Blog Post

A Look at President Trump’s Energy Speech

Jun 30, 2017 | Alan J. Krupnick

A striking feature of President Trump’s recent energy speech for me is that there is not a word to be found about the environment and health protections. The regulations President Trump wants to rollback are there for that reason. In any event, the industry is primarily regulated by states. The federal role is pretty minimal, except for offshore drilling and methane, where, for the former, he wants to open up new areas for leasing and exploitation. But, under the low prices we have now and can foresee in the future, even without such leasing, there will be little but exploratory drilling—no production. And drilling in the Atlantic is opposed by some states and local governments. Concerning methane, these losses in captured methane are real and troubling, as methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas. And remember that many in the industry want to see action on climate change and use carbon prices in their investment planning. So, don’t expect more than tepid applause on methane-rule elimination. Further, the states are taking up some of the regulatory slack.

A fair question to the Trump administration in its race to expand production might be: Where’s the beef? During the Obama administration, the production of oil and gas through fracking methods really took off, in spite of whatever regulations were in place. If that was eight years of energy hell, let me go there! Of course, two of those years have seen a bit of a bust in the oil and gas patch, but this was caused by energy abundance and the low oil and gas prices that go with it.

The coal-leasing moratorium itself is largely symbolic. There’s a twenty-year supply of coal under current leases. So, the administration action has no real effect.

Also, “energy dominance” is not a helpful phrase, in my view. First of all, like energy independence, it suggests we won’t have to worry about world events. This is wrong because oil is sold in a global market. Changes in oil prices affect everyone. Secondly, it suggests subjugation of other countries—and is unnecessarily muscular and unhelpful. True, we will gain from our sales of oil, gas, and coal abroad, but other countries gain as well. Gas, in particular, will help improve lives around the world, lowering environmental effects and reducing electricity costs. We get to be the good guys.

Finally, I think that the idea to revive nuclear energy is a good idea. Nuclear is climate friendly, there are new and supposedly safer technological options, and many existing plant retirements are expected.

The bottom line, however, in my view, is that very little of this address was new. And certainly not revolutionary.

The views expressed in RFF blog posts are those of the authors and should not be attributed to Resources for the Future.