Trump speaks on wind power, Wheeler and DOE’s ‘big project’

Source: By Kelsey Brugger, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2019

President Trump bashed wind energy, said the Department of Energy would be announcing a “big project” and called on EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to approve pipelines during a wide-ranging speech yesterday at a $6 billion petrochemical plant in Pennsylvania.

Speaking to energy workers at Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex, Trump said that “the hearts of our workers, the American spirit is soaring — higher, stronger, freer and greater than ever before.”

He further declared that the Obama administration “tried to shut down Pennsylvania coal and Pennsylvania fracking,” adding that the United States is the No. 1 producer of energy “by far” — a status that has been the case since the Obama era. As he has in the past, he attacked the Paris climate accord, bashed wind energy and expressed sadness for dead birds — a day after his administration weakened protections for threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Trump added after the event that Energy Secretary Rick Perry — who was in attendance — would be announcing the “big project” next week but did not provide details.

On Wheeler, Trump said the EPA chief should approve pipelines in Texas — an authority reserved for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“But if we get those approved, Andrew — I hope Andrew is listening — EPA. Andrew, you know what I’m saying, right?” Trump said.

Trump received credit at the event from U.S.-based Shell executives for his energy policies.

“We couldn’t do this without the president’s focus on energy infrastructure,” said Shell Oil Co. President Gretchen Watkins. “We are very grateful for the president’s help.”

But the Shell plant, located along the Ohio River about 40 minutes from Pittsburgh, was first announced at the tail end of the Obama administration. And Trump’s trade quotas on Brazilian steel threatened to thwart the project until the administration granted an exemption in April 2018 following pleas from the oil company. Royal Dutch Shell Chairman Charles Holliday, who also attended, was called on by Trump at one point to move the U.K.-based company to the United States.

Pennsylvania is a crucial swing state with 20 electoral votes. Trump won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, becoming the first Republican to do so since 1988.

Yesterday, Trump said it was his 13th trip to the state — more than any other president had made at this point in his term.

“I really love Pennsylvania,” he said. “I went to school in Pennsylvania. So we love this state, and I love the unions.”

Polling conducted in the spring shows him about 10 points behind 2020 Democratic contender Joe Biden, the former vice president. Meanwhile, protesters outside argued yesterday that the plant will cause air pollution like in the existing petrochemical hub along the Mississippi River.

Trump offered some insight into how he plans to appeal to the Rust Belt workers who helped him win in 2016 — hold off on talking about the Green New Deal until closer to the election.

“I want to encourage them,” he said of the presidential Democratic candidates. “I don’t want to do it too early.”

Trump concluded his speech with a poetic verse about what he said was a return to America’s manufacturing heyday.

“Factory floors across the land are once more crackling with life; our steel mills are fired up and blazing bright. The assembly lines are roaring. Industry is booming,” he said.

The White House said the speech was intended to show the administration’s “support for America’s expanding domestic manufacturing and energy production.” A spokesman did not respond to a question about whether the trip was a campaign event.

The Pennsylvania plant will use fracked gas to make a feedstock for plastics and is one of five such plants proposed for the economically struggling Ohio Valley.

The petrochemical industry applauded the president’s visit to the region.

“This is an economic and engineering marvel, and it’s one of the many signs that the Rust Belt is being revitalized because of energy,” Christopher Guith, acting director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, said in an interview after the speech. “And it’s perfectly appropriate to draw attention to that.”

Guith said there’s already a clear distinction between Trump and the pool of Democratic challengers.

“When a ban on fracking is becoming commonplace — that doesn’t play very well in this part of the economy,” he said.