In the Trump administration, “energy dominance” has replaced “energy independence” as the go-to phrase for describing the federal government’s broad energy goals -- in President Trump’s case, to promote as much oil, gas and coal development as possible.
For years, if there was anything both Republicans and Democrats could agree on regarding energy policy (or at least the way they talked about energy policy), it was that the U.S. needed to be “energy independent.”
That bipartisan byword was used to describe efforts to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fuel -- mostly by encouraging domestic energy production whether it be extracting fossil fuel or developing alternative energy sources. Ever since the 1970s, when wars in the Middle East periodically choked oil supplies and spiked gasoline prices, the catchphrase has been politically potent in this country.
But more recently, the slogan has lost its cache among voters. Gas prices were relatively low throughout the presidential campaign, and the United States is now far less dependent on oil from abroad over the past decade as a result of the shale-gas fracking boom.
That’s given the Trump administration a rhetorical opening to trumpet the hat-ready slogan.
This week, for example, when announcing the new head of a offshore drilling safety office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the pick helps "set our path toward energy dominance." In April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told onlookers at the opening of a carbon-capture project in Texas that Trump "has made it very clear to me that he doesn’t just want America to be energy-independent; he wants America to be energy-dominant.”
Where does “energy dominance” come from? The Cabinet officials are taking cues from the president himself. Trump dropped the phrase in his first major speech on energy policy delivered last May in North Dakota, in the heart of U.S. oil and gas country, and made it an underlined cornerstone of his energy policy as a presidential candidate. "American energy dominance will be declared a strategic, economic, and foreign policy goal of the United States," he said. "It's about time!”
After the election, the phrase filtered down to Trump's Cabinet picks. "Mr. President," Perry said in a speech reflecting his nomination to be energy secretary, "I remember clearly your comments to me when we discussed my role at the Energy Department. You said, 'I don't want America to just be energy independent, I want America to be energy dominant.'"
Before Trump ran for president and introduced the phrase to broader political debate, it was rattling around industry circles.
"This is the time to invest in the infrastructure and policies we need to achieve the full benefits of energy advances and secure a stable supply of energy for decades yet to come," Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters in 2014 when speaking out in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. "The rest of the world is certainly not sitting on their hands in the face of America's emerging energy dominance."
What does the phrase mean? During the campaign, Trump said he wanted the U.S. to become a net energy exporter -- a goal that, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the country is on track to reach by 2026. By leaving few fossil-fuels resources in the United States unexploited, the thinking goes, the country can fund infrastructure and bolster national security.
"There is a difference in energy independence, and there is a difference in energy dominance," Zinke told attendees of an offshore technology conference in May. "We're in a position to be dominant. And if we, as a country, want to have national security, and an economy that we all desperately need, then dominance is what America needs." (Proponents of "energy independence" also made the national security argument.)
One thing left unsaid is that becoming an oil and gas exporter may conflict with one of Trump's other goals -- improved relations with Russia, which fuels much of Europe.
What does it miss? So far, Trump’s critics, including the many who attended the science and climate marches in April, have framed the series of executive orders unwinding President Obama’s climate policy as ignorant of a need to take steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change.
One of those steps was investment from the Department of Energy in solar, wind and other renewable energy technology, which the Trump administration is seeking to cut in its proposed budget. Critics of Trump worry that research and development being made by other nations, like China and Germany, in solar and wind technology will give them a leg up in the energy market in the decades ahead.
“Notably missing from most of this ‘energy dominance’ talk,” Dave Anderson, a policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, told me, “is renewable energy sources.”
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Jonathan Swan of Axios reports that 22 Republican senators sent a letter to Trump urging him to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. Their timing seems meant to influence administration heavyweights before the big meeting of the G7 in Sicily starting tomorrow (the town of Taormina is even preparing a special "Trump Cup" of gelato -- three scoops of red, white and blue ice cream. Reports The Telegraph: "... the piece de la resistance is a wisp of spun sugar, to evoke the Republican President’s peculiar hair style.")
The senators who signed the letter represent the leadership, and those spearheading environmental and energy issues on Capitol Hill for the GOP: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Environment and Public Works Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and former Chair James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). Conservatives Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also signed on, per Axios.
Their argument: "remaining in [the Paris agreement] would subject the United States to significant litigation risk that could upend your Administration's ability to fulfill its goal of rescinding the Clean Power Plan."
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters the administration is still waiting for Trump to decide on whether or not to pull out of the Paris:
FLASHBACK: When asked in December, the then-president-elect told Fox News: "You’ll have a decision pretty quickly" on Paris:
-- A lot of attention has been paid to the heavy cuts Trump proposed for the EPA, but let's dig into the budget reductions proposed for another agency: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As my colleague Jason Samenow reports:
"Released Tuesday, the proposal slashes funding at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the National Weather Service, by 16 percent. The proposal not only reduces investments in weather forecasting technology but also cuts programs that would enhance understanding of phenomena, such as El Nino, hurricanes and tornadoes. NOAA’s weather satellite programs would see reductions in the hundreds of millions of dollars."
NOAA (along with NASA) is one of the primary federal agencies studying climate change. Given Trump's doubts about climate science, the president's proposal for NOAA may seem to make sense at first glance.
But it doesn't.
Even with the climate-change issue set aside, the cuts are head-scratching. Here are two reasons why:
1) It is widely agreed that the main U.S. weather-forecasting model has fallen behind Europe's. The loss of accuracy in that model, the Global Forecast System, isn't just of consequence to academics. Many sectors of the U.S. economy -- including Trump's own, real-estate development -- rely on weather forecasts to make business decisions. The U.S. military -- again, one of Trump's priorities -- relies on forecasts for national-security decisions.
2) The NOAA budget proposal contradicts legislation Trump signed into law in April. That law aimed "to restore" U.S. weather modeling by, among other things, developing experimental forecasts 16 to 30 days into the future and a new tornado-detection system in the Southeast. The new budget calls for terminating both things.
-- House votes to roll back pesticide requirements. The Hill's Devin Henry reports: "Rep. Bob Gibbs’ (R-Ohio) bill would reverse a 2009 court decision that requires pesticides secure two separate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approvals before hitting the market. 'This adds compliance costs, it adds permitting costs and it adds time and it hurts productivity and efficiency, and it does not add any new environmental protections,' Gibbs said."
-- Is Rick Perry's review of the electric grid a bid to save coal? Vox's David Roberts reports: "While the coal industry has been supportive of the review, virtually everyone else — energy analysts, Democrats in Congress, renewable energy industries, people who have paid attention — greeted it as a transparent attempt to prop up coal and nuclear power. It would be fun to have some counter-intuitive take here, but the evidence to date demonstrates that Perry is doing exactly what Trump instructed: casting about for some justification to prop up coal."
Here are some other good reads about the doings of federal agencies:
THE CLAIM: During his confirmation hearing in January, Scott Pruitt told senators, when asked his thoughts on climate change, that he was “aware of a diverse range of conclusions regarding global temperatures, including that over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming, which some scientists refer to as the ‘hiatus.'"
THE CONTEXT: Pruitt has since his time as attorney general of Oklahoma questioned the broad scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet. "Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind," he wrote in March of last year. In March of his year, he added that he did not believe carbon dioxide to be a "primary contributor" to global warming.
"After reviewing temperature trends contained in three satellite data sets going back to 1979, the paper concludes that the data sets show a global warming trend — and that Pruitt was incorrect... the new study finds that all of the three satellite data sets — kept by Remote Sensing Systems, the Center for Satellite Applications and Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Alabama at Huntsville — show a long-term warming trend in the middle to upper part of the troposphere. After correcting for a cooling-down of the stratosphere (the layer above the troposphere), the paper finds that the trend is roughly 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit per decade for the first two data sets, and 0.26 degrees Fahrenheit per decade for the third."
From NASA, here's a bird's eye view of a massive landslide along California's Highway 1 in Big Sur over the weekend:
My Post colleague Angela Fritz reports on how the end of one natural crisis begot another in the iconic California region:
"The rain ended California’s five-year drought, but it left 45 miles of Highway 1 cut off from the rest of California, with few services for the 450 men, women and children who live here. That means no mail delivery, a limited supply of gasoline and a single deli where you can buy eggs. Even the resident monks have been forced to pass around the modern-day collection plate known as GoFundMe to help repair the road leading to their monastery."
That and previous landslides this year -- plus the emergency demolition of a sinking bridge -- has closed dozens of miles of coastline highway and strained travel for hundreds of residents.
- The Senate will consider the nomination of Dan Brouillette, a Bush administration alum, to become Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s deputy. They will also hear from Neil Chatterjee and Robert F. Powelson, who have been nominated to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
- The House Appropriations Committee will hold a budget hearing on the U.S. Forest Service at 9:30 a.m.
- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his home state of Montana will learn their next U.S. representative in tonight’s special election.
- OPEC’s energy ministers will formally meet in Vienna today to determine whether they will extend their oil production cuts, which have helped raise prices and are set to expire next month. Signs point to widespread support among the OPEC ministers to continue the cuts.
- President Trump’s meetings with the G7 heads of state begin tomorrow, and America’s continued involvement in the Paris climate agreement will certainly be on the docket. But Secretary of State Tillerson said yesterday that the administration had not yet reached a decision about respecting the agreement, which then-candidate Trump repeatedly threatened to terminate during his presidential campaign.
Ummm, let's hope other congressional candidates don't follow Montana Republican Greg Gianforte's example and start thinking it's okay to beat up reporters when it comes to the environment or energy:
See this Montana sheriff react:
Orlando Bloom tells Jimmy Kimmel that his kid thinks he can walk across water:
Winter is coming! On Game of Thrones, that is: