Energy takeaways from Donald Trump’s Capitol Hill blitz

Source: By Emma Dumain, Kelsey Brugger, E&E News • Posted: Saturday, June 15, 2024

The former president — and current Republican presidential candidate — addressed plans for a second term in meetings with Republicans.

Former President Donald Trump.

Former President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Former President Donald Trump returned to Capitol Hill on Thursday to rally his base and preview his second term agenda, offering some specifics on plans to expand fossil fuel production and unravel Biden administration policies to boost electric vehicles.

He first met with House Republicans at the GOP’s Capitol Hill Club, then with senators at the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Both venues are near the Capitol.

Lawmakers said both meetings were well attended, making a point afterward to describe Trump’s tone as upbeat and congenial despite his recent felony conviction.

Republicans said Trump used each event to recall the glory days of his first term, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) noted he did a lot of “compare and contrast” between his tenure and President Joe Biden’s.

“He’s in full campaign swing,” said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), chair of the House Republican Study Committee.

“I think the real message he’s saying is: ‘I had the right policies before — on border and energy and the economy and foreign policy, and I’m going to reimplement those when we get back in office.’”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) recalled Trump promising to reverse Biden EPA rules regulating pollution from cars and trucks, which conservative critics call an “EV mandate” in pejorative shorthand.

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said Trump pledged to, literally, “drill, baby, drill” in his pursuit of increasing oil and gas production, including in the Arctic.

According to Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.), Trump made no mention of renewable energy, a departure from his frequent diatribes against wind power.

And Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) noted how the former president said he would pursue policies to keep the U.S. from having to buy “dirty” oil from countries like Venezuela, describing their oil as being “like tar.”

Overall, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) noted the level of detail Trump got into on energy policies, one of his favorite talking points.

The former president even lamented Houston is the only place in the country where crude oil can be processed, Burchett said. “He was very specific,” he recalled.

One item not addressed at length, lawmakers said: Whether Trump would seek to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ landmark climate spending law of 2022.

Here are four takeaways from Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday when it comes to what he’ll do on energy, environment and climate policy.

Trump on EVs

Hawley said of Trump: “He said he thought the Biden EV policy was disastrous. He thought it was handing a whole industry to China. He thought it was costing us jobs in this country. And he would reverse it.”

In April, the Biden administration finalized standards requiring automakers make two-thirds of passenger cars and 40 percent of heavy-duty trucks emissions-free by 2032. Republicans immediately scoffed at the rules and pledged to overturn them. They often claim EVs are unpopular and expensive.

Hawley said Trump made a point to say he’s not opposed to the electric vehicles themselves — just federal regulations requiring a certain percentage of an automakers’ fleet be electric.

“He wouldn’t mandate any particular level of EVs,” Hawley said.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), who was Trump’s first Interior secretary, said the former president talked to the House members about the EV industry’s supply chain constraints.

“He’s a business guy,” Zinke said of Trump.

Zinke demurred on whether he’d be interested in serving in a second Trump term.

“I’m focused on this fall — and then we’ll see,” said he Montana Republican.

‘Drill Baby Drill’

As Trump was preparing to meet with House Republicans on Thursday morning, an environmental advocate with the nonprofit Climate Power was standing outside in the sweltering heat inside a bear costume, holding a sign illustrated with the silhouettes of oil rigs and the words “bigger tax breaks, bigger profits.”

Their anxiety about what another Trump administration would mean for expanded fossil fuel activities was generally confirmed, based on readouts from what was discussed inside the room.

“He said ‘drill baby drill,’ absolutely he did,” Marshall said. “The policy is, make America energy free. He talked about the abundant resources we have, the largest supply of oil and natural gas of anywhere in the world, and we have to utilize it.”

Barrasso said Trump spoke of how “we have so much energy in this country and Joe Biden wants to keep it in the ground,” adding the former president even cited the need for more energy production to support the growth of artificial intelligence.

The Biden administration has, in fact, issued more leases for oil and gas drilling during his tenure than during the Trump years, but the president has also been protective of public lands many conservatives say should be opened up for energy extraction activities.

That includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.): “He talked about getting ANWR going again; Biden shut that down.”

Energy prices

Lawmakers said Trump told them he loves tariffs and, if elected, intends to double down.

“If countries are not going to be free and fair, then he will use tariffs where necessary to make sure they understand where he’s coming from,” Hern said. Biden has kept the Trump tariffs and recently added more in response to “China’s unfair trade practices.”

Lawmakers said Trump argued high energy prices have been causing inflation and, in response, promised to boost oil and gas production.

In fact, oil and gas production on federal lands is at record highs, and energy analysts note the oil markets are international so domestic production has little influence on U.S. gas prices.

Bentz, a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Trump wants to ramp up oil and gas development in an effort to “drive down prices to help both inflation and make it more difficult for [Russian President Vladmir] Putin to be successful in his war efforts.”

Trump specifically blamed Biden for opting not to block the Nord Stream 2, a pipeline project to ship natural gas from Russia to Germany.

“He talked about the fact he tried to shut down Nord Stream 2 and did as president,” Hern said. “But then Joe Biden implemented that right off the bat.”

Three years ago, Biden hatched a deal with then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel to allow the project to advance — after considerable pushback from critics who charged the move would increase European reliance on Russian gas.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine meant the pipeline never became operational. Europe has since increased reliance on U.S. gas imports.

IRA repeal

If the Inflation Reduction Act came up at all over the course of the two Trump meetings, it wasn’t in major detail, according to interviews with more than two dozen Republicans.

“There was an offhand comment [that] of course it had nothing to do with reducing inflation,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.).

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) recalled Trump bringing up the Inflation Reduction Act “in a passing statement — we don’t need to talk about it, we know how bad it was.”

But while all Republicans voted against the Inflation Reduction Act in the previous Congress, many are confronting the reality that clean energy tax incentives included in the law are creating massive job opportunities and economic advancement in red districts and states around the country.

More and more moderate Republicans are being open about the fact that gutting all, or even some, of these tax incentives would be a big mistake, practically and politically speaking.

Still, it’s currently unclear whether they represent the majority of their party on Capitol Hill and would be able to fight repeal efforts successfully if the GOP were to win control of the Senate, House and White House.

Repealing the Inflation Reduction Act “didn’t come up” at the meeting with senators, according to Florida Republican Marco Rubio. “But I’m sure [Trump’s] for it.”

Reporters Garrett Downs and Timothy Cama contributed.