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On Energy, Trump Heads in the Opposite Direction from Public Opinion

A new report suggests Americans overwhelmingly believe that renewable energy should be prioritized over fossil fuels.
January 24, 2017
Rick Perry, Trump's pick to head the Department of Energy, was all thumbs at the inauguration last week.

Just four days into his presidency, Donald Trump’s views on energy are already snapping into focus. Those views, however, are at odds with public opinion in America, and they run counter to market forces shaping the energy industry.

According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Americans believe the country should be prioritizing the development of alternative forms of energy like wind and solar. Just 27 percent say the U.S. should focus more on expanding oil, gas, and coal.

That’s more or less in line with how the country’s energy sector has been going lately—renewables are growing quickly in terms of installed capacity, overall carbon emissions are on a downward trend, and energy generation from coal is declining fast (thanks in large part to a boom in natural gas).

Those trends couldn’t be more different from the course President Trump appears to be plotting for U.S. energy policy.

Trump’s bullish stance on fossil fuels and disregard for the importance of stemming carbon emissions goes back at least to the campaign trail, where he made brash claims about resurrecting the coal industry and tweeted that climate change was a “hoax” perpetrated by China (though he later said that was a joke and that he was “keeping an open mind” about climate change). His cabinet nominations include former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson and former Texas governor Rick Perry, who previously sat on the boards of two oil pipeline companies.

If there were any doubts about where this was headed, they were erased Tuesday when Trump signed a series of executive memos aimed at boosting production and consumption of fossil fuels. Two of the documents resurrected the Keystone XL pipeline and smoothed the path for the Dakota Access pipeline to be completed, while a third directed that pipelines built in the U.S. be constructed with American steel. Later, officials in the Trump administration told EPA employees to take down the agency's climate change page.

It’s likely that this will be just the start of what figures to be a seismic shift in energy policy. The Obama administration championed research into renewable energy and devised the Clean Power Plan as a way for the EPA to set limits on carbon emissions. The Trump administration, not so much: the Department of Energy looks set for some deep cuts, including eliminating offices that oversee initiatives on renewable energy and energy efficiency. And the noted climate denier Myron Ebell, a prominent member of the Trump transition team, has a wish list of things he wants to bar the EPA from pursuing.

If these changes do occur, they will be implemented in spite of  public opinion and trends in the energy business—not because of them.

(Read more: New York Times, “Trump’s Empty Promise to Coal Country”)

This story was updated on January 25, 2017, to include news of the Trump administration's move to take down the climate change page on the EPA website.

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