BISMARCK, N.D. — Donald Trump stopped in this hardscrabble Midwestern town yesterday to pitch his vision for an American future — one in which fossil fuel production explodes across public lands and Americans "share the riches." The end result: lower taxes, fewer energy regulations and a rush of new funding for infrastructure projects.
In a nearly hourlong speech marking the first major energy policy address of his campaign, the Republican presidential nominee pledged to expand oil and gas production, "cancel" the Paris global warming accord and roll back President Obama’s executive actions on climate change.
He described regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions as ruinous to the economy and a trespass against personal freedom. He latched them closely to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whom Trump accused of supporting a radical environmental agenda.
"As bad as President Obama is, Hillary Clinton will be worse," Trump said. "She’ll escalate the war against the American worker like never before and against American energy, and she’ll unleash the EPA to control every aspect of our lives, and every aspect of energy."
The Republican nominee pledged to roll back a list of executive actions within the first 100 days of his presidency. The first one he mentioned was Obama’s Climate Action Plan, a guiding document that led the administration’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, increase adaptation and pursue international negotiations.
"We’re going to rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions," Trump said, "including the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the United States rule. OK, remember that. We’re going to save the coal industry. We’re going to save that coal industry, believe me. We’re going to save it."
The businessman and former reality TV star asserted that executive action limiting new coal leases on federal land or regulations on hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal lands have curtailed potential benefits to average citizens.
"These actions have denied millions of Americans access to the energy wealth sitting right under our feet. … This is your treasure, and you, the American people, are entitled to share in the riches," Trump said.
He also reiterated his desire to see the Keystone XL pipeline constructed, so long as the United States receives a portion of the profits in exchange for utilizing eminent domain to ensure the pipeline’s completion.
"Let’s take a piece of the action for you folks — lower your taxes a little bit more," Trump said.
Establishment GOP cheers speech
Trump didn’t mention by name a pillar of Obama’s effort to cut emissions, the Clean Power Plan. The regulation is being challenged legally by about two dozen states, including North Dakota, which is required under the rule to slash its electricity-sector emissions 45 percent by 2030.
Instead, Trump described the effects of reducing carbon and said, "How stupid is that?"
He added that Obama is enacting "draconian climate rules that unless stopped would effectively bypass Congress to impose job-killing cap and trade. A disaster."
Trump has struck many Republicans as off-key at times. That’s not true on energy. He has often expressed opposition to a carbon tax while showing support for expanded oil and gas exploration, two themes embraced by the Republican establishment.
Yesterday, Trump re-emphasized those views, showing a pattern of consistency on energy ideas, said Andrew Wheeler, a Republican energy consultant and a former staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
"As far as energy issues, I think he’s been very consistent, and I think his remarks today … are in line with the party and a majority of states," Wheeler said.
American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle said his organization is "definitely pleased with the basic outlines of his approach to these issues."
"This was a very good opening statement for Donald Trump as to how he would direct his administration both on the regulatory side and on the energy side," Pyle said.
Charges of ‘idiotic,’ ‘ignorant’ on Paris plans
Trump also redefined his position on the Paris climate accord. He recently said he would renegotiate, "at a minimum," the deal struck by 195 nations last December. Yesterday, he was more direct.
"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.
"President Obama entered the United States into the Paris climate accords unilaterally and without the permission of Congress," Trump added. "This agreement gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much our energy and how much we use right here in America. So foreign bureaucrats are going to be controlling what we’re using and what we’re doing on our land in our country. No way. No way."
The audience broke into applause.
But his characterization was "completely false," said Robert Stavins, an expert on international climate agreements at Harvard University’s business school. The accord does not give jurisdiction over Americans’ energy use to global overseers.
"I don’t know if he is ignorant of the facts or intentionally lying, but either is terrible for a presidential candidate," Stavins said in an email.
It’s trickier to ascertain whether Trump could cancel the deal if he’s elected. That would be a difficult task if 55 nations accounting for 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions ratify it before Trump is inaugurated, Stavins said. That would probably mean that Trump couldn’t revoke U.S. membership until the end of his term.
But it’s more likely that he could remove the United States from the agreement, Stavins said. That’s because every member nation of the European Union has to ratify it individually, a painstaking process that could prevent the accord’s finalization before Jan. 20, 2017.
Paul Bledsoe, a former climate aide in the Clinton White House, said Trump’s position on the Paris Agreement contradicts his assertions that the United States is acting alone to address the global issue of climate change.
"The thing that’s idiotic about that, of course, is what we gained out of Paris is commitments by countries who have never made them before," Bledsoe said, referring to emission cuts pledged by nearly 200 nations. "We are already on the way toward decarbonizing our economy. So his criticism of climate change regimes has been that others aren’t called on to do anything. But it’s Paris that precisely does that."
‘We’ll get bureaucracy out of the way’
Trump also asserted that his proposals would create domestic energy independence — long the goal of presidential contenders from both parties — pointing to the issue as a matter of national security (Greenwire, Aug. 30, 2012).
"Under my presidency, we’ll accomplish a complete American energy independence," Trump said, prompting a loud cheer from the largely friendly audience. "Imagine a world in which our foes in the oil cartels can no longer use energy as a weapon. … We’re going to win. We’re going to win. "
But while Trump called for a focus on "all forms of energy," he emphasized that the government should "not pick winners and losers," a popular refrain from Republicans who oppose tax benefits for renewable energy but support tax regulations that benefit the oil and gas industry.
"We’ll get the bureaucracy out of the way … so that we can pursue all forms of energy. This includes renewable energies and the technologies of the future. It does include nuclear and wind and solar, but not to the exclusion of other forms of energy, and other forms of energy that right now are working much better," Trump said.
During a news conference before the speech, Trump criticized solar and wind energy production for being "very, very expensive" and criticized the industry for killing birds.
"If you go to various places in California, which is killing all of the eagles. … The windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles. One of the most beautiful, one of the most treasured birds.
"So wind is a problem," Trump said. "Despite that, I am into all types of energy."
While Trump pledged to dismantle the Obama administration’s efforts to address climate change — he has previously dismissed climate science as a "hoax" and global warming as "bullshit" — he did not directly address the issue in his speech.
"A Trump administration will focus on real environmental challenges — not the phony ones that we’ve been looking at," said Trump, who did not say the phrase "climate change."
Trump later added that his "rational environmental concerns" will be clean air and clean water, although he did not specify how he plans to preserve them. He did pledge that "political activists" will not be involved in writing his administration’s environmental policies.
"We’ll solve real environmental problems in our communities, like the need for clean and safe drinking water," Trump said.