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
Jason Plautz
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Jason Plautz
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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