Trump Pulls a Crazy Ivan on US Energy and the EPA

US energy production from all sources rose under President Obama by the largest amount in forty years. Coal production, whose fate has long been in the hands of Chinese demand, fell. But oil production and natural gas production soared so high they helped lift US output above its long term oscillation around 70 quadrillion btu, to above 85 trillion btu. Much of this surplus production was liberated too, by the Obama administration. Crude oil and increasing volumes of LNG now set sail from American shores. Because the US now utilizes so much of its own natural gas, and wind and solar, the net dependency on foreign imported energy has fallen also, dramatically, from 24% when Obama took office to 12% last year. In short, the march towards American energy self-reliance is fully underway.

But not according to Donald Trump, who’s about to pull a Crazy Ivan by gutting EPA regulations so that US energy production can finally be set free, from the punishing, punitive constraints of the Obama Administration! | see: US Total Production of Energy from all sources in Quadrillion btu 1950-2016 (2009-2016 in red).

Real Talk: During the Obama Administration, natural gas production in one state alone, Pennsylvania, rose by nearly 20x, from 2009 through 2016. Today, Pennsylvania would be a top world natural gas producer if it were a standalone country. Under the Obama administration, over 15 bcf/day of natural gas exports by LNG were approved, creating a new export industry for the US. And that doesn’t include pipeline exports of natural gas that have risen strongly to Mexico. Context: the US consumes about 75 bcf/day of natural gas on average, so unfolding LNG exports are not small, but major. Total petroleum exports of crude and products, meanwhile, rose from 2 million barrels a day (mbpd) to 5 mbpd. And last year, Texas of all places produced wind power equal to 15% of the state’s electricity sales. California, using a combination of wind power and lots of solar hit a similar number, at 16%.

The US today is a spinning carnival of energy production. So what problem is Donald Trump trying to solve? How will rolling back the Clean Power Plan, lifting restrictions on coal leasing, or allowing oil and gas drilling on federal lands help the economy?

None of this will help the economy. These regulations, undone, will unleash more costs to society, than gains. Indeed, any gains will flow only to energy corporations who are already contending with energy supply surpluses. It’s doubtful Trump’s executive order would yield any sustainable employment gains either. At best, the changes will narrowly enhance corporate profitability.

The Trump Administration demonstrates a strong preference for social-signaling policy, that’s poorly designed to operate in any realm other than the fevered cognition of his followers. It’s not likely Trump himself has any grasp of today’s energy landscape in America. The entire point of this latest EPA directive is simply to say: look at me, I’m pulling a Crazy Ivan on the environmentalists, fishtailing my way through the regulations, and I’m having a blast.

–Gregor Macdonald

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