Presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s energy policies have already been dismissed by environmentalists as devastating to the biosphere . But Trump is unlikely to care, not least because a large part of his support comes from climate change deniers. Far more damaging is the criticism from energy insiders that Trump’s policies are nonsensical.
In an editorial, the Washington Post argues that Trump’s desire to make America energy independent is a failed pipe dream pursued by several republican presidents in recent history:
“Setting “energy independence” as an overriding policy goal is a policy mistake of long standing in Washington. In fact it is far less risky to participate in the global market than to erect barriers to energy imports or ban them entirely. If you rely only on yourself for your oil, you put all of your eggs in one supply basket. Disruptions due to a natural disaster or anything else that would be relatively localized in a global oil market would cause major volatility in a closed domestic one. The best way to insulate the country from oil price volatility would be to make the economy less dependent on oil, but Mr. Trump has no interest in doing so.”
Nor do the economics of Trump’s proposals add up. This is because hydraulically fractured shale gas and oil are victims of their own (extractive) success. The speed and quantity of US production was directly responsible for the collapse in prices and the current global glut of oil and gas. By removing any remaining obstacles to unconventional gas and oil, Trump could only exacerbate the problem; driving global prices even lower, and making shale oil and gas unprofitable.
Nor can Trump’s promise to recreate jobs in the coal industry stand up against direct competition from fracking:
“The decline of coal, for example, has occurred in large part because under the Obama administration natural gas drilling has boomed, lowering the price of gas and spurring utilities to move away from coal.”
Barring massive government subsidies (which Trump opposes) to the coal industry, it is doubtful that many of the remaining coal jobs can be safeguarded. In practice, the switch to gas is more devastating than the switch to renewables that Trump wants to reverse. To regenerate coal, Trump would need to pull the rug out from beneath the shale gas industry – the very opposite of what he is promising.
As with so much of the hot air escaping Trump’s mouth just at the moment, on energy he appears to be doing no more than tailoring his message to his audience. Prior to being officially nominated as the Republican candidate, he can get away with this. Once the real Presidential race begins, he will need to come up with workable policies, not more unworkable populist nonsense.