Trump’s “America First” Energy Plan Actually Leaves America Behind

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Originally published on NRDC.
By Roland Hwang & Kit Kennedy

On the eve of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources confirmation vote for Rick Perry to be Secretary of Energy, it’s important to take a close look at the Trump administration’s plans for America’s energy future. The administration’s new webpage on “An America First Energy Plan” is — like much of the president’s rhetoric — wrong-headed, short on details, and divorced from reality.

In fact, it’s most notable for what it doesn’t say — there’s not a word about the clean energy revolution, a boom in wind, solar, and energy efficiency that is creating millions of jobs, saving billions of dollars, and even saving lives by cutting pollution. This misleading plan not only fails to put America first — it threatens to pull America back to the 20th century. NRDC will fight to make sure that the Trump administration doesn’t succeed at making America’s energy choices worse.

Here’s a look at the Trump plan and what it gets wrong:

The Trump Administration is committed to energy policies that lower costs for hardworking Americans …

One of the best tools at our disposal to slash energy bills is energy efficiency — but it isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Trump plan. Since 1987, federal energy efficiency standards on appliances and equipment have saved Americans a cumulative total of $2 trillion on energy costs. Standards set in 2016 alone will save $75 billion on utility bills. With such tremendous cost-cutting power, it’s no wonder that federal efficiency standards have long enjoyed bipartisan support. Leaving efficiency out of an energy plan is a major oversight.

Despite wild swings in fossil fuel prices, America’s electricity bills and the per-kilowatt-hour rates recorded on them have been relatively stable and affordable for decades, thanks in good part to leadership at the state level in support of energy efficiency and renewable resources. In fact, after adjusting for inflation, U.S. electricity is cheaper today than it was more than a quarter-century ago, in 1990. And in some regions, solar and wind energy are already cost-competitive with fossil fuels, helping to lower everyone’s utility bills.

…and maximize the use of American resources…

 In 2015, nearly 70 percent of new electric generation came from American wind and solar power. Yet these American energy resources aren’t mentioned at all in the Trump plan — even though many heartland states, both red and blue, want more, as clean energy is helping revive both rural and rust-belt economies. And let’s not forget that Rick Perry’s home state of Texas is a national leader in wind energy. Today, more than 2.5 million Americans work in clean energy, from skilled factory workers making batteries for hybrid vehicles to military veterans who now scale turbine towers as wind energy technicians. China plans to create 13 million jobs by 2020 by investing in clean power. Where are the clean energy jobs in the Trump plan?

…freeing us from dependence on foreign oil.

Thanks to strong clean car and fuel economy standards set under the Obama administration, we’re already loosening the grip of oil dependence. The standards, which will double mileage for cars and light trucks by 2025, will also cut oil consumption by 1.5 million barrels per day — equivalent to current U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf. Standards save money for consumers, too —  nearly $4,000 over the lifetime of a vehicle. According to the BlueGreen Alliance, clean car standards will also create more than half a million jobs nationwide.

For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry.

The data clearly shows that environmental safeguards, rather than being a burden, have drastically cut pollution over the past 40 years while the economy has enjoyed tremendous growth. As the U.S. Environmental Protection reports, from 1970 to 2015, the Clean Air Act helped cut 70 percent of the soot and smog from American skies while the economy grew 246 percent. More than double the growth, less than half the pollution. That’s progress. Meanwhile, due to energy efficiency progress accelerated by appliance and equipment standards and building energy codes, the historical link between economic growth and total energy use was broken four decades ago and has not reappeared. GDP increased by 30 percent between 2000 and 2015, while total energy consumption remained flat.

President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.

The 117 million people whose drinking water supplies depend on Waters of the U.S. protections would hardly call it unnecessary. And when climate change creates international instability, dries up crops and ranchland, swamps low-lying communities and drives extreme weather that cost taxpayers $100 billion in 2012 alone, an action plan is surely in order. The Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. There’s no reference to back up the wage increase mentioned in the Trump plan, but the EPA has estimated that the Clean Power Plan will deliver net benefits, after accounting for costs, worth $26 to $45 billion annually by 2030— including saving thousands of lives. Efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings will play a big role in the Climate Action Plan as well, with a goal of cutting 3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions cumulatively by 2030.

Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own. We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well.

The largest untapped energy reserve is clean energy, including energy efficiency, wind and solar, because these will never run out. One of the biggest untapped clean energy resources in America is actually offshore wind energy, which the Department of Energy says could power 31 million homes by 2050 and create some 160,000 jobs for American workers.  However, the Trump plan ignores this and other clean energy sources in favor of opening even more of our precious public lands to the risks of polluting, energy-and-water-intensive fossil fuel extraction.  Oil revenues are hardly the only way to fund infrastructure — wind energy is already doing just that for towns all over the Midwest, generating funding for schools and civic projects without polluting anybody’s air or drinking water.

The Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.

Basic laws of economics are responsible for the sharp decline in U.S. coal generation (and consumption) in recent years.  The Trump Administration can’t revive the U.S. coal industry in the face of these market forces. Energy markets have swiftly moved  away from coal toward solar, and wind energy and other lower-carbon electricity sources.  The fact is that clean energy now costs less than dirty coal.  And that means that clean energy lowers utility bills for consumers as well. A recent NRDC report found that those states that most conspicuously failed to invest in clean energy, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, are paying for it with both increased electricity bills and more pollution.  While workers in the coal sector deserve support and a just transition, the reality is that today it is the clean energy sector where jobs are growing, as noted above.

In addition to being good for our economy, boosting domestic energy production is in America’s national security interest. President Trump is committed to achieving energy independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to our interests. At the same time, we will work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.

Leading defense experts say that climate change poses a major threat to our national security. Drilling for more oil will only exacerbate that threat and doesn’t solve the energy security problem because it keeps us and the world hooked on oil. The best way to improve our national security is to make our cars and trucks less dependent on oil. Our fuel and clean car standards are already cutting oil consumption, saving drivers money, and reducing the pollution that is driving climate change.

Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. 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.

It’s impossible to reconcile these words with the president’s previous statements and his choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During his campaign, President Trump called the EPA a “disgrace” and threatened to dismantle most of it. His nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has made a career out of trying to obstruct many of the health and environmental safeguards that the agency put forth. (Fortunately, he lost most of these fights.) Meanwhile, Myron Ebell, who led the EPA transition team, has said he’d like to see the agency’s workforce cut by at least half and its budget slashed by over $1 billion. And the administration seems to be attempting to bury climate change information on government websites and is reported to be limiting the activities of the agency’s scientists.

A brighter future depends on energy policies that stimulate our economy, ensure our security, and protect our health.

An energy plan for America needs to highlight the clean, renewable energy and efficiency of the future — not the dirty, inefficient energy of the past. Wind, solar, efficient battery, and lighting costs have dropped so dramatically that a clean energy future costs less than a dirty one. More than one-fifth of the entire U.S. population lives in a state with a goal of at least 50 percent renewable electricity. America is ready to move forward. Why present a plan that drags us back?

Under the Trump Administration’s energy policies, that future can become a reality.

The Trump energy plan is a bad deal for America. It promises a future with more climate insecurity, more costly extreme weather, and more health issues related to air and water pollution. The plan is not in the best interest of either America or the world. The U.S. has more productive paths to providing affordable energy and creating new jobs. America needs a strong, 21st energy plan that delivers the health, economic and environmental benefits of clean energy and efficiency to all.  Instead, the Trump plan puts Polluters First.

Reprinted with permission.

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