Trump outlines environment plan: More fracking

Source: By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2019

President Trump encapsulated his 2020 energy argument in a speech yesterday to the natural gas industry: boost fracking, exit an international climate agreement, and tout the benefits of lower emissions.

It was the first time Trump spoke at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh since he addressed the group in October 2016. A few weeks later, his narrow election victory in Pennsylvania helped him seal up the electoral college.

“I delivered on every promise I made to this conference three years ago and much, much more,” Trump said yesterday as the crowd cheered.

Indeed, he has acted on a number of deregulatory efforts that the energy industry has asked for, including rolling back the Clean Power Plan, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, loosening methane regulations, weakening vehicle emissions standards and undoing clean water protections. It’s unclear how durable those changes will be.

“You’ll never have another president like me,” Trump said.

Trump announced yesterday that his administration is beginning the official process of leaving the “one-sided” Paris climate agreement, to which all but a few nations belong. The earliest the United States can leave the climate pact is Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the presidential election. That means a Democratic president could reverse Trump’s decision on Jan. 20, 2021.

“We’re at a very good point environmentally right now. What we won’t do is punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters, because I can say it right now, and I’m proud to say it: It’s called America first,” Trump said yesterday. “My job is to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris.”

Yesterday, Trump touted a nearby ethane cracker plant in Beaver County, which provides materials for plastics manufacturing and was approved during the Obama administration. He visited the facility in August and said it was part of his larger plan to bring 100,000 energy jobs to Appalachia.

But Trump’s return to Pennsylvania yesterday came as polls show that state voters prefer a number of Democratic candidates over the president. His environmental rollbacks were popular with the energy crowd he spoke to yesterday, but dismantling programs that address climate change is not as popular with younger voters, women and people of color, according to polls.

Trump attacked “do-nothing Democrats” such as Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and claimed that the lawmaker wanted to “take away” hydraulic fracturing. In fact, Lamb supports natural gas drilling and beat a Trump-endorsed Republican in a district that the president easily won in 2016.

The president’s remarks were delivered on the second day of a landmark civil trial involving Exxon Mobil Corp., which is accused by New York state’s attorney general of defrauding investors by failing to disclose its financial risks from climate change. Exxon lawyers say the company did nothing wrong.

Trump’s remarks came hours after the Justice Department took legal action to stop California from partnering with the Canadian province of Quebec in a cap-and-trade program to lower carbon emissions (see related story).

Trump has historically used climate change as a political foil to mock environmentalists and Democrats. Yesterday, he described Democrats who are running for president as adversaries of energy workers. If a Democrat wins, “You won’t have money to pay for a ticket to this place,” he warned.

When a handful of protesters disrupted his speech, Trump said at one point, “Go home to mom.”

Not all Republicans are comfortable with Trump’s approach to the environment. A bipartisan group of senators yesterday launched the Climate Solutions Caucus to echo a similar effort in the House.

In Pittsburgh, Trump repeated an environmental message that he launched at the White House in July. His administration is committed to a “pro-American” approach to energy that will reduce emissions and bring back jobs. Trump did not mention another reason that carbon emissions are slowly declining in the United States: There’s a growing amount of renewable energy.

“We are committed not only to energy independence, but to American energy dominance, and the path to that future starts right here in shale country with all of you, the proud patriots of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia,” Trump said.

Trump’s embrace of natural gas as a path toward cleaner air and water comes as energy emissions in the United States increased last year for the first time in years.

While emissions have been dropping since 2005, largely due to natural gas replacing coal, they climbed 2.5% in 2018, according to a Rhodium Group analysis.

Natural gas helped achieve important carbon reductions in recent years, but it could soon become detrimental to climate goals, said Hannah Pitt, a senior analyst at the Rhodium Group.

“Cheap natural gas over the last few years has helped make progress to date. It has helped push out hundreds of coal plants, and many more are in the line of fire,” she said. “But on the other hand, over time, natural gas is going to become an increasing liability to meeting climate goals.”

That’s because it threatens to slow the pace of renewable energy development, and it could push existing nuclear power plants out of business, Pitt said.