Trump Toes the GOP Line on Energy

He’s split with the party before, but his energy plan is straight from the Republican playbook.

Donald Trump speaks at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in North Dakota on Thursday.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
May 26, 2016, 8 p.m.

Rolling out his long-awaited energy policy, Donald Trump promised to open up federal land to oil and gas production, restore coal demand, and repeal “all the job-destroying Obama executive actions.”

Sound familiar?

Those same proposals can be found throughout the Republican Party’s energy platform, including in a series of bills being pushed by the House as part of bicameral energy negotiations.

On issues like taxes, the Iraq War, and gay rights, Trump hasn’t exactly been in lockstep with the rest of the Republican Party. But Thursday’s speech indicates that energy will offer some consistent overlap—and a clear point of differentiation with Democrats.

“We’re sitting on energy like nobody would believe. I want to be energy-independent,” Trump said Thursday at a North Dakota oil conference, where he also pledged to institute an “America-first energy plan.”

It’s not surprising that Trump’s energy platform would mirror the major talking points of the party, especially when it comes to rolling back regulations. Although there are some disagreements among Republicans, opposition to President Obama’s environmental platform and a desire for an “all of the above” energy platform have united the GOP (it was one of the few issues where John Boehner and the tea party saw eye-to-eye).

Trump’s energy platform was based partially on a series of white papers written by Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a booster of oil and gas production. Cramer told reporters last week that he had consulted with other colleagues on the white papers, which would focus on overturning regulations, opening up new areas for energy development, and removing subsidies for renewable energy.

Trump spent a bulk of his speech bashing the Obama administration’s environmental regulations, which Hillary Clinton has promised to continue, setting up a choice between “sharing in this great energy wealth or sharing in the poverty promised by Hillary Clinton.” Among the regulations Trump promised to overturn were climate rules limiting power-plant emissions and a rule expanding the administration’s Clean Water Act authority—both regulations that have been frequent targets of congressional Republicans.

While Trump seemed to place most of the blame for the coal industry’s woes on federal regulations, the industry has also been battered by a boom in natural-gas production that has made the fuel more affordable. When asked in a press conference whether the president could do anything about the market forces that were affecting the coal industry, Trump said, “The market forces are going to do whatever they do. All I’m going to do is free up the coal.”

Trump also took aim at the United Nations climate agreement, which he said should be canceled because it “gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use right here in America”—although the treaty actually gives each country primacy over its emission cuts.

He also revived a long-held priority for the party, telling the crowd that he’d encourage TransCanada to submit a new application to build the Keystone XL pipeline, the Alberta-to-Gulf Coast tar-sands pipeline rejected by the Obama White House last year. Trump, however, said he would get “a piece of the profits for the United States.”

It’s a list of priorities that lines up with the party’s traditional agenda and with the energy bill passed by House Republicans to set up a conference with the Senate over energy policy. On Wednesday, the House passed a package of amendments to a previously passed energy bill, adding language that would expedite pipeline approval, overturn a requirement that federal buildings be designed to reduce fossil-fuel use, and open up federal lands to energy exploration.

Rep. Frank Pallone, the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the conference proposal was an example of “using the House floor to try to raise the dead,” relying on too many Republican measures that had been unsuccessful in the past.

Separately, the House voted against an energy and water appropriations bill that contained riders overturning the Clean Water Act rule, boosting fossil-fuel development, and striking a regulation on mining (the measure lost Republican votes over an unrelated gay-rights amendment).

The similarities with Trump’s speech did not go unnoticed by environmentalists and Democrats, who are increasingly making climate and energy a wedge issue between the two parties.

“Trump’s divisive language has made him a shocking candidate, but today he just pandered to the fossil-fuel industry with a carbon-copy energy plan that could have been lifted directly from Mitch McConnell,” said League of Conservation Voters spokesman David Willett. “As big polluters’ new best friend, Trump’s ‘plan’ is pro-drilling, anti-EPA, and is dangerous to our clean air and water.”

Trump did not weigh in on climate change, although in the past he has said it is a hoax, prompting a series of tweets from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Pointing to a Politico report showing that Trump did express concerns about climate change in an application to build a sea wall at one of his golf courses in Ireland, Podesta wrote, “Trump cares more about the health of his golf courses than the health of American families.

“A President Trump would be working to line the pockets of oil companies while putting everyone else at risk,” he added.

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