Understanding Trump's Energy Plan: Three things to know
Saturday, April 15, 2017, 11:00 - By way of an executive order, U.S. President Donald Trump recently signed off on reviving the the coal industry and taking the first steps toward his America First Energy Plan.
In line with his promises along the campaign trail, Trump pledged to "bring back" jobs by increasing domestic energy production through the fossil fuel industry and dismantling much of his predecessor's Clean Power Plan.
Though critics have called Trump's America First Energy Plan a "colossal mistake" that defies science itself, his recent executive order calls for a full review of former U.S. President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan -- a cornerstone in Obama's environmental legacy to cap carbon emissions.
As environmental lobbyists and the scientific community prepare to take Trump's latest executive order to court, here are three things to know about the incumbent's power plan.
1. Though the plan promises to put environmental protection at the forefront, it won't.
More importantly, it can't.
Despite itself, the America First Energy Plan is accompanied by a written commitment to the environment.
"Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment," the plan reads. "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."
But everything that comes before this vow to the environment directly contradicts it.
"There is a lot of confusion about exactly what this part of the plan means," Scott Sutherland, The Weather Network meteorologist and science writer, says. "It could easily be interpreted that it would only allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect the environment, so long as it does not impose any limitations on any industry that wants to extract resources from the environment."
"So, the bottom line of the rule could be: if an area of the environment does not have any resources of worth to the fossil fuel industry," he adds, "go ahead and protect it, as much as you want."
Sutherland notes that despite any potentially underlying altruism, the backbone of effective legal environmental protection comes from the strength of the EPA.
"While the administration's intent may be to simply hand direct protection of the environment to state-level agencies, a strong EPA is needed to make all of the state regulations work together, to ensure that protection is effective, and that violators are held accountable, even across state lines."
So if there was any confusion about how these two public promises will be honoured, now you know: There's only room for one.
2. The plan vows to bring back jobs by lifting environmental regulations. But regulations didn't kill jobs – they created them.
In 2016, the clean energy sector gave more Americans a job than the oil and gas industry did – a first in U.S. history.
Last year, employment in the American solar industry grew 12 times quicker than overall job creation across the country's economy, the International Renewable Energy Agency said in a report. And even before then, the renewable energy business continued to see employment numbers steadily climb since 2014.
Aside from that, there's the question of how many jobs are even available within the fossil fuel industry. And as the Trump administration deregulates it, there's a possibility that it will opens the door to corporate overstep in other areas, such as employment.
"The coal industry uses a lot of automation now for mining, so they don't send as many miners into the mines to dig out the coal. They have machines do it for them," Sutherland explains. "And since that's more advantageous for the company, that's not going to change unless the government comes in and tells the company, 'you can't do that anymore.' But since the government seems to be working to deregulate the industry, such a move would be contrary to what they're trying to accomplish."
By default, Trump's energy plan aims to limit the restrictions that prevent economic growth from fossil fuels. Sutherland explains that by giving the industry broader range in what its companies are allowed to do for financial growth, it becomes a slippery slope when trying to regulate how the company carries out its operations.
"The government then stepping in and saying 'sorry, you need to have humans do that work for you,' well, that's somewhat of a conflicting message," he adds. "It seems like they keep touting this idea of: 'Oh we're going to bring coal jobs back', and reality says 'sorry that can't happen.'"
Coal companies can certainly start new mines with the dismantling of environmental protection laws, which they will need human power to facilitate. In other words, there will be jobs — but as for how many? It seems not much. And then there's what comes after the jobs: the machines to continue carry them out.
Then there's the issue of economic stability. When dealing with a finite resource like fossil fuels, Sutherland says, discussing economic stability is almost antithetical.
"These are finite resources no matter what you do. It doesn't matter how much they say is available within the United States. That supply is eventually going to run out. And if it does run out, then what do you do? You have to have a back-up." Switching to green energy while there are still natural resources to cultivate ensures the smoothest transition for future generations, Sutherland says, rather than waiting for fossil fuel resources to dry up.
"As these resources start to run out, it will become more expensive to get them out of the ground, and more difficult and expensive to innovate on the spot. Since that extra cost will simply get passed on to the consumer, it will be much easier, and less expensive, to make the transition sooner, rather than later."
3. In addition economic stability, the plan aims to bring counter-terrorism security – but it doesn't quite do that either.
Aside from economic growth, Trump's energy plan focuses on the security that comes with "energy independence," which is the political move of producing all energy sources domestically (e.g. Mining for coal or drilling for oil within U.S. borders) — largely for security reasons.
But when compared to the renewable energy industry, fossil fuels are also a step back for national security. This is largely because of the scope of both operations, with clean energy falling on the side of small-scale productions.
"With renewable energy sources, you're not going to be solely relying on one huge power plant supplying most or all of the electricity for a wide area. You're going to have a bunch of smaller wind farms and solar farms, all feeding electricity into the system," Sutherland says. "At the same time, you're also going to have people who put solar panels on their roofs and wind turbines in their backyards to generate local power. With all of these smaller sources all feeding into the grid, the system becomes more secure, because it's harder to take it all down, all at once."
At the moment, coal and natural gas power is much more concentrated than wind, solar and hydroelectric power generation. There are fewer plants, each generating a large amount of electricity, and thus one coal or natural gas power plant provides electricity for a large number of customers in the vicinity. The renewable sources are more spread out, each individual source providing for a smaller population, making it more difficult to affect a large number of people at once due to an outage from one plant.
"So if everybody draws from smaller scale energy generation, the issue of energy insecurity is far reduced. Someone who wants to take down the power grid couldn't hit just one target to accomplish their goal. They would have to hit everybody's power generation ability to put us in the dark."
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