Donald Trump’s election is sending shock waves through the energy and environmental world.
The Republican’s victory surprised even his supporters after polls showed him steadily trailing, and the win shocked Democrats, environmentalists and others on the left who thought Hillary Clinton had the presidential race clinched. When he takes office, he’ll be backed by two Republican-held chambers of Congress and could appoint one or more members of the Supreme Court, leaving him poised to dramatically reshape energy and environmental policy.
Trump, who declared victory just before 3 a.m. EST today, has promised a fundamental shift from the Obama administration’s energy and climate policies. Trump has proposed eliminating U.S. EPA, pledged to boost fossil fuel development and called global warming "bullshit."
Greens were dismayed last night as election results began to show Trump pulling ahead.
"This race was never as sure as I think folks had predicted," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. "It’s somewhat unfathomable to contemplate if Trump wins when it comes to climate change and what we have to do. We can’t afford another four years of delay and four years of attacking the science and four years of ignoring an issue of such consequence."
Pica said environmentalists will take a page from their defensive playbook during the George W. Bush administration and the Reagan administration. "We rally the American people to fight against Trump’s — what we would presume is an anti-environmental agenda," he said.
Dan Weiss, a longtime environmental advocate, said in an interview in 2015 that greens were watching Trump’s rise with "a mix of amusement and horror."
But as the election results came in last night, Weiss’ amusement had subsided. "Donald Trump would be a nightmare for anyone who breathes air, drinks water or wants to have a livable climate," Weiss said last night in an interview.
If Trump does the things he said he would do on the campaign trail, "it would make his administration the dirtiest one since the first Earth Day in 1970," Weiss said. He predicted that Trump "would sign just about any anti-environmental legislation that the House has put through in recent years that have never made it through the Senate."
Thomas Pyle, president of the pro-industry American Energy Alliance, which offered Trump its first-ever political endorsement, hailed the results in a statement this morning.
"This election showed that the American people are tired of their interests taking a back seat to special interests in Washington," he said. "President-elect Trump’s victory presents an opportunity [to] reset the harmful energy policies of the last generation. He has laid out an energy plan that puts the needs of American families and workers first."
Because the business mogul doesn’t have a lengthy political record on energy, "we have to look at some of the things he said during the course of the campaign and some of the people who have been advisers to him," said Scott Segal, an energy lobbyist at Bracewell LLP.
Much of that campaign rhetoric has been welcome news for the energy industry and critics of the Obama administration’s regulations.
During an energy speech he gave in North Dakota in May, Trump touted oil and gas production while casting doubt about the viability of renewable power sources, including wind and solar.
"The federal government should get out of the way" of energy production, Trump said (E&ENews PM, May 26).
He also unveiled a "100-day action plan" pledging to scrap Obama administration rules on carbon emissions and clean water that he said have crippled the fossil fuel industry (E&E Daily, May 27).
George David Banks, a Trump supporter who was White House climate adviser during the George W. Bush administration, said, "You’re not going to have some energy sources that are politically correct and others that are not. Trump is going to be pro-energy across the board."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is heading Trump’s transition operation, with the assistance of veteran Republican energy policy experts. Trump’s transition team is expected to dramatically increase staffing as it prepares a policy agenda for the administration and works to fill top executive branch jobs.
Lobbyist and longtime congressional energy aide Mike Catanzaro is among those helping with the transition. Energy lobbyist Mike McKenna is leading the Energy Department transition team; climate change skeptic Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is heading up the EPA transition team; and former George W. Bush administration Interior official David Bernhardt is working on the Interior transition.
Trump enraged environmentalists by picking Ebell, a well-known climate change skeptic, to lead his EPA transition team. Climate scientist Michael Mann said of the pick, "If ever there was a case of the fox guarding the henhouse, this would be it" (Greenwire, Sept. 26).
Others who have advised Trump on energy and could play key roles in the transition or administration include Oklahoma oil tycoon Harold Hamm, Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert Murray and North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer (Greenwire, Oct. 5).
Names that have circulated for top energy jobs under Trump include Craig Butler, head of Ohio EPA, and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who is leading states’ legal fight against the Obama administration’s signature climate regulation in federal court.
Hamm is seen as a possible choice to lead the Department of Energy. Some Republicans, however, have pushed for lawmakers who are familiar with DOE’s inner workings. The Trump team could also look for a business executive to become Interior secretary.
Fate of EPA, SCOTUS, Clean Power Plan
Trump has proposed eliminating EPA entirely, a plan that many experts have called unlikely. Still, his White House win may spur an exodus of workers at that agency and others where federal employees disagree with his policies.
Former top EPA officials have said cutting the agency would involve a massive political lift, might lead to a patchwork of environmental policies across the country and could wind up hurting industries rather than helping them (Greenwire, July 20).
Banks said he thinks Trump will look to "reform how the EPA works and functions." Given that politically, "it would probably be very difficult to eliminate the EPA," Banks said, Trump’s comments may be a "starting point in a negotiation" to reform the agency.
Banks is also expecting the Trump administration to aim to roll back some of the Obama administration’s key climate change policies, including the Clean Power Plan to clamp down on power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.
"I wouldn’t expect the Trump administration to defend the Clean Power Plan in court," Banks said. "I would expect the Trump administration to work on reversing the endangerment finding," he added, referring to the Obama EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. That finding paved the way for Clean Air Act rules to crack down on greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump has also said he would like to cancel the Paris climate change agreement. "That’s probably a Day One agenda item," Banks said.
"We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop — unbelievable — and stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs," Trump said in May (ClimateWire, May 27).
Importantly, Trump could appoint at least one Supreme Court justice if Senate Republicans refuse to confirm Obama’s nominee during the lame-duck Congress. That would solidify a 5-4 conservative majority, which would likely affect the fate of the Clean Power Plan and could tip the scales of the court for years.
Trump has released 21 names of conservative judges and has pledged to pick one of them for his Supreme Court nominee. Those lists enraged environmentalists and others on the left, who fear that another conservative justice on the court — or possibly more if more vacancies arise during Trump’s term — could roll back agencies’ authority and hinder environmental protections (Greenwire, Sept. 23).
But Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, struck a defiant tone in a statement this morning.
"It’s time for every American who cares about a livable world — Republican and Democrat alike — to stand and defend our environment and health. If Donald Trump thinks he can launch a big polluter assault on our air, waters, wildlife and lands, we’ll build a wall of opposition to stop him. Whatever else we may have voted for on Tuesday, we haven’t turned away from generations of common sense environmental safeguards. We’re not about to turn away now."
Join us live on Facebook today at 1 p.m. EST for E&E News reporters’ postmortem on what election 2016 means for energy and environment issues.