Opinion: Donald Trump’s energy policies would harm the nation and worsen global warming

Donald Trump waves at a rally Wednesday in Anaheim.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s Donald Trump’s vision of America’s energy future: warmer climate, higher seas and worsened smog with increased risks of serious illness among Americans forced to inhale emissions from ramped-up coal-fired power plants.

Yeah, that’ll make America great again.

Trump, unlike Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, says he disbelieves that human activities are causing global warming and the resultant change in the climate, which already have pushed up sea levels, melted glaciers and polar ice caps, exacerbated severe weather patterns and begun to severely stress animal and plant species. Which means Trump, citing thin evidence of his own (he once described global warming as a Chinese-hatched hoax), rejects the settled science on global warming, though you’d have trouble finding someone who’d take a bet that Trump has bothered to read any of it.

His is a dangerously ignorant view of the environment at a time when the nation, and the world, needs intellectually agile leaders to try to navigate us out of the looming crisis. Trump traveled to North Dakota on Thursday to lay out his back-to-the-future approach to energy policy. It relies on increasing the production — and burning — of oil and coal, and a pledge to revive the nation’s sinking coal industry. But given the global decline in demand for coal, driven in part by the rise in alternative renewables and the conversion of U.S. energy plants to cheaper and cleaner natural gas, a pledge to revive coal mining is meaningless. Not to mention bad environmental policy.


But the environment — and human survival, it seems — don’t matter to Trump. “[Obama’s] made life much more difficult for North Dakota,” Trump said, “as costly regulation makes it harder and harder to turn a profit.” Is it really in the nation’s best interests to let polluting industries turn a profit at the expense of the nation’s health and safety? Trump seems to think that regulations exist solely as an impediment to businesses’ making money.

His is a dangerously ignorant view of the environment at a time when the nation, and the world, needs intellectually agile leaders.

Another accent line from his North Dakota speech (despite being prepared remarks, it’s a rambling collection of notions and insults) encapsulates the greed-tinged lens through which he views the world. Referring to the Obama administration’s limiting oil and coal leases on public lands, Trump said: “These actions have denied millions of Americans access to the energy wealth sitting under our feet. This is your treasure, and you — the American people — are entitled to share in the riches.”

He’s not selling snake oil; he’s selling false dreams. The idea that fossil fuel reserves under public land can somehow be converted into individual “treasure” is preposterous on its face. At best, ramping up such production — which is a bad idea — would send a little cash in the form of royalties to the federal government, and big profits to the corporations holding the leases. A relative handful of people might get jobs out of it, but this “share in the riches” construct rings of a door-to-door salesman — or con man — and not a president.

Oh, and Trump will extract all those riches while “taking proper regard for rational environmental concerns. We are going to conserve our beautiful natural habitats, reserves and resources.” Yet he scoffs at the regulations required to achieve that.

Trump also pledges to become “totally independent of any need to import energy from the OPEC cartel or any nations hostile to our interests. At the same time, we will work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.” So while effectively seeking to end the import of Middle East oil — throttling the economic lifeline for those nations — Trump thinks he can still “develop a positive energy relationship.” How?


These are policies drafted in a fog of illusion. Trump also pledged to adopt no regulation unless it passes “a simple test: Is this regulation good for the American worker?” That would seem to bar regulations making it harder for workers to organize and join unions, and to strike, or rules limiting minimum wage increases, or reducing access to healthcare — none of which is likely what Trump means.

The speech continues in a stream of self-contradictions that builds to this moment of demagoguery, near the end:

“My message today to all the people trapped in poverty is this: Politicians like Hillary Clinton have failed you. They have used you. You need something new. I am the only who will deliver it.”

And the people cheered. P.T. Barnum couldn’t have asked for more.


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