What Trump Means for Energy and the Future of Environmental Policy

This is Part One of Collective’s ongoing series on Trump, China, and the future of global energy policy.

Election Aftershock

The past two days have been a political frenzy.

Abroad, American allies have begun to worry about treaties and long-standing partnerships. With Trump’s previous statements calling China a “currency manipulator,” and his plans to slap 45% tariffs on Chinese goods, the stage for increased tension between the two countries is set. And concerns don’t end with China.

Aftershocks have shaken domestic interests, too. In the U.S., Clinton aides and pollsters are also worried. Media giants have struggled to figure out how they missed Trump’s “silent majority” and failed to poll a large portion of the electorate. Clinton’s supporters have pored over voter data and questioned the direction of their party.

The election was a landslide victory for Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton campaign failed to win easy Democratic strongholds like Michigan and Pennsylvania, lost in states like Florida where they spent $211 million more than Trump, and underperformed in comparison to 2008 and 2012 turnout levels in safe areas like Michigan’s Wayne County.

Most importantly, the last two days have been about anticipation.

Trump and the US Electorate, Energy Policy Environment - Collective Responsibility
Trump swept the electoral map on Tuesday. Image Credit: New York Times

Trump and the Way Forward

Now that the period of shock is over, it’s time to actually imagine a Trump presidency. In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton urged her supporters to “give [Trump] a chance to lead.”

But in order to do that, we feel it is important to put together a post that explains Trump’s position on critical issues – especially regarding energy and the environment.

It should be noted that President-Elect Donald Trump has promised a lot of things over the course of his campaign – including a wall along the southern border (which Mexico will pay for) and a cancellation of all executive orders enacted during the Obama administration.

But more importantly, he has promised a reversal of harsh regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has called climate change a Chinese conspiracy. Not exactly what sustainability-minded professionals, citizens, or governments would call aligning with “the cause.”

Given that there is no chance of a recount, it’s time to sift through Trump’s campaign proposals and best predict what his administration will actually look like.

Energy and the Environment: Neglected Topics

The President-Elect’s immigration, refugee, and national security policies have been covered at length, but one crucial topic has slipped through the cracks of public consciousness – Energy and the Environment.

Fracking, carbon emissions, global warming, and energy jobs were mere footnotes in the election, but they are likely to become the cornerstone of Trump’s earliest and most controversial initiatives once his term begins.

Let’s break down a few policies that Trump will likely enact within his first 100 days and evaluate how likely they are to pass.

Trump Rally President Policy Energy Environment Destroy - Collective Responsibility
Photo Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Trump’s First 100 Days: A Policy Guide


“Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.”
– Trump’s official campaign platform

When we look at a breakdown of voter demographics from the election exit polls, 62% of Trump voters live in small cities and rural areas, and 78% of Trump supporters believe their family’s financial situation is worse today than it was a year ago.

Many voters from these areas believe regulations limiting consumption of coal and natural gas have worsened economic prospects for these former manufacturing states. One of the voters’ rallying calls, which Trump has co-opted, is a return to American energy and American-made goods.

This movement formed under the Obama administration, when new regulations like the Clean Power Plan challenged rural America’s manufacturing and energy foundation. The plan compelled governors to start lowering carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 32% and to promote cleaner forms of energy.

Manufacturing-intensive and energy-producing states, which President Obama carried in 2012, ultimately voted for Trump. These include Pennsylvania, the country’s fourth-largest coal producer, and the seventh largest natural gas producer, as well as Michigan and Wisconsin, with large numbers employed in manufacturing.

In each of these states where jobs was a key issue for voters, Hillary’s policy to continue supporting carbon agreements and taxes isolated her from voters who saw a vote for her as a vote against jobs. Not to overemphasize this point, but a little data goes a long way: among registered voters who said they would vote for Trump, 69% called for expanded coal mining, 66% for more offshore drilling, 58% for more fracking, and 55% for more nuclear power plants.

