Tracking Early Energy Changes Under President Trump

In office for a few days, President Donald Trump has already initiated major changes in US energy policy. From energy efficiency standards, to transmission regulations, to his America First Energy Plan, President Trump has launched American energy strategy in a new direction. We explain what his major policy changes might mean for the future.

We are less than a week into President Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office and the changes in the world of energy are already piling up. As expected, clean energy, including energy efficiency, faces new threats. Fossil fuels have won new support. Headlines like Oil Industry Hopes for More as Trump Reverses Obama Policies and Trump may have just opened door to $17 billion worth of energy projects capture the optimism inspired by these changes. Articles like “America First” Energy Plan Puts Americans Last and On Energy, Trump Heads in the Opposite Direction from Public Opinion show the dissatisfaction and fear held by advocates of clean energy. To make sense of the many changes happening in Washington, we take a look at what has already changed, the changes we expect to see, and what these new policies will mean going forward.

Trump announced many of his 2017 energy policies last year during his campaign and immediately after the election. In November, just after election day, we wrote about the changes Trump would likely enact as president. Reexamining those predictions is a good starting point for analyzing our new president’s first few days in office. Back then, we foresaw changes to climate regulations, to fossil fuel and public lands programs, and also cuts to clean energy funding. Those predictions weren’t far off. Since then, President Trump has been busy. Federal energy changes now cover:

Energy Efficiency Standards

Among the first casualties of Trump’s administration were four federal energy efficiency standards. Hours after Trump took office, his chief of staff ordered a freeze on all new and pending regulations. This is a common move. Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush took similar actions. The upshot? The freeze delivered the deathblow to efficiency standards nearly completed by the outgoing Obama administration. The efficiency measures were to govern portable air conditioners, commercial boilers, walk-in coolers, and power supplies. The Department of Energy predicted that the standards would have saved consumers $4.5 billion over 30 years. Consumers will have to look elsewhere for efficiency savings.

However, the freeze won’t reverse new efficiency rules covering pool pumps, ceiling fans, and residential air conditioners. Because the DOE finalized those regulations at the last minute, the department and these regulations narrowly avoided the oncoming regulatory freeze.

EPA Under Siege

Fulfilling promises made before and after his election, President Trump has taken steps to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency. Candidate Trump took aim at the agency because, he argued, it put unnecessary restrictions on economic growth and energy production. Now that he is in office, he has begun to curb the EPA’s influence.

Trump’s first anti-EPA measure came along with the regulatory freeze. In addition to killing the four pending efficiency standards, the freeze also jeopardized a number of unfinished EPA rules. Unsatisfied with that initial step, Trump went even further. He ordered an additional freeze on all grants to states and local communities – an important source of funding for research, monitoring, and clean-up nationwide. He then requested that the EPA remove the page covering climate change from the agency’s website, a demand he later reversed. The EPA’s role in federal energy policy has grown since the agency was created in the 1970s. New energy programs often have to pass environmental tests overseen by the EPA. By neutering the government’s environmental watchdog, Trump has begun to open the door for the fossil fuel strategies that are the bedrock of his energy platform.

Pipelines Revived

To further advance his fossil fuel agenda, Trump will try to revive two of the most controversial projects from the Obama years. In separate executive orders, the president gave new life to both the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Both pipelines won initial support from President Obama until grassroots activism convinced the White House to delay or block construction. With Trump at the helm, both projects will get a second life. Environmentalists will have less leverage to block them with Trump in Washington. If constructed, the pipelines will allow the transport of carbon-rich oil from Canada and North Dakota to refineries elsewhere in the United States. These executive orders are further evidence that President Trump intends to maintain his stated commitment to oil, gas, and coal at the expense of clean energy technologies.

Likely Changes Ahead

Many other energy policies lie on the horizon for President Trump. Though not yet enacted, all signs point to them in the near future.

  1. Energy Efficiency – The fate of energy efficiency under a Trump administration remains uncertain. Trump previously vowed to end all federal funding for climate-related research and development. If enacted, this action would endanger government support in a number of important areas: clean energy technologies, preparedness, mitigation, and forecasting. But it is also possible that cuts to energy efficiency get lumped in with cuts to other climate programs, an argument made by Joe Romm back in November. It is also possible that President Trump accurately views efficiency as an economy strengthening alternative that helps bring the US closer to energy independence. Either option is possible. If the president begins to lean toward one alternative or the other, the Lime Energy Blog will be sure to point it out.
  2. Renewable Energy – Renewable energy is a more likely source of budget cuts for the new administration. Trump is an avowed hater of wind energy. He is no friend to solar power. Cuts to climate programs will deliver a blow to clean energy. Industry experts are left wondering how big that blow will be and what form it will take.
  3. Clean Power Plan – Donald Trump aimed his sights at the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s ambitious platform to combat climate change, throughout his campaign. Trump cannot simply revoke the plan but he can direct federal agencies not to enforce it. In the long term, the plan will be repealed. In the short term, it will be ignored. Either way, this enforcement mechanism for incentivizing clean energy should be one of Trump’s next targets.
  4. More Fossil Fuels – Hours after his inauguration, the White House uploaded an “America First Energy Plan” in place of the former page covering climate change. Above all else, the plan embraces the “vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America.” Trump commits support to shale oil and gas, petroleum and coal, including resources on federal lands. These are vague promises that have already started to bear fruit. The revived pipelines are just the first example. While further steps in support of fossil fuels are still pending, expect to see further action in the next couple months.

With major changes already behind him and future changes looming large, Donald Trump has already imposed his authority on the nation’s energy strategy. To keep track of the evolution in energy policy, you can follow the deregulation tracker provided by the folks at Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. With more developments on the horizon, we will check back in on President Trump and his administration after his first one hundred days to see how he has chosen to keep his promises and what role energy efficiency can plan in an era less favorable to clean energy solutions.

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