Energy And Environmental Policy Under Trump Won’t Be So Bad (According To Three White Men)

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Getting ready to argue...

Getting ready to argue…

Yesterday, Bwog Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets attended a talk that focused on Trump’s energy and environmental plans for the next four years. Featuring environmental advisors to President George W. Bush, it seems that the United States’ environmental policy won’t be heavily affected by the change-of-hands between presidencies. The question remains: how can things not change if the leader of the free world doesn’t believe in climate change?

When I walked into the Pulitzer Hall World Room yesterday afternoon, I was pretty excited – and not just because the room is gorgeous. The panel I was about to attend promised to shed light on the ramifications of Trump’s presidency on America’s energy and environmental policy (that was, in fact, pretty much the title of the event). Its three panelists were all former senior energy and environment advisors to President George W. Bush, and, as the room filled, I realized that most of its audience was comprised of graduate students and people who dealt with energy and environmental policy in their careers. Still, I did not feel entirely out of my depth – as a biology major and, more broadly, human who cares about the future of the planet on which I live, I care a great deal about environmental policy. I hoped that this panel would alleviate at least some of my uncertainty about the next four years.

The panel began with a brief opening by Jason Bordoff, the director of SIPA’s Center on Global Energy Policy. He introduced the three panelists: Jeff Kupfer, former Acting Deputy Secretary of Energy; Jim Connaughton, former Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Bob McNally, former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for International Energy, National Security Council. Bordoff also reminded the audience that the event was being livestreamed online. (The full video is now available on the Center on Global Energy Policy website.) Each panelist then talked for a few minutes about his perspective on the effect of the new presidential administration on energy and environmental policy.

“It’s really dangerous now to try to… say what’s going to happen, because it’s anyone’s guess,” Jeff Kupfer began. He explained that, although Trump made many promises during his campaign, he left many policy-makers wondering about what exactly the details of those promises would entail. But Kupfer also reassured the audience that he believes a great deal of policy in the White House will remain the same as it was in the past, due to the slow nature of the bureaucratic political machine.

“It’s always easier for something not to happen in the government than for something to happen,” Kupfer said.

Similarly, Jim Connaughton believed that much of Trump’s energy policy would not be too different from Obama’s. He compared Obama’s executive order on energy policy to Bush’s, claiming they weren’t too different as their parties might suggest, then affirmed that the order “Mr. Trump’s about to do” would be similar as well. In fact, Connaughton said that “99.9%” of current energy and environmental policy is “going to be unchanged.” If anything, he believed that Trump’s administration would bring more speed and efficiency to decision making. Connaughton also called attention to nuclear energy and the “coal issue” (how to make renewable energy and coal power plants profitable), as well as the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s policy aimed at combating climate change through regulations, and the Paris Agreement, a recent UN accord dealing with greenhouse gas emission. Both of these attempts at regulation, Connaughton believes, won’t have significant effects on American energy under Trump.

Of the three panelists, Bob McNally seemed to be the only one at least intellectually concerned about Trump’s presidency. He explained that “a fascinating schism is developing in the Republican party” between two groups he called Traditionalists and Populists; most of Congress is comprised of Traditionalists, while Trump and many of his staff are Populists. According to McNally, America’s focus in energy and environmental policy for the past fifty years has been on safe sources of energy around the world and their safe supply lines to the U.S., but under Trump, that focus may be under serious threat. McNally spoke of an “erosion” in the bipartisan leadership that controlled much of foreign policy during the Cold War, then transitioned into questions about oil.

“There are few things that terrify an American president more than rising gasoline prices,” McNally said. He also spoke of an agreement with Saudi Arabia during the 1970’s that if they protected Americans from high gas prices, we would protect them from foreign enemies; in the past decade, this agreement has become splintered as each side wonders if the other can hold up its end of the bargain.

But how is environmental policy actually going to change under Trump? Bordoff referenced Ivanka Trump’s recent speech saying that “America comes first”; “Why are we sending our trade halfway around the world if America comes first?” he asked.

McNally worried that some of Trump’s advisers will want to stop funding the oil industry to focus more on refining coal. “There’s this sense that our oil exports will somehow lead to higher oil prices,” he said. “It may not be economically sound, but it’s widely felt.” Meanwhile, Connaughton seemed confident that “there are more people in [Trump’s] administration who actually know what they’re doing.”

Bordoff then asked how Trump’s administration would affect American relationships with other countries, from an energy standpoint. McNally discussed Trump’s affection for Russia, theorizing that Trump may try to use Russia to influence foreign policy. He also acknowledged that Trump “did not call for ripping up the Iran agreement”; he believes Trump may make some “pokes and jabs” at that agreement, but likely will not damage it beyond repair.

Connaughton then became fairly defensive in favor of the new president. “When you see what Trump says, watch for the second line,” he explained – implying that Trump’s manner of speaking may be a persona disguising his potential to make smart policy decisions.

“Give the guy a shot to see if he can negotiate a better deal with China,” Connaughton said. “If you really think this agreement is disadvantaging us… See if he can do better. I doubt it, but maybe he can.”

In addition, Connaughton defended Trump’s inaugural removal of all climate change information from the White House website. He claimed that “every administration takes the website down”, citing his tenure under Bush, and theorized that the website will be back up soon, perhaps with new information on coal. Connaughton seemed to be stuck in his position that the bureaucratic machine in D.C. is too complex for any swift progress towards new environmental legislation. When the moderator asked if there might be legislation against climate change, Kupfer chimed in, reminding the audience (and perhaps himself) that the private sector has so much power, government regulations aren’t very effective in the first place.

McNally spent some time expressing his confusion over how Trump and his new councilors make decisions and dismantled one remark Trump made during his campaign about “taking oil” from Iran, but even he seemed optimistic in theorizing that, under Trump, energy infrastructure will be “depoliticized” – or, not held up for political reasons.

As the event wore on, I began to feel as though these three men saw Trump’s presidency more as a fascinating political experiment than as a reign with potentially drastic consequences for their country. They spoke in circular hypotheticals, commending Trump on his unique nature as a politician even as they admitted that he had no experience making policy and likely would not listen to those who did. If they were aware of the fact that the energy and environmental laws they seemed to love so much will affect the state of the Earth’s climate and population in my lifetime if not theirs, they certainly didn’t acknowledge it.

I entered the panel hopeful that I would learn something that might alleviate my uncertainty about Trump’s presidency, and left disappointed and disillusioned. Although it was comforting to hear that much of American policy is so entrenched in bureaucracy it likely won’t change very drastically, I’m not at all convinced that the Trump administration won’t cause the U.S. to revert the legislation of the industrial revolution. If people such as those three panelists are in charge of American environmental policy, it’s no wonder a significant percentage of Americans “don’t believe in climate change.”

Three white men via Center on Global Energy Policy website

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  1. Anonymous

    Global warming is a professula grant extortion racket

  2. Yo betsy ladyshits

    This title is disgusting. Here's to hoping we never run into each other on campus lest I smack your ugly mug.

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