By Roy L Hales
The fears seem especially strong across the renewable and environmental communities. David Suzuki writes that “a bigoted, misogynistic, climate change denier has been elected to the highest office in what is still the world’s most powerful nation.” Many fear that President-elect Donald Trump “is set to gut US environmental regulations, open up federal lands for fossil fuel extraction, and quit the Paris climate agreement.” Academics from many North American universities are copying information and data from U.S. government environmental websites before the new administration eradicates it. The next President’s personality “is certainly extreme by any standard.” How much damage can Donald Trump do to America?
How Much Damage Can Donald Trump Do?
“Trump can slow down the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, but I really believe he can’t stop it. Of course you like to think Trump won’t govern the way he spoke during his primary and general election campaigns, but I don’t think that. We know who he is and now it’s going to be the constraints in our system that make sure he doesn’t do too much damage,” said Dr Allan Hoffman, a former senior analyst who started working with the Department of Energy (DOE) during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency and retired under Obama.
“There are lots of uncertainties about this guy and even Trump probably doesn’t know what he is going to do. What people are really worried about is the people around him. There is some evidence that the last person to talk to him has the most influence. Trump tends to be impulsive. He has a short temper and is very sensitive to any kind of opposition or criticism. That’s a very volatile personality and he does not appear to be what I would call a very mature person. Trump acts like a teenager because he is so caught up in his own self image. That scares me. I don’t want that for the President of the United States.”
He now has a tremendous amount of power to interfere with things. If Trump decides to oppose an offshore or onshore wind farm, for example, he could push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to try to come up with some reason to oppose it.
The People He is Putting In Place
Hoffman believes, “The people he is putting in place will do pretty much what he wants.” Trump’s pick for the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, does not appear to be a man of great integrity, “he’s more a partisan politician.” Thomas Pyle, who may end up with a senior post in the DOE, is a supporter of the fossil fuel industry and a member of the cabal that has long been opposing renewable energy.
One of the few Trump team members Hoffman spoke well of is the nominee for Secretary of State. Rex Tillerson may be the CEO of Exxon, but he supports a carbon tax. “This is one of the most important policy measures we can take to start moving away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy.” Unfortunately the Senate may not confirm Tillerson, because of his co-ownership, with the Russians, of an oil company in the Bahamas.
“The Republican majority in the Senate is only 52 to 48, and I can name at least three Republicans who already have major reservations about Tillerson. Rubio, Graham and McCain. If for any reason the three of them decide not to vote yes, there are not enough votes to confirm Tillerson if all the Democrats oppose this nomination. They require 50 votes, 51 to be an absolute majority. If it is 50, then the Vice President casts the deciding vote and that’s Pence and he will do whatever Trump wants him to do,” said Hoffman.
“By-the way, a lot of people are more concerned about Pence than Trump right now. That’s because of Pence’s record on LGBT rights, abortion and stuff like that. There is a lot of concern that Trump will be uninterested in the details of governing. He’s more interested in being the center of attention, in rallies and stuff like that. He could turn a lot of the day to day stuff over to Pence.”
America’s Fossil Fuel Sector
The incoming administration will undoubtedly push America’s fossil fuel sector.
Hoffman believes that the vested interests pushing fossil fuels right now are too strong to stop. Instead of opposing fracking and pipelines, we should make sure they are done properly. “When an environmentalist says no pipelines, I ask, “Okay, if you don’t have the pipeline what happens?” He would much rather have a well regulated pipeline than see oil shipped by rail, “which is dangerous.”
“My own view (of the Keystone XL) is that Canada is going to develop its’ tar sands resource one way or the other. If they don’t sell oil to us they will ship it out to their west coast and ship it to Asia. People do what is in their self interest. I’m cynical enough about human nature to believe that. Given the alternatives, I say okay let’s have the pipeline and regulate the hell out of them.”
“It’s like my position on fracking. A lot of people are just dead opposed to fracking because of the potential dangers. My view is that in principal it can be done safely, but you have to spend money and you have to have regulations and you have to enforce those regulations. That’s the critical thing, regulation that is not being enforced is worthless. This includes the pipelines that take the gas from the fracking fields, so they do not leak methane.. If these things leak, then all the benefit of natural gas over coal gets lost.”
In principle, Hoffman believes using natural gas is an improvement over coal. He looks forward to the day when the United States will obtain all of its’ energy from renewables.
Trump Likes All the Focus On Him
As regards the incoming administration, “We don’t know what’s going to happen. Trump likes to keep things uncertain, so that all the focus is on him. He thinks that is a good bargaining tool in these negotiations with everybody. That is what he is doing and he is doing it well. The man is a master at creating ambiguity.”
“As far as I can tell, this is a President without a core set of principles who is not really closely tied to the Republican party or the Democratic party – which he was a member of for a long time. Everyone is going to have to be extremely vigilant. Support him on things that are good for the country. If he wants to repair the roads and bridges, and does things that are important for getting transmission lines moving renewable energy from one part of the country to another, that’s fine. Oppose him where it is appropriate to oppose him.”
Top Photo Credit: The transport cargo ship World Spirit leaves Los Angles with less than a full load by haymarketrebel via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)