Jul 29, 2018 - Energy & Environment

Trump's manic energy policy

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

During White House discussions about renewable energy, President Trump has declared — more than once and to the amusement of senior administration officials — "I hate the wind!"

Why this matters: The Trump administration's energy policies are hurricanes of contradiction. They reveal an extraordinary gap between the president and his administration.

  • Trump has a visceral hatred of wind turbines. He believes they are terrible returns on investment that blight coastlines and obstruct views, sources with direct knowledge tell Axios.
  • Trump has even told officials to "think of all the birds" that wind turbines are killing, though sources familiar with these comments tell us they doubt the president actually cares about endangered wildlife.

Ironically, given Trump has shown nothing but contempt for wind energy, the Trump administration is working hard to promote wind farms up and down the Atlantic Coast:

  • Trump's Interior Department is working with Democratic-led state governments to lease federal waters for wind off Massachusetts and nearby states, and also working to streamline permitting to make it easier for companies to build offshore wind farms.

"His policy is, wherever he goes he likes what they have," said a source with direct knowledge of the internal White House energy discussions. "Even if it's contrary to what he said at the last place. He basically just tells everyone what they want to hear; that's his energy policy."

  • In response to Axios' reporting for this story, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the president had directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke "to promote and execute policies within their Departments to achieve Energy Dominance and energy independence — and that's exactly what they have done."
  • "The Trump Administration is consistent and clear in its commitment to continuing drastic reductions of regulatory burdens that have stifled growth in the energy industry for far too long."

But the deeper Axios dives into Trump's energy policies, the more we find an administration twisted in ideological knots:

1. In private conversations with administration officials, Trump has said he loves hydroelectricity. "He says he thinks hydro is great," a source with direct knowledge of Trump's private comments told Axios. "I think it's because he likes the idea of big dams."

  • And yet, while Trump privately gushes about hydro, he hasn't publicly supported what would help the most: legislation in Congress speeding up the federal licensing process.
  • The administration has taken smaller steps to help streamline permitting, but it’s not enough to make a substantive difference, according to the National Hydropower Association.
  • A big hydropower dam hasn't been built in the U.S. for decades. Today, smaller hydropower facilities are built on existing dams.
  • Ironically, under Trump's watch, wind is actually surpassing hydro as the nation's top renewable electricity source.

2. Trump touts his deregulatory efforts — and they have been substantial — but in two huge areas he's doing the opposite:

  • He aggressively backs a federal ethanol mandate at the EPA requiring refiners to blend biofuels with gasoline, despite intense opposition from oil and gas companies and most Republicans.
  • He is directing his Energy Department to pursue what would, according to a draft proposal leaked several weeks ago, amount to the biggest government intervention in electricity markets in decades, possibly ever.
  • The department is considering using decades-old laws to prop up economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants. The move would hit natural gas, whose use has grown at the expense of coal and nuclear.

"The biggest contradiction," the source with direct knowledge of the internal discussions said, is that "Trump will literally say 'we'll save coal' and in the next sentence that we'll become 'energy independent.' You can't do both. The natural gas boom is coming at the expense of coal."

The bottom line: Since the beginning of the Trump administration, nobody at the White House has effectively coordinated energy policy. A source close to the process described it this way: "Random ideas bubble to the surface, and if nobody objects, they become policy."

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