President Trump's first Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, released last week, aims to cut regulations across the board, but the broad swath of energy programs and regulations under the ax is particularly notable. The U.S. energy sector, finally catching up with the rest of the world, has modernized by leaps and bounds in recent years with the help of limited but targeted governmental support. But Trump's agenda would bring this all to an abrupt halt and send us skidding back into the dark ages of energy.
First, the agenda would cut the bulk of pending programming at the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. This office provides critical support for energy efficiency and modern, clean, economically vital sources of energy, no small matter to our economy or our quality of life.
If energy efficiency measures were comprehensively implemented across the United States, they could collectively save Americans an astounding trillion-plus dollars by reducing their energy expenditures, which would be especially helpful to elderly and low-income residents. But Americans need assistance locating and implementing the most effective energy efficiency opportunities, and the Department of Energy (DOE) has been an essential partner in this effort through programs like the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program.
Further, the DOE has been instrumental in helping drive the push toward renewables, allowing our country to finally begin to catch up economically with other global leaders in this area. By providing critical information about renewable energy potential and supporting innovation in renewables, in addition to other support, this office helped make technologies like wind and solar take off. Without this sort of help, renewable energy would not have reached the records it is achieving today. Indeed, renewable energy has become the cheapest available electricity source in some regions of the country, and rural wind farms provide farmers and ranchers with lucrative long-term leases.
For example, Tucson, Arizona, recently signed a contract to purchase solar energy at less than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour – far less expensive than electricity from other conventional energy sources. And wind energy is now the cheapest electricity option – or on par with natural gas – in many parts of the Midwest. But renewable energy still needs critical support, such as continued targeted subsidization for innovation in technology and implementation, as well as governmental coordination of siting transmission lines that carry energy to key markets. Trump's funneling of government support to oil, gas, and coal – resources that have long received huge amounts of such support – is counterproductive and inefficient.
Beyond cutting critical support for energy efficiency and renewable energy, Trump's agenda would prop up conventional fossil fuels in numerous ways by repealing a variety of rules finalized under the Obama administration, such as the rule that regulates hydraulic fracturing on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in modest ways. Approximately 90 percent of all new oil and natural gas wells are hydraulically fractured, yet the BLM was slow to update its regulations to address this fact. In 2015, the BLM – after an extensive public comment period – finalized a rule to fill this gap, yet on July 25, Trump's BLM issued a proposal to repeal the BLM fracking rule. The agenda also indicates a plan to delay and revise or rescind a rule addressing methane emissions from oil and gas wells on BLM lands – a rule that the Senate voted to keep in place on May 10. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, and venting it into the air or flaring it (burning it off) during oil and gas drilling and production wastes a valuable resource.
And Trump's proposed measures to reject common-sense regulation of a booming U.S. oil and gas industry, and to deny support to the vibrant and forward-looking renewable and energy efficiency economy, are just a few of a spate of other proposals that drag the U.S. back into the dark ages of energy. For example, the deregulatory agenda omits any effort to implement certain health protections for mining that have not been updated since 1985, which could endanger workers.
All of this deregulatory activity and the White House's obsession with fossil fuels – fuels that should only serve as a relatively short bridge to more sustainable options that are quickly becoming viable – have a direct impact on our energy future. Countries like Germany, China, and Australia are growing their economies with modern renewable energy, and the U.S. can't afford to fall behind. China now owns the largest wind turbine manufacturer and most of the world's largest solar manufacturers. Instead of seizing the opportunity to expand renewables here on our home turf, where manufacturing, job, and innovation opportunities abound, the Trump administration is putting all of its chips in the fossil fuels bucket. Perhaps an appropriate campaign slogan would have been "Putting America Behind Again."
To make this country truly great, we need to embrace the energy economy that many other global leaders are pursuing at breakneck speed. Unfortunately, Trump's agenda turns us in the opposite direction.