Friday, December 16, 2016

Fossil Fuels, Yes.  But Trump Energy Team Isn't a One-Note Band.

The team includes an Energy nominee who knows wind power can work, a State Department nominee who has supported the Paris climate deal, and an Interior nominee who's not big on selling off federal lands.

Rex Tillerson (Credit: Evan Vucci/AP/File) Click to Enlarge.
At first glance, the incoming Trump administration shows one consistent face to the world when it comes to energy policy:  promote fossil fuel development and jobs, and tell liberal climate worriers to go home.

That message has seeped through Donald Trump’s own speeches and tweets.  It echoes in the views of some close policy advisors and financial backers.  And it’s corroborated in key cabinet picks from fossil-fuel states.

But if that broad pattern is clear, the Trump worldview on energy is in some ways anything but a foregone conclusion.  Scratch beneath the surface, and the signals coming from the Trump transition are about eclecticism, apparent contradictions, and an uncertain policy agenda that largely remains to be written.

Trump’s choice to head the State Department, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has supported a carbon tax and staying in the Paris climate change agreement.  Rep. Ryan Zinke, the Montana Republican slated to lead the Interior Department, has opposed selling federal land to states and private holders.  Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who Trump wants to place atop the Energy Department, saw the Lone Star State take advantage of federal wind energy subsidies that enabled it to become the nation’s top wind producer.

Those policies all collide with separate blueprints released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, whose energy director leads Mr. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition, and by the House Freedom Caucus, a collection of far right Republicans.  The ideological adherents to those groups were among the first to support Trump’s run for the presidency.

And the policy views of cabinet officers will matter.

“Personnel is policy, everywhere and at all times,” Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist who formerly led Trump’s Energy Department transition team until the president-elect banned lobbyists, says in an email.

While policy generally comes from the top, the dynamics create a confusing picture of what Trump intends to pursue on energy and the environment.  Partly, this may reflect the learning curve ahead for Trump.  It’s also not yet clear whether it will be him or his Cabinet picks steering policy.

“With the presidency of Donald J. Trump, we are just moving into uncertainty across the board.  He is without precedent,” says Joe Barnes, an energy geopolitics expert and research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

It’s not that Trump is a blank slate on energy.

He has telegraphed plans to remove regulations that crimped fossil fuel jobs, and much of his policy will head in that direction, says Nick Loris, an energy fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.  But some of the finer details might come as agency heads fill out their staffs.

“Not to make this sound like a Russian nesting doll, but now it’s part of their jobs to find people who have intricate knowledge of these programs and these agencies,” he says. 

Read more at Fossil Fuels, Yes.  but Trump Energy Team Isn't a One-Note Band.

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