Donald Trump may have run the greatest bait-and-switch campaign in American history. Contrary to claims of shunning the establishment and embracing the working class, he is surrounding himself with billionaires eager to put exploitation into high gear.
His promises to “drain the swamp” are ringing hollow as yet another Wall St. megabank figure will be directing his administration. Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn was named head of Trump’s National Economic Council, even though Trump rightly pointed out during campaigning that Goldman Sachs is part of a “global power structure” sucking wealth from the middle class.
But Wall St. predators are not the only special interests Trump is bringing in. His energy advisers are almost exclusively fossil fuel lobbyists and tycoons such as Harold Hamm, and these billionaires are helping him find the most subservient bureaucrats to fill positions related to energy.
Trump’s likely pick for Interior Secretary is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, an avid pusher for more oil drilling on public land. Scott Pruitt, the nominee for EPA head, received $114,000 from a variety of fossil fuels PACS and corporations during his 2014 campaign for attorney-general – and has vigorously used government to pursue their interests.
These are sure signs the Trump administration will be doing all it can to bring more profits to the fossil fuel industry, to the exclusion of rapidly advancing renewable energy.
It will be couched in appeals to “jobs,” even though, as Fortune reports: “More Americans are now installing solar panels on building rooftops than mining coal or extracting oil and gas…” Solar jobs have grown 123 percent since 2010 — faster than fossil fuel jobs — with all indicators pointing to steadily increasing opportunities in renewable energy.
The oil, gas and coal industries are special interests.
In the U.S., they receive about $37 billion per year in subsidies, which will likely increase under Trump. But what really makes them special interest is the fact that our energy paradigm is undergoing its next great transformation – away from fossil fuels.
Within 25 years, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass will outcompete and eclipse fossil fuels – due to market forces.
By catering exclusively to fossil fuels, Trump and his cabal will be propping up a declining, carbon-based energy structure.
Granted, renewable energy receives subsidies also, and, depending on who you talk to, the dollar figure is more or less than fossil fuel subsidies. However, when we factor in the externalized costs of human health detriments, environmental degradation and military protection of overseas oil, fossil fuels make absolutely no sense to pursue.
A Harvard University study found that air and water pollution from surface coal mining incurred a human health cost of $74.6 billion every year from 1997-2005, due to lung, cardiovascular and kidney diseases, among other ailments. This is “equivalent to 4.36 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced—about one-third of the average electricity rate for a typical US home.”
Another study “found an average economic cost (or “public health added cost”) of 32 cents per kWh for coal, 13 cents per kWh for oil, and 2 cents per kWh for natural gas” due to fossil fuel air pollution.
Massive U.S. military expenditures to protect Persian Gulf oil supplies amount to a hidden cost of up to $30 billion per year or 20 cents per gallon of gasoline.
Even taking away the issue of climate change, the environmental cost of fossil fuels is enormous but difficult to calculate, as ecosystem services are not conducive to monetization. The controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline has exposed the destructive nature of oil exploitation in terms of human rights and the threat of toxic spills.
Media talking heads on the Trump wagon are now attempting to frame the narrative. When they say “energy,” they aggressively imply that fossil fuels are the only “energy” and therefore anything contrary to fossil fuels is contrary to promