the incidence of black lung among coal miners? Because of that disease, Trump told Playboy in 1990, “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines.”
The real estate mogul offered radio silence on these complicated issues and generally failed to reconcile his pledge of allegiance to fossil fuels with his earlier comments that conflict with it.
Instead, he veered into dog-whistling digressions, venting about everything from his belief in the sanctity of gun rights to his desire for more “law and order” in American cities and President Barack Obama’s refusal to utter the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” Trump repeated his promise to build “the wall” on our border with Mexico, said he’d debate Bernie Sanders if at least $10 million were raised by the spectacle to support a good cause such as “women’s health” and insulted Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
If you care about keeping the lights on, prefer not to inhale more mercury pollution and don’t want to see what might happen if sea levels rise by 6 feet, this was a terrifying address. Were his supporters truly concerned with the substance of what Trump says, this speech would break their faith in his sexist, racist and xenophobic campaign.
The Trump campaign doesn’t expect that to happen. Otherwise, why would it use the same “America First” branding for its energy plan as its foreign policy plank? The America First Committee, which opposed US entry into WWII until the Pearl Harbor bombing, was markedly anti-Semitic. Surely someone (perhaps his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner, who attended a yeshiva in his youth, owns a newspaper and wrote The Donald’s AIPAC speech) has suggested by now that he lose this label. Maybe, just maybe, his own Orthodox Jewish daughter (Ivanka converted to Judaism and the couple is raising their children in the faith) has pointed out that it won’t help dispel Trump’s white supremacist problem. If so, he’s not listening. But he does seem to be giving plenty of ear time to pollsters and special interests.
Trump’s display of fealty to the oil, gas and coal lobbies was an exercise in crass opportunism. Before the Iowa caucus, when Trump was pandering to the ethanol industry and its supporters, he railed on Ted Cruz’s anti-ethanol position. “Look, I’m not really blaming him because he’s financed by oil people,” Trump said at the time.
Until now, those oil people have been downright stingy with Trump. They’ve handed the bulk of their campaign cash during primary season to Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton. Even Sanders, who has disavowed donations from fossil fuel industries (aside from those individual workers give him) has raised more money from them than Trump, according to Federal Election Commission data released May 16 and crunched by the Center for Responsive Politics.
“I think there’s a lot of question marks as to where Trump is on energy policy, but based on what we know and based on the fact that he’s running against Hillary, I don’t think I have much of a choice,” said GOP donor Dan Eberhart, the CEO of the oilfield services company Canary LLC. According to Politico, the former supporter of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was already backing Trump before the America First energy speech.