American Trump Energy Planet Destroy - Collective ResponsibilityThe rise of Trump signals a shift in the electorate, potentially at the expense of progressive environmental policy. Photo Credit: Getty Images

BOTTOM LINE: A majority of Trump voters are disenfranchised manufacturers, coal-miners, or blue-collar workers otherwise employed in energy production. In order to maintain their support, hold onto a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, and increase his chances of re-election, Trump will most likely:

  • Lower or eliminate state-by-state carbon emissions quotas under the Clean Power Plan,
  • Subsidize coal mining communities to tide over a period of job loss and re-establish mining activity, and
  • Invest in new drilling technology, as well as subsidized drilling overseas, to reach energy independence.

#2: Cut the EPA and Cancel “Waters of the United States”

Many Americans haven’t even heard of this policy, so I’ll give a quick overview.

Waters of the United States is an EPA regulation enacted under the Obama administration. The policy seems mundane – a simple change in administrative definitions of rivers, lakes, marshes, and streams – but its long-term implications are much more controversial. The law expands the number of water sources that can be monitored by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, and it allows federal employees to ensure local compliance with the Clean Water Act.

In short, the EPA gets to monitor more lakes and rivers and actually has some power to enforce clean water standards with municipal governments.

Since its introduction, though, the policy has become a rallying cry for both Trump supporters and establishment Republicans who have argued that this is another example of federal overreach. Local factories, mines, and energy extractors have to significantly change their operations, subject themselves to EPA review, and potentially cut jobs – prioritizing the environment over what they consider more practical goals.

This narrative was a pretty easy sell in 2015, when both the Senate and the House launched counter-attacks to repeal the law and has become even stronger over time. Through this speech and his 100-day plan, Trump has promised not only to repeal the law but also to launch an EPA Transition Team. This new body will work with Congress and the Department of Energy (DOE) to reduce the EPA’s responsibilities and repeal EPA legislation enacted under President Obama.

BOTTOM LINE: Trump has appointed people to cut down the EPA and spearhead a repeal process in Congress, which is seen by many as an attempt to significantly weaken or abolish the EPA and the Clean Water Act.

Obama Clean Energy Water EPA - Collective Responsibility
Obama’s environmental policies are likely to disappear under the leadership of Trump. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

How and Why Trump Can Do It

Trump’s Republican majority in the electorate and Congress

Trump’s proposals could be seen as quick wins for elected officials in manufacturing and energy-intensive states. A repeal of both policies is a pretty easy sell to voters who want more jobs, smaller government, and an energy independent country that no longer kowtows to OPEC.

As seen with the UK’s vote for Brexit and the persistence of its momentum, it is this demonstrative majority of the electorate that will set the tone for Trump’s policy to follow.

Trump’s choice for DOE and EPA Leaders 

Trump has already named Myron Ebell – a climate change denier – as head of a new commission to reduce EPA regulations. Ebell will be responsible for leading the transition to a new era: one of massively reduced EPA influence.

Trump’s DOE head will also likely come from a coal or natural gas state, or from a major oil company. Floated options include a major proponent of shale gas extraction, the head of Ohio’s EPA, and West Virginia’s Attorney General – none of whom are likely to moderate Trump’s platform.

EPA Trump Energy Environment - Collective Responsibilty
The EPA may undergo a downsizing in the first one hundred days of the Trump administration.

Questions Going Forward 

  • How likely is it that either policy repeal will pass through Congress? How could Democrats better mobilize voters and spark enthusiasm about clean energy issues?
  • How can Democrats and clean energy proponents mobilize voters who would normally vote for Republicans?
  • Why should other countries care about these policy changes? What effect could they have on the Paris Agreement and global carbon emissions cuts?

This is Part One of Collective’s ongoing series on Trump, China, and the future of global energy policy. Stay tuned for Part Two about China’s new role in an environmental leadership vacuum.

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This article was written by Alison Schonberg, Research Analyst at Collective Responsibility.

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