How Trump 2.0 could transform DOE

By Brian Dabbs | 04/29/2024 06:55 AM EDT

Veterans of the first Trump administration predicted in interviews what their former boss might do with energy policy if he returns to the White House.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Former President Donald Trump attends a campaign event April 2 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

More oil and gas permitting. Aggressive deregulation. Federal career staff relegated to the sidelines.

That’s the vision for American energy policy if former President Donald Trump wins the election in November, according to multiple conservative lobbyists and advocates who either served in the Trump administration or are angling for positions in a potential second one.

In interviews with E&E News, they said a second Trump term would mean regulatory rollbacks at EPA for power plants and cars, and a green light at the Interior Department for more fossil fuel development on public lands. The vision for Trump 2.0 gets murkier at the Department of Energy, which is releasing billions of dollars in grants from the Inflation Reduction Act and 2021 infrastructure law and helping to craft green tax breaks that many fossil fuel companies like.


That could make rolling back the law’s clean energy provisions — which have been attacked by many Republicans — a challenge.

“There’s a noticeable difference between DOE and EPA slash Interior,” George David Banks, a former Trump White House climate adviser, said in an interview. “The low-carbon technology programs have a lot of support.”

At the same time, the conservative Heritage Foundation has been pushing Project 2025, a sprawling wish list of free market policies written by more than 100 conservative organizations with ties to Trump. It calls for repeal of the IRA and the infrastructure law, along with the elimination of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Loan Programs Office and the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, among others.

“DOE, instead of focusing on core energy and security issues, has been spending billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize renewable energy developers and investors, thereby making Americans less energy secure and distorting energy markets,” Bernard McNamee, a former commissioner nominated by Trump to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, wrote in the Project 2025 energy section.

“Ending taxpayer subsidies will promote an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy, lead to more energy resources, reduce costs, and save taxpayers billions of dollars,” he said.

Which vision might prevail is unclear, but Trump veterans agree that if electedtheir former boss would likely deploy measures to slow down uptake of electric vehicles and wind power — technologies he’s repeatedly lambasted in the past. On the fossil fuel side, observers say the DOE pause on new approvals of liquefied natural gas exports would be in the trash bin on the first day of another Trump administration. That’s likely to coincide with efforts to roll back or delay emission-cutting regulations and scrap DOE programs supporting low-carbon energy.

U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord also would likely end, something Trump did in his first term.

But one of the biggest factors shaping the energy sector — IRA and infrastructure law money, and what DOE does with it — is a wild card. If a Trump win came with full Republican control of Congress in November, those laws could be on the chopping block. But with Republicans in disarray in the House, a full IRA repeal could be a long shot, giving the next administration leeway on how to spend millions of dollars in the energy sector.

Travis Fisher, an IRA critic at the Cato Institute and a Trump DOE veteran who clashed with department leadership over a coal plant bailout plan, said Congress would nonetheless be in the driver’s seat on fiscal policy, pointing to Trump proposed budget cuts that didn’t materialize in appropriations legislation. That pattern could reappear in a second Trump term, even beyond IRA spending, he said.

“Congress would year after year increase the budget” despite Trump’s proposed cuts, Fisher said. “I would expect the same thing again.”

LNG, loans and lightbulbs

For its part, the Trump campaign has released  limited details on energy policies, vowing to “unleash the production of domestic energy resources” and “eliminate the socialist Green New Deal.” The campaign did not grant E&E News an interview.

Trump veterans say the campaign is not likely to expound much more.

“I doubt that the campaign will get hypertechnical on what they want to nail down,” said Dan Simmons, former assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during the Trump administration. “Especially as oil prices continue to go up in recent months, I expect President Trump to focus on the value of domestic oil and gas production and the benefits that it brings America.”

Even with scant details, Trump veterans are forecasting significant changes to DOE programs and agency staffing if Biden loses in November.

David Solan, the former deputy assistant secretary for renewable power at DOE under Trump, predicted the DOE loan office would be “more active” than Trump’s first term. It “might be more concentrated in looking at things like the nuclear sector, maybe critical minerals, more utility-scale [storage] than EV-type storage,” he said on an April webinar run by the think tank Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions. The loan office currently has more than $200 billion in lending authority, much of which will be left for 2025 and beyond.

Banks, Trump’s former climate adviser, said Biden’s LNG pause “will be thrown out the window — no question about that.”

Trump is also expected to target DOE’s efficiency regulations for appliances and other electrical equipment, a big priority for Biden. It’s a program Trump turned political in the past, criticizing showerhead rules and saying in 2019 that efficient light-emitting diode lightbulbs made him “look orange.”

Trump could try and delay rules and issue new ones, but he also faces a statutory problem. The law that authorized the program, which the Biden administration credits with billions of tons of averted emissions, prevents DOE from issuing new regulations that are weaker than existing ones.

“A new Trump administration can crank the ratchet down further, but they can’t loosen the standards,” said Simmons. “That’s a critically important part of the appliance standards process and regulations.”

With lightbulbs, another factor for Trump is that LEDs are more dominant in the market than they were in 2016 after the Biden administration finalized new regulations.

