US Energy Dept. Pokes President Trump Over Renewable Energy: Native Americans Edition

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File this one under H for Here We Go Again. President* Trump is determined to promote fossil fuels over renewable energy, yet his own Department of Energy seems equally determined to embarrass him on that topic. In the latest example, yesterday the agency touted the benefits of renewable energy on tribal lands.

Coincidentally — or not, as the case may be — the day before yesterday Axios dropped a bombshell of a story about that time when Trump flat out told tribal leaders to break the law in pursuit of fossil fuel development on Native American lands.

So…what’s the policy?

Here We Go Again: Native American Edition

The meeting that Axios reported on occurred at the White House back on June 28. covered the goings-on between Trump and tribal leaders contemporaneously, though the story did not gain much traction at the time.

That’s probably because pursued a somewhat less dramatic angle. Their story focused on a discussion of federal reviews that delay or thwart projects on native lands.

The article took note of “incremental reforms sought by tribes” but concluded that a blanket exemption from the National Environmental Policy Act would be virtually impossible, partly due to opposition within tribes.

In contrast, Axios’s account of the White House meeting was a doozey. Reportedly, Trump urged tribal leaders “to ‘just do it’ and extract whatever they want from the land they control,” regardless of federal law:

The tribal leader looked back at one of the White House officials in the room — perhaps somebody from the White House Counsel’s office — and he said “can we just do that?” The official equivocated, saying the administration is making progress and has a plan to roll back various regulations.

The direct quotes are quite juicy. Here’s one (emphasis theirs):

“Chief, chief,” Trump continued, addressing one of the tribal leaders, “what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it’s out of the ground it can’t go back in there. You’ve just got to do it. I’m telling you, chief, you’ve just got to do it.”

Allowing for the context of that exchange, Axios does admit the possibility that Trump did not really mean what he said.

Nevertheless, the damage was done. The Axios story was followed up by MSNBC and The Hill, among others, focusing on the angle that a sitting US President openly advocated breaking federal law.

Partly fueling the fire was the timing of the article, as November happens to be Native American Heritage Month.

Energy Dept. Hearts Renewable Energy For Tribal Lands

Speaking of Native American Heritage Month, into this mess steps the US Department of Energy. On November 6, just a day after the Axios story hit the Intertubes, the agency tweeted out an invitation for the public to “learn how we work with tribes to advance energy in their communities.”

Rather than extolling fossil energy, though, DOE shared the love with renewable energy.

The tweet linked to the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, which highlights wind power and rooftop solar projects along with a pitch for the upcoming “2017 Program Review” conference set for November 13-17 in Denver:

…the event convenes Indian tribes to network, learn from other tribes that are pursuing energy development, and share in each other’s successes.

The conference home page is packed with all the good news about renewable energy, including a rundown of three of the success stories: the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s residential solar and youth solar job training program, the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments’ “wood energy” program, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s energy independence and resiliency initiatives, which include a new solar installation.

There’s more — much more — about renewable energy, especially solar power, in the draft agenda.

Here We Go Again!

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has paid plenty of lip service to Trump’s messaging on fossil fuels, but this is far from the first time that he and his agency have undercut that same message.

Just a few days before the June 28 meeting, for example, the Energy Department announced $7.8 million in new funding for clean energy and energy efficiency projects on tribal lands.

That was followed up in July during “Made in America” week, when Perry bombarded the Intertubes with good news about the US wind industry — which Trump had excluded from the festivities. The agency continued energetically touting wind energy achievements into August.

Then there was the notorious new grid study, ordered by Perry last spring. It was intended to justify the continued operation of outdated coal and nuclear “baseload” power plants, but mere weeks after word of the study leaked out, the Energy Department sent out a press release to update everybody on a far more comprehensive grid initiative already well under way.

When the new baseload study was finally released last August, it followed right on the heels of yet another glowing Energy Department report on wind energy.

The new baseload study did provide some justification for Perry to propose new protections for coal and nuclear power plants, but shortly after his proposals became public, the Energy Department pushed out a new article explaining how concentrating solar power could do the same job, only better:

One of the biggest advantages of CSP is its reliability as an energy source and predictable costs…there’s nothing to mine, ship, burn, or store as waste…


In closing, let’s note for the record that William C. Bradford, the Trump appointee tapped to head the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, had a rather thin record on renewables — or energy of any kind.

He did, though, have an interesting history on social media and talk radio. Word about that got around mere days before the June 28 meeting, and by the end of the summer he resigned from his post.

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Image: US Department of Energy via Twitter.

*As of this writing.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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