The Energy 202: Trump administration has new energy buzzword

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Friday, May 26, 2017

In the Trump administration, “energy dominance” has replaced “energy independence” as the go-to phrase for describing the federal government’s broad energy goals — in President Trump’s case, to promote as much oil, gas and coal development as possible.

For years, if there was anything both Republicans and Democrats could agree on regarding energy policy (or at least the way they talked about energy policy), it was that the U.S. needed to be “energy independent.”

That bipartisan byword was used to describe efforts to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fuel — mostly by encouraging domestic energy production whether it be extracting fossil fuel or developing alternative energy sources. Ever since the 1970s, when wars in the Middle East periodically choked oil supplies and spiked gasoline prices, the catchphrase has been politically potent in this country.

But more recently, the slogan has lost its cache among voters. Gas prices were relatively low throughout the presidential campaign, and the United States is now far less dependent on oil from abroad over the past decade as a result of the shale-gas fracking boom.

That’s given the Trump administration a rhetorical opening to trumpet the hat-ready slogan.

This week, for example, when announcing the new head of a offshore drilling safety office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the pick helps “set our path toward energy dominance.” In April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told onlookers at the opening of a carbon-capture project in Texas that Trump “has made it very clear to me that he doesn’t just want America to be energy-independent; he wants America to be energy-dominant.”

Where does “energy dominance” come from? The Cabinet officials are taking cues from the president himself. Trump dropped the phrase in his first major speech on energy policy delivered last May in North Dakota, in the heart of U.S. oil and gas country, and made it an underlined cornerstone of his energy policy as a presidential candidate. “American energy dominance will be declared a strategic, economic, and foreign policy goal of the United States,” he said. “It’s about time!”

After the election, the phrase filtered down to Trump’s Cabinet picks. “Mr. President,” Perry said in a speech reflecting his nomination to be energy secretary, “I remember clearly your comments to me when we discussed my role at the Energy Department. You said, ‘I don’t want America to just be energy independent, I want America to be energy dominant.'”

Before Trump ran for president and introduced the phrase to broader political debate, it was rattling around industry circles.

“This is the time to invest in the infrastructure and policies we need to achieve the full benefits of energy advances and secure a stable supply of energy for decades yet to come,” Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters in 2014 when speaking out in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. “The rest of the world is certainly not sitting on their hands in the face of America’s emerging energy dominance.”

What does the phrase mean? During the campaign, Trump said he wanted the U.S. to become a net energy exporter — a goal that, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the country is on track to reach by 2026. By leaving few fossil-fuels resources in the United States unexploited, the thinking goes, the country can fund infrastructure and bolster national security.

“There is a difference in energy independence, and there is a difference in energy dominance,” Zinke told attendees of an offshore technology conference in May. “We’re in a position to be dominant. And if we, as a country, want to have national security, and an economy that we all desperately need, then dominance is what America needs.” (Proponents of “energy independence” also made the national security argument.)

One thing left unsaid is that becoming an oil and gas exporter may conflict with one of Trump’s other goals — improved relations with Russia, which fuels much of Europe.

What does it miss? So far, Trump’s critics, including the many who attended the science and climate marches in April, have framed the series of executive orders unwinding President Obama’s climate policy as ignorant of a need to take steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change.

One of those steps was investment from the Department of Energy in solar, wind and other renewable energy technology, which the Trump administration is seeking to cut in its proposed budget. Critics of Trump worry that research and development being made by other nations, like China and Germany, in solar and wind technology will give them a leg up in the energy market in the decades ahead.

“Notably missing from most of this ‘energy dominance’ talk,” Dave Anderson, a policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, told me, “is renewable energy sources.”


Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, makes an opening statement during a hearing on Feb. 8, 2017. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Jonathan Swan of Axios reports that 22 Republican senators sent a letter to Trump urging him to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. Their timing seems meant to influence administration heavyweights before the big meeting of the G7 in Sicily starting tomorrow (the town of Taormina is even preparing a special “Trump Cup” of gelato — three scoops of red, white and blue ice cream. Reports The Telegraph: “… the piece de la resistance is a wisp of spun sugar, to evoke the Republican President’s peculiar hair style.”)

The senators who signed the letter represent the leadership, and those spearheading environmental and energy issues on Capitol Hill for the GOP: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Environment and Public Works Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and former Chair James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). Conservatives Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also signed on, per Axios.

Their argument: “remaining in [the Paris agreement] would subject the United States to significant litigation risk that could upend your Administration’s ability to fulfill its goal of rescinding the Clean Power Plan.”

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters the administration is still waiting for Trump to decide on whether or not to pull out of the Paris:

President Trump has not yet made a final decision on whether the United States will remain a party to the Paris climate accords, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on May 24. (Reuters)

FLASHBACK: When asked in December, the then-president-elect told Fox News: “You’ll have a decision pretty quickly” on Paris: