President Trump hammered home a message of economic prosperity during his State of the Union address. As Trump told it, the economy is soaring, fewer Americans are on food stamps and unemployment is at an all-time low.
A big part of that economic growth, as Trump describes it, is a "revolution in American energy."
"The United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world," Trump told Congress last night. "And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy."
And what about coal? Trump didn't mention it once during his address.
What was once one of Trump's favorite talking points as a candidate — "beautiful, clean coal," as Trump repeatedly said during the 2016 campaign — was entirely absent from his speech Tuesday night. Gone were lines about his effort to end the "war" on coal the Obama administration waged that were in his 2018 address to Congress.
The omission is perhaps a small indication of the large difficulty the Trump administration has had trying to revive the struggling U.S. coal sector.
The Energy Department's plan to subsidize hurting coal plants at the behest of Trump campaign booster and coal baron Robert Murray never got off the ground. Despite the rollback of some air-pollution rules extending the life of some coal facilities, the closure of coal plants nationwide has continued apace during Trump's presidency — with 16 gigawatts of coal-fired power going offline in 2018, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Cheaper forms of electricity generation that include natural gas, solar and wind energy are replacing coal. The result is that total coal consumption last year in the United States was projected to plunge to its lowest level in 40 years.
That shift from coal to natural gas is even happening in the heart of historic coal country. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia appeared to be one of the only, if not the only, Democrat who stood and clapped when Trump boasted about booming gas production.
Indeed, Trump correctly stated that the United States is the top oil and gas producer globally — though that has been true since 2012. The boom has more to do with the development of new extraction technologies, like hydraulic fracturing, than it has to do with any more recent Trump administration policy.
And the president spoke too soon when claiming the nation is already a net energy exporter, though he still captured the general industry trend. The Energy Information Administration, an independent agency in the Energy Department, said just last week that the United States will reach that status in 2020 for the first time in nearly seven decades. So that means that at the moment, the United States still imports more energy than it sends aboard.
Oil and gas industry representatives praised the president's speech while attempting to tie Trump's push for an infrastructure bill in Congress to easing the permitting process for new pipelines.
"Expanding natural gas infrastructure is essential to improving our environment and growing our economy," said Don Santa, president and chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.
Liberal advocacy groups, meanwhile, bemoaned Trump's failure to address climate change at all during his speech.
"Trump tried to erase climate change from tonight’s State of the Union, but you can’t erase a global crisis," Greenpeace USA chief Annie Leonard said. "Bragging about oil and gas production when global scientists are basically shouting from the rooftops to stop drilling and stop fracking is denial at its most dangerous level."
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— "We can no longer ignore these threats to democracy": Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams gave the official Democratic response to Trump's speech. In it, she tried to tie legistative action on climate change to the issue she is perhaps best known for: voting rights and registration. "We can do so much more," she said. "Take action on climate change. Defend individual liberties with fair-minded judges. But none of these ambitions are possible without the bedrock guarantee of our right to vote."
Compare to last year: Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) got some serious flack from liberal activists for failing to mention climate change during his official State of the Union rebuttal in 2018.
— Rick Perry was the “designated survivor”: The nation's energy secretary was sequestered in a secret location during Tuesday’s address, picked as the official who would take over as president if catastrophe struck on Capitol Hill, The Post’s Seung Min Kim reports.
He was one of only a few options: The designated survivor is meant to be someone in a Senate-confirmed position, eliminating many of the Cabinet officials currently in acting roles. The president’s Cabinet currently includes an acting attorney general, acting secretaries of Defense and Interior, an acting EPA administrator, an acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, as well as an acting White House chief of staff.
But energy secretaries often draw the short straw: The Obama administration tapped its energy secretaries three times — in 2009, 2013 and 2014 — to be the designated survivor during joint sessions of Congress.
— Wheeler gets committee nod: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to move the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Environmental Protection Agency administrator to the full Senate. The vote was 11 to 10 along party lines, with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) giving Wheeler the greenlight after urging the agency recently to develop drinking-water standards for a class of toxic chemicals that have polluted some West Virginia communities.
— The EPA goes after news organizations again: After a series of news stories last week, Wheeler's EPA “found cause to play media critic,” writes The Post’s own media critic Erik Wemple. The agency released a series of press releases criticizing news organizations — E&E News, HuffPost and Politico Pro — for stories and even apparently taking a reporter off the agency’s press-release distribution list. Asked about its latest blasts, EPA spokesman John Konkus told The Post that the “American public expects and deserves a press that provides truthful and honest reporting on important environmental issues, when the press fails to do that, it is our job to correct the record."
