America’s failing energy policy: a response to Trump’s First Energy Plan

By Okafor Akachukwu 30/01/2017

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Clearly, at this preliminary point, the United States officially has no climate change policy and is neither committed to the Paris Agreement nor officially interested in pursuing any form of strategy that is consciously aimed at decarbonizing the US energy system. What is known to be officially available is an energy plan that is overly committed to the expansion of the fossil fuel industry possibly with most minimal environmental regulation and no singular commitment to renewable energy contribution to the US energy mix. Shortly after the swearing in of President Donald Trump on 20 January, one of the updates  made on the White House website, that caught the attention of the media and policy think thanks across the world was interestingly the “America First Energy Plan”, published as the first of issues that the new administration aims to tackle.

While it was widely known before Trump’s inauguration that his administration will be committed to an energy policy that is promotes and incentives investments in fossil fuel –  oil, gas and coal, what now comes as a shock is that the new energy plan makes no mention of harnessing other energy resources  that are not fossil based, irrespective of their immense potential to boost America’s national energy security and other contribution to the US economy which the new administration claims it is interested in revitalizing. What the US is currently left with as an energy plan that is not just harmful and dangerous – which will hurt America’s economy and national interests in significant ways in the near future, it is also toxic to US environment, ecosystem, and biodiversity including consequent catastrophic climate change effects. While other countries are making concerted efforts at decarbonizing their economies and unlocking their energy system from high carbon fuels, making huge investments in renewable energy and low carbon transitions, the United States is making fresh commitments to increasing its carbon emissions. The new American first energy plan states that the US will “embrace the shale oil and gas revolution” and “must take advantage of the estimated [USD] 50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves” including a commitment to “clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry”. These are fossil fuels that its exploration have been proven to be dirty, with huge environmental impacts and also requires tremendous energy and resources to process. Unfortunately also these fossil fuel reserves fall into ‘unburnable carbon’ – which is a category of fossil fuel reserve that carbon experts argue must not be burned if the world will have any chance of successfully decarbonizing global energy system and keep global temperature at 1.5o C. The new plan strongly demonstrates lack of understanding of fundamental environment and climate change issues, neglect of sound majority climate science or even sympathy to the outcry of the climate community.

Importantly, it is also lacking significantly in key energy security strategies that would be in the US interest without in any way compromising its commitment to the use of fossil fuel. For instance the new plan makes no mention of an energy efficiency commitment, which is widely known to be is a key strategy to reducing energy demand which inversely increases a country’s national energy security. Perhaps, the thinking of the plan is that pursuing an energy efficiency improvement program would reduce energy demand and consumption wouldn’t be harmful for fossil fuel supply side of the energy business. It is clear that the plan’s only approach to solving US national energy security issue – dependence on foreign oil especially from OPEC is to explore all the oil resources in homeland US. It should be noted that Obama’s energy policies succeeded in cutting US oil imports by 60% – which was achieved by sound energy plan and dependence on a healthy mix of energy resources including renewable energy sources. Interestingly, Trump’s new energy plan labelled Obama’s Climate Action Plan and other energy sector regulations and policies as burdensome, “harmful and unnecessary” which it pledged its commitment to eliminate. This policy position certainly sets a calamitous tone for an uncertain and unsafe climate future for America and the world. The recent executive orders signed by President Trump approving the construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects are clear indications that his administration is strongly committed to pursuing an increased fossil fuel energy system.

The new energy plan was also good at creating some ambiguity of how it hopes to achieve some of its goals. For instance, how the US hopes to continue providing a responsible stewardship of the environment when it also pledged to refocus the EPA to its essential mission of protecting only Americas air and water and at the same time conserving natural habitats, and preserving natural reserves and resources while promoting exploration of shale oil, gas, coal, and construction of vast oil pipelines is not clear. How President Trump hopes to fulfil his promise to rebuild roads, highways, airports, schools, bridges, railways and build new infrastructure that are not likely to be climate friendly is uncertain. President Trump may only succeed in endangering of the lives of Americans that he swore to protect if he embarks on building projects that don’t recognize the reality of climate change impacts such as increasing temperatures, devastating floods, hurricanes, sea rises. It is hoped that this energy plan is the first as its name implies. Probably a second energy plan would provide strategies to deal with the issues of reducing US emissions, increasing renewable energy investment, increasing energy efficiency and combating climate change. But before a second energy plan, there is need for a detailed framework of how the first energy plan would be implemented. At this stage there is no doubt that America has lost its once critical voice and leadership position to save the planet. The ball is back in the courts of green, environment and climate change campaigners to refocus the pressure to the politicians in Washington DC; else we may be losing the fight of saving the planet. America will also be losing its chance to become great again.

First published by Initiative for Policy Research and Analysis (InPRA)

Okafor Akachukwu is the Energy and Environment Editor, The Initiative for Policy Research and Analysis (InPRA) and  Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Twitter: @akachukwu Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com

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