Trump allies and other observers also expect conflict with career staff at federal agencies.

“The lack of alignment between newly minted Trump officials and career executive branch employees with decades of experience is going to cause untold friction and frustration [about climate change and clean energy] to the Trump appointees and the career officials,” said Alex Flint, head of the pro-carbon tax group Alliance for Market Solutions and a member of Trump’s 2016 transition team.

Steve Milloy, a Trump EPA transition team member in 2016, said career staff were “allowed to interfere too much.”

“This time it will be different. I don’t think the staff will be allowed to interfere,” Milloy said.

But with tens of thousands of career staff in Washington, that could be a major challenge.

“The employees at the DOE, in my experience, were somewhere between antagonistic and outwardly hostile,” said Fisher. “The Trump team has their work cut out for them. We’ll see how it goes.”

‘All this stuff is going to have to be rolled back’

The blueprints of another prominent conservative group echo parts of Project 2025, suggesting there is agreement among Republican supporters on many free-market energy policies.

The America First Policy Institute, founded in 2021 to support Trump, calls for more fossil fuel leasing, critical mineral projects, and nuclear research and development, for example. It criticizes Biden for “a myopic focus on climate change as a justification for its sweeping radical agenda and massive government expansion.”

“The government has a spending problem. Period,” said Oliver McPherson-Smith, director for the Center for Energy & Environment at AFPI, in an interview. “We need to go line by line — every single project, every single program — and question whether this is a responsible use of federal taxpayer money. We also need to question whether any of this funding could benefit or flow to the Chinese Communist Party.”

Other conservatives, including Trump veterans, agree.

Tom Pyle, president of the pro-fossil fuel American Energy Alliance and a DOE transition team member in 2016-17, said “we had a plan to radically restructure the organization and get it out of the business of picking energy winners and losers through the deployment of federal money.” For example, Trump proposed eliminating DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds cutting-edge energy technologies. The agency survived — and saw its funding increase — because of support in Congress.

Pyle urged a similar plan to cut DOE programs but said Congress would be the decider.

He said Trump has “a very clear vision about U.S. energy.”

“It’s not very complicated. He’s for it. All of it,” he said.

What Trump is not expected to support are programs that specifically mention climate, despite the globe hitting record high temperatures last year. Scientists say temperature rise is expected to easily pass global targets absent major changes in energy production, creating more severe weather, which in turn, could spark problems ranging from mass migration to food shortages.

Trump’s allies claim Biden’s low-carbon policies won’t actually help the climate.

“All this stuff is going to have to be rolled back. It doesn’t do anything for the environment. It just costs a lot of money,” said Milloy. “The Trump administration is not going to be an administration that worries about carbon dioxide emissions.”

It’s a stance that worries environmentalists and Democrats. Multiple reports, including research from Princeton University researchers, have concluded that emissions would decrease in the coming years due in large part to the IRA and infrastructure law investments.

Seth Schuster, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said the president has “delivered the most ambitious climate change in history, lowering energy bills for hardworking families and creating tens of thousands of good-paying jobs across the country. Donald Trump — who calls climate change a hoax — is promising to gut the IRA and take a sledgehammer to that progress.”

Similarly, Kevin Curtis, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, said “slamming the brakes on an American manufacturing boom just to benefit Trump’s fossil fuel industry patrons hurts people and is also politically stupid.”

Clean energy tax credits are reinvigorating communities and “delivering real dividends for Americans in states red and blue,” he said.

Support for the climate law?

Despite the push from Project 2025, some Trump loyalists say the former president would be reluctant to trash many of the energy grants and tax credits that are fueling economic activity.

“Industry is moving forward with projects. They’re relying on funding, loan guarantees, tax credits and the like,” said a former Trump administration official, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about a possible second term. “If you come in and you try to yank that back or renege on contracts, that can get you snared in litigation.”

The Biden energy agenda has spurred $120 billion in clean energy investments, creating more than 100,000 jobs, according to clean energy group E2. At DOE, nearly $100 billion is expected to subsidize projects on hydrogen energy, carbon capture and sequestration, battery storage, and a range of other technologies.

All told, the funding from three Biden-era laws has gone to more Republican districts than Democratic ones, according to a review by E&E News.

Along with renewable and climate groups, the funding is backed by many fossil fuel interests.

In an interview last month at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers said he’d “work vigorously to ensure that the provisions that we support in the IRA sustain during a potential Trump administration,” most notably the tax credits for hydrogen and carbon capture.

With the election looming, federal agencies in Washington are finalizing tax rules from the IRA and racing to get the grant money out the door.

Solan, who is now an expert in residence at nonprofit clean energy consultancy BRITE, co-authored a  report last month on DOE modernization, which he said was meant to “get the attention of a potential Republican administration.” The report, which was released by the conservative energy group Clearpath, called for overhauling DOE’s organizational structure in the wake of the IRA and other federal laws.

“With all the resources that DOE has, it’s really important that progress be made,” Solan said on the April webinar. “It is important to the United States to be the world leader in energy.”