Sunday, January 22, 2017

TRUMPWATCH, WHITEHOUSE.GOV - ISSUE: AN AMERICA FIRST ENERGY PLAN

Note to readers: I decided that a good way to figure out what the Trump administration is doing is to go directly to the horse's mouth (no, I'm not talking to The DOTUS), the website whitehouse.gov.  I plan to post summaries, notices, and duck-and-cover warnings from things I find under the series title: Trumpwatch, Whitehouse.gov

The Whitehouse website has a tab for Issues. Here is my summary of the issue titled: An America First Energy Plan:

Excerpts:

Energy is an essential part of American life and a staple of the world economy. 

A brighter future depends on energy policies that stimulate our economy, ensure our security, and protect our health. Under the Trump Administration's energy policies, that future can become a reality.

And to achieve that real future, here are the steps...
  • get free from our dependence on foreign oil (a false premise)
  • drill baby drill
    • everywhere, including federal lands
  • Clean Coal!
  • non-carbon energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) are not even mentioned (!!)
  • eliminate "burdensome" regulations on the energy industry
  • eliminate "harmful and unnecessary policies," such as the Climate Action Plan (Obama) and Waters of the United States (Nixon)
  • "embrace" the shale oil and gas revolution (fracking)
  • use domestic oil and gas profits to rebuild U. S. infrastructure
  • and agriculture will benefit, too, from less expensive energy (gratuitous nod to Midwest voters)
  • gain energy independence from the OPEC cartel, helping our anti-terrorism efforts (another false premise)
  • oh, and we almost forgot, be responsible stewards of clean air and water, conserve "natural habitats (?)" and preserve natural reserves and resources
  • achieve the environmental stewardship, above, by "refocusing" the EPA on protecting air and water (not climate)
  • and "protect our health"...not mentioned again. 
If the above summary is good enough for you, you're finished reading, although I do encourage you to go to the issue page at whitehouse.gov and read the policy statement - it's a quick read.

If you want my usual fact-based opinion (after all, that's why you readmyopinion), read on!


America First is a recurring Trumpism. The Trump energy policy direction can be summarized in three words: drill baby drill. "Energy is an essential part of American life and a staple of the world economy." With this opening statement, Trump signals that the value (re: profit) of energy is an economic foundation of our country, including our global reach, and that Americans can't do without it. The "energy" in this policy is oil and gas and coal - period. Non-hydrocarbon energy sources are not mentioned in this issue statement. This is very telling.

We have two major problems regarding energy in America, according to Trump: 1) we are dependent on foreign oil, and 2) we have been held back by "burdensome regulations on our energy industry." Let's look at these two items.

1. According to the U. S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), "In 2015, U.S. net imports (imports minus exports) of petroleum from foreign countries were equal to about 24% of U.S. petroleum consumption, the lowest level since 1970." In other words, the statement is false, we are not dependent on foreign oil (and "foreign" includes the 40% of our oil imports that come from Canada).

2. How burdensome are regulations on American oil and gas production? Here are graphs of U. S. oil and gas production showing that domestic production over the past 10 years has doubled for crude oil, and increased by over 50% for natural gas. In other words, nothing, including regulation, has kept domestic oil and gas production from increasing significantly. The statement is false.


Government data also show that U.S. exports of crude oil and petroleum products have increased more than seven-fold over the past 10 years. In other words, the oil and gas industry is doing very well, thank you.

Trump wants to eliminate "harmful and unnecessary policies," using as examples the Climate Action Plan implemented by the Obama Administration, and Waters of the United States, implemented with the Clean Water Act amendments by the Nixon Administration. What exactly are these? 

The Climate Action Plan was issued by President Obama in 2013. It is a comprehensive plan that has numerous important actions, including: 
  • regulating greenhouse gas emissions
  • energy efficiency
  • renewable energy
  • natural gas
  • leading by example
  • climate resilience
  • international climate change leadership. 