"We’ll just call it progress,” Wemple quipped, noting the actions the EPA took against media organizations under Scott Pruitt. They included the agnecy barring certain reporters from an EPA summit and one former spokesman calling a reporter "a piece of trash.”
— Manchin has his first energy hearing: In his first hearing as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin detailed his priorities, which include tackling climate change. “The impacts of climate change are felt in every economy and every community across the world and that includes my state of West Virginia,” he said. “I have never met a West Virginian who wants to drink dirty water or breathe dirty air. The urgent need to clean up our climate is felt by everyone and there is no reason rural America cannot be part of the cleaner energy solutions we are working toward.”
In the same breath, he still emphasized the need for coal power: "Coal will continue to be a critical part of the fuel mix in extreme weather situations like this," he said, referring to the recent cold snap in the eastern United States. "Even in states with aggressive clean energy goals, if it gets cold, we're still all going to need to work together. Events like the polar vortex will continue to happen."
— Scott Pruitt's legal defense fund started raising money before his departure: More than two months before he resigned from his post, the former EPA chief started raising cash for his legal expenses, Politico reports. On April 24, Wisconsin Republican billionaire donor Diane Hendricks donated $50,000 to the Scott Pruitt Legal Expenses Trust. That was long before he resigned from the Trump administration in July. The Post's Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis reported on the five-figure gift in December, but it was not clear when the donation was made.
—Judge orders safety board to disclose accident-related emissions: A federal judge ordered the Chemical and Safety Hazard Investigation Board to require the disclosure of chemical emissions that result from accidents. The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed following an explosion at a chemical plant in the Houston area after Hurricane Harvey caused severe flooding, The Post's Steven Mufson reports. Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Clean Air Act required the agency to investigate chemical fires, explosions, leaks and other accidents. "Yet the board has not yet put regulations into place that require disclosure." The judge ordered the board to come up with such a regulation within a year.
— The North Pole is moving, and the government has finally caught up: The place to which compass needles point has been shifting toward Siberia at a pace of more than 30 miles a year, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports, and after a delay caused by the partial government shutdown, humans are now caught up. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week updated the World Magnetic Model, used to orient military equipment and the GPS in personal cellphones. The model is usually only updated every five years, with the next one scheduled for 2020, but “fluctuations in the Arctic were occurring faster than predicted. By the summer, the discrepancy between the World Magnetic Model and the real-time location of the north magnetic pole had nearly exceeded the threshold needed for accurate navigation."
— Climate change affecting ice coverage on lakes: A recent study found thousands of lakes in the Northern Hemisphere that once reliably froze every winter now see no ice at all in some years. And that has a domino effect. “Without winter ice, lakes begin warming earlier in the year,” the New York Times reports. “Warmer surface water increases the risk of toxic algal blooms and decreases oxygen levels in a lake, putting stress on fish and other organisms. Water temperature also affects which fish species can thrive. Certain fish — like walleye, salmon and trout — depend on cool, oxygen-rich waters and don’t fare as well in warm conditions."
— ExxonMobil makes deal with Qatar: The American oil giant and Qatar Petroleum announced they will spend $10 billion to build a liquefied natural gas export hub in Texas. “A push into the United States would give state-owned Qatar Petroleum, already the biggest liquefied natural gas exporter in the world, quicker and cheaper access to Latin America, freeing more of its domestic production for lucrative Asian markets,” the New York Times reports. At the deal-signing event, Rick Perry called the agreement the “latest example of the vital partnership between the U.S. and Qatar.” “The Golden Pass project is proof that two of the world’s top energy producers can work together as allies to increase energy diversity, advance energy security, and support rather than subvert an open energy marketplace,” he said in a statement.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on “Addressing the Environmental and Economic Effects of Climate Change."
- The House Natural Resources Committee holds a full committee hearing on climate change impacts.
- Politico hosts an event on clean energy innovation.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the status and outlook of energy innovation on Thursday.
- Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler is scheduled to give the keynote address at the Environmental Law 2019 conference, held Thursday and Friday.
— Are you missing a flash drive? Scientists found a USB stick in New Zealand after analyzing some seal poop, The Post's Amy B Wang reports. “It is very worrying that these amazing Antarctic animals have plastic like this inside them,” said a volunteer with New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, who found the (still functional) USB stick.