An election year always promises a certain degree of change. A new president brings new priorities and new policies to the White House. This year will be no different, with President-elect Donald Trump likely to overhaul the federal approach to energy. During his candidacy, Trump offered only hints about his specific attitudes toward energy, but in the few details he did mention, he indicated a very different perspective from President Barack Obama. Now that he has been elected, he will look to convert these campaign boasts into reality.
Of course, not all campaign promises become law. Barack Obama failed to end American reliance on oil from the Middle East, as he vowed in 2008. George W. Bush pledged energy assistance to low-income households in 2000 and then cut funding for that same heating aid program two years later. Broken promises are not uncommon as presidents transition from candidate to chief executive, but research shows that they usually try to the enact their campaign platforms. With this mixed history in mind, the precise nature of Trump’s energy agenda remains unknown. Much of Trump’s success will depend on his commitment to energy issues and how it will compete for attention alongside other campaign priorities like immigration and crime. If he does try to enact his preferred energy platform, he will face little resistance in Washington because Republicans maintained control of both the House and the Senate.
After Trump is inaugurated on January 20, he will have an opportunity to advance his own energy agenda. Because Trump, unlike Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, denies the significance of climate change, he will look to roll back the clean energy initiatives enacted by his predecessor. Given the deep differences between Obama and Trump, the possible energy policy changes fall into a number of categories:
On Climate Change – Donald Trump believes that climate change is a total hoax. This belief underlies all of his other energy policies. He has said that he will pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. He will repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which he calls a “job-destroying Obama executive action.” He has also stated plans to cut all federal climate change spending by eliminating both domestic and international climate programs. Where President Obama sought to assert the United States as a leader in the global effort to mitigate climate change, under Donald Trump the United States will resume its position as the world’s foremost impediment to climate action.
On Fossil Fuels – In short, Donald Trump wants more fossil fuels. Trump’s campaign website touts his plans to “unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.” He has repeatedly stated that he supports an increase in hydraulic fracturing and after previously lending support to local attempts to ban fracking, he reversed course and promised to unleash “the shale oil revolution.” He has been even more vocal with his support for the failing coal industry, though he has yet to explain how his policies will prop up both the coal and gas industries – two competing fuels that traditionally prosper at the expense of the other.
On Public Lands – A movement to end the extraction of energy resources from federal lands, which had been gaining momentum among environmental activists over the last couple years, is likely to grind to a halt under Trump’s stewardship. Energy leasing and extraction on federal lands is likely to increase over the next four years. Trump may even push for energy development on previously untouchable resource-rich lands like Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
On Support for Clean Energy – Trump has vowed to eliminate all federal spending for clean energy research and development. No federal money for solar or wind power. No federal money for electronic vehicles. No federal money for energy efficiency. This one hurts, not just because Lime Energy believes that energy efficiency is key to cleaner economy, but also because we have seen the benefits of energy efficiency over the course of 110,000 EE projects. Energy efficiency is one of the cleanest, safest, and least expensive ways to save money and improve local economies. Trump’s policies will not jeopardize the progress made by energy efficiency advocates – their gains are already too substantial to be unraveled – but he will slow the growth of a service that benefits everyone involved.
On Federal Energy Advisors – Trump tabbed two climate deniers and fossil fuel boosters, Myron Ebell and Mike McKenna, to lead his transition teams for the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. He chose former Texas governor Rick Perry serve as Energy Secretary. Perry, who once vowed to eliminate the Department of Energy, will now oversee the operations of the department he believed to be unnecessary. One of the President-Elect’s most contentious nominees has been Scott Pruitt. Pruitt, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, will bring to Washington a long history of climate change denial and support for the oil industry – both indications that the new EPA will be less supportive of clean energy solutions. Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, Trump’s choice to led the Department of Interior, has a less controversial history but is expected to reverse Obama-era land protections, fossil fuel strategies, and climate policies. Taken together, these likely energy advisors will usher in an era less friendly to energy efficiency and other clean energy technologies.
While the arrival of President Donald Trump in Washington will inaugurate these five shifts in American energy policy, not all familiar elements of our current energy system will be abandoned. Though likely to change or diminish, they will not disappear entirely. Foremost among these are state clean energy programs like New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative. Programs like REV will remain because they are created and supported by state governments. The probable death of the Clean Power Plan will limit the implementation of future initiatives, but it will not jeopardize those already in existence. Utility energy efficiency programs will not evaporate either. They are too cost-effective for utilities to scrap them overnight, though they will probably decline across the country. The international effort to mitigate climate change will rattle on, with or without us. And the growing urgency of climate change, along with new technological innovations, will spur new and creative ways to make our energy cleaner and more sustainable – just don’t count on any help from the president. But these are small examples of stability amidst a number of tremendous changes.
Donald Trump’s electoral victory means that the American people will get to witness the massive shakeup that Trump promised during 2016. Trump planned to overhaul federal energy policies and now he has the opportunity to implement his small-government, fossil-fuel oriented strategy. While you can expect a dramatic shift in the direction of American energy policy over the next four years, a new president will not erase all of our existing energy programs.