As you can clearly see by the above list, these are "harmful and unnecessary policies!" Harmful and unnecessary, that is, to oil and gas and coal profits. Climate change is, after all, a hoax; although, many of Trump's cabinet appointees don't agree with that.  

The Climate Action Plan link was removed from Whitehouse.gov just after Trump was inaugurated, along wth many other links and items. (Note: if you want a copy, go to the link above and download the PDF, it might be hard to find in the future.) 

"Waters of the United States" is defined in the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1972 to include wetlands, springs, bogs, streams, rivers, estuaries and other "waters" that were placed under the Clean Water Act regulations in order to protect them. By "protect" the Act didn't mean they are off limits, rather, it regulates them in order to protect and preserve these natural resources that provide numerous benefits to fish, wildlife and human society. The concept of ecosystem services came later, and further underscored the importance of protecting these Waters. This concept of Waters has always been controversial, and has been attacked often by conservative politicians and the economic interests they represent. 

The Trump energy plan wants to utilize the untapped energy reserves in the United States, most of which are under federal lands in western states. Profits from this increased oil and gas development will be used to rebuild roads, bridges, schools and other infrastructure. In other words, with the cooperation of the agency Secretaries he is putting in place, Trump will cut a deal with the oil and gas industry to siphon off some of the future windfall profits from energy development on public lands to pay for infrastructure development. 

Trump's plan will boost national security by bringing us energy independence from the OPEC cartel, and by building "a positive energy relationship" with U.S. allies in the Gulf as part of our anti-terrorist efforts. 

Ready for facts? About 31% of the petroleum imports to the U.S. (remember, this means 31% of the 24% of our oil that we import) are from OPEC countries, including Saudi Arabia (11%) and Venezuela (9%).  Most of the remainder of petroleum imports are from Canada (40%), Mexico (8%) and Colombia (4%). Confused? How about a chart? (The chart is courtesy of the Energy Department, you know, the one Rick Perry couldn't remember that he wanted to eliminate. So yes, we still import petroleum from OPEC countries, but we are hardly "dependent" on them. 


Unfortunately, demand for oil in the U.S. is rising along with automobile sales. The Obama Administration tried to deal with this through conservation, increasing automobile fuel efficiency, and other methods; all of these will be cast aside by the Trumps. 

What about coal? Trump has promised to boost the coal industry in America. Although coal production has declined significantly in the USA over the recent period, it remains a major source of energy for generating electricity. In fact, according to the EIA, coal use might eclipse natural gas again this winter (see chart, below), primarily because coal is much less expensive than natural gas. Coal and natural gas use have been trading places for first place over the past couple of years, and this will continue based on weather and price. 


Interestingly, "by the middle of 2017, increased generation from renewable energy sources is expected to reduce the generation shares of both coal and natural gas. In July 2017, projected generating capacity from utility-scale solar and wind plants is 57% and 10% higher, respectively, than in July 2016," according to the EIA. This previous statement, however, was written prior to the 2016 election. 

The other major factor in coal production is the increase in coal use worldwide, which many estimates show increasing over the next few decades. 

And lastly: Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.

So, clean air and clean water, natural habitats (as opposed to alternative fact habitats?), natural reserves and resources - not sure what these are - are thrown in for good measure. And who will do all this protecting and conserving? I guess the diminished EPA, which will be "refocused" to do this. The subtext here is that the EPA will NOT be doing anything about climate change, including the regulation of CO2, or anything else outside the protection of air and water, which means they won't be doing much at all.

As we see and understand the new Trump Administration policies, we should look for patterns of intersection. One obvious example is the Trump pick for Secretary of State, the former CEO of Exxon-Mobile. The U. S. has become a major exporter of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal), and we can expect new international deals in which the Trump energy policy facilitates increased domestic production and sales of hydrocarbon rules abroad, with obvious windfall profits to the energy companies. 

But more about this in a future post. 

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