Trump vows to ‘unleash’ American energy but unveils only modest new steps

Source: By Steven Mufson and Chris Mooney, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, July 5, 2017

President Trump speaks on Thursday at the Energy Department in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump vowed to “unleash American energy” on Thursday, pledging to bolster the ailing nuclear industry, open up new offshore areas for drilling, and help seal deals for oil pipelines and coal exports.

Riding a wave of shale drilling that doubled the country’s total oil and gas production during the Obama administration, Trump said: “We’re here today to usher in a new American energy policy, one that unlocks millions and millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in wealth.”

But energy experts were not impressed with the measures Trump unveiled Thursday, saying they would have little effect.

“It’s energy week — ‘W-E-A-K.’ It’s kind of disappointing,” said David Goldwyn, president of Goldwyn Global Strategies and formerly the top energy official at the State Department under President Obama. “I don’t know why you set yourself up for a big announcement like this if you’re not really ready to announce anything that would be material.”

Trump repeatedly made reference to the conventional wisdom that dominated the oil industry for half a century that the country was fast approaching a peak in oil and gas production. It was, he said, “a big beautiful myth. Fake.”

“We’re going to be an exporter,” he said. “We’re going to export energy all around the world, all around the globe.” And he celebrated “near limitless supplies of energy” in the United States, adding: “We are now on the cusp of a true energy revolution.”

The United States exports liquefied natural gas (LNG) in tankers, natural gas through pipelines, and petroleum, though it remains a net importer of 4.8 million barrels a day of crude oil and refined petroleum products — about a quarter of total U.S. oil consumption.

Trump said his administration would take steps to “to revive and expand our nuclear energy sector,” which he said “produces clean, renewable and emissions-free energy.”

He didn’t describe those steps, saying that he awaits a “complete review.” But few expect the administration review to include a carbon tax, a policy that would greatly benefit nuclear energy and simultaneously acknowledge the problem of climate change.

Trump’s vow comes amid a financial crisis in the nuclear industry. Some of the 99 reactors in the U.S. nuclear program are closing down because of competition from cheap natural gas-fired power plants.

Westinghouse, the nuclear contractor with four new reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, has declared bankruptcy and has had to turn to its parent company, Japan’s Toshiba, for an additional $3.6 billion to finish building plants that are overbudget and behind schedule.

Trump also said that the Treasury Department would “address barriers” to the financing of overseas coal plants.

The U.S. government does not have any prohibitions on private financing, although in 2013 the Obama administration said it would oppose the use of the World Bank and other multilateral development bank funds for coal plant construction because such plants would add to carbon dioxide emissions and conflict with climate change objectives. Trump, however, did not spell out what he meant.

“I think this is part of a larger promise that he’s made to try to figure out how to give coal a new lease on life,” said Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, director of the Sustainable Finance Center at the World Resources Institute.

“The issue is always that financing, especially the use of public financing, which I think he’s getting at, is best used for technologies that are innovative, risky, not well understood,” Martinez continued. “And coal is a 150-year-old technology, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to use public financing to finance a technology that’s already well understood by the markets.”

The president also said that his administration had just approved the construction of a new petroleum pipeline to Mexico.

Later, the State Department said it had approved a permit for the construction of the New Burgos Pipeline, which will have the capacity to carry up to 108,000 barrels per day of refined petroleum products. The United States exports and imports large volumes of refined products, usually importing gasoline while exporting diesel.

As part of the suite of new energy policies announced by Trump, the Energy Department approved two applications to export an incremental amount of additional LNG abroad through an existing plant in Lake Charles, La.

The department said the LNG facility could export 0.33 billion cubic feet in addition to the up to 2 billion cubic feet a day already approved. The department said it has approved LNG export facilities with a total capacity of 21.33 billion cubic feet a day.

The facility is jointly owned by Royal Dutch Shell and Texas-based Energy Transfer Partnership, where Energy Secretary Rick Perry was recently a director.

Trump also highlighted a private-sector memorandum of understanding that was formally announced shortly after his speech. Sempra Energy, a U.S. utility and energy company, said that along with Australia’s Woodside Petroleum that it had reached an understanding to export LNG to Korea Gas Corp. from a proposed export facility that would be built in Port Arthur, Tex.

LNG plants are only built after developers reach agreements with gas purchasers. The company said the agreement with Korean Gas Corp., a natural gas firm in South Korea, meant the company would be “a potential purchaser of LNG from, and equity participant in, the Port Arthur LNG project.”


“President Trump has consistently sought to leverage U.S. LNG exports in discussions with leaders from Japan, South Korea, China and, most recently, India as a way to improve both trade balances and broader relations,” said Leslie Palti-Guzman, director of global gas at the Rapidan Group, a consulting firm.

“The governments of consumer countries in Asia are eager to show their willingness to work with the Trump administration on its key priorities and have asked their utilities to consider additional U.S. LNG purchases.” She said state-owned companies are the most likely to consider political priorities in their purchasing decisions.

Both Trump and Vice President Pence, who introduced him to an audience at the Energy Department, said that they would do better than the Obama administration in promoting U.S. domestic energy.

Pence said “a lot of you are just kind of coming through this regulatory haze you’ve been in over the course of the last eight years, and I know you felt like the cards were stacked against you. Because they were. The war on your livelihoods is over.”

“Job-killing regulations are being removed and vital infrastructure projects are being approved at a level that they’ve never seen before,” Trump said.