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State of the Union: Trump Has Much to Take Credit for on Energy, Environment, and Climate

President Trump has a lot to take credit for on energy, environmental, and climate issues in his state of the union speech on January 30th. His administration has kept or begun the process of fulfilling most of the forty-some campaign promises he made on these issues during the presidential campaign. The President will not have time to talk about all that has been accomplished, but I expect he will at least highlight the top of the list: withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty; scrapping the so-called Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal and natural gas power plants; and undoing the Waters of the United States rule, which would have vastly expanded federal wetlands jurisdiction. 

He will also undoubtedly talk about his “energy dominance” agenda. The Trump administration is undoing much of Obama’s regulatory overreach designed to hamper coal, oil, and gas production. The president kept another campaign promise when he signed a resolution of disapproval passed by Congress under the Congressional Review Act striking down the Stream Protection Rule, which would have banned most underground coal mining. The coal leasing moratorium on federal lands is gone. Rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), which is already regulated by the states, are being undone. In sharpest contrast to the Obama years, more federal lands and offshore areas are being opened to competitive oil and gas leasing. And Congress, with strong support from the administration, included in the tax cuts bill a provision to open a small part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas exploration, thereby ending a thirty-year debate. 

The result of these and a number of similar actions will be to unleash America’s vast potential to produce affordable energy. The U.S. has the world’s largest coal reserves. The shale revolution made possible by technological advances in fracking and horizontal drilling has already reversed decades of declining oil and gas production. The shale revolution combined with the administration’s deregulation efforts means that in the next few years the U. S. will likely become the world’s dominant oil and gas producer.

I think that just the prospect of undoing the Obama energy and climate agenda had a lot to do with the noticeable pickup in economic growth over the past year. The potential long-term economic effects of increasing energy production are staggering. Massive oil imports since the 1970s have caused large trade deficits. Becoming a major oil, gas, and coal exporter will reduce the trade deficit, create hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs, and create colossal amounts of wealth. 

However, that’s not all the economic good news that can happen as a result of the Trump agenda. Getting out of the Paris climate treaty means that electric rates won’t have to skyrocket, as they have already skyrocketed in the European Union as a result of their climate policies. Lower electric rates (at least in those states that don’t adopt EU-style policies) will give American manufacturers of energy-intensive goods a major price advantage over most other countries. That’s why German auto manufacturers are moving more production to the U.S. And perhaps that’s why China signed an investment deal during President Trump’s visit to invest $83.7 billion in new chemical plants and energy projects in West Virginia.

Beyond the economic effects, President Trump’s agenda to lessen the regulatory burdens in all areas of economic activity is going to lead to a noticeable, if less easily measured, increase in the freedom that Americans enjoy. More freedom from government interference of course leads to more innovation and investment and thus to more prosperity. It’s a virtuous circle. 

After taking credit for what he has already accomplished, President Trump will no doubt turn to what he plans to accomplish in the future. We at CEI have a number of suggestions for what he ought to be doing. Perhaps the most important, which has already been discussed here by my colleague Marlo Lewis, is to make withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty permanent. He can do that by sending the treaty to the Senate and asking senators to vote no on ratifying the treaty.

Rather than providing a laundry list of my other suggestions for what the president should propose in his state of the Union speech, let me summarize what I think his approach should be: don’t become comfortable with the status quo and sink back into the swamp; keep on doing what you’re doing. Or as brothers Julius and Augustus Hare put it more elegantly in a book published in 1827: “Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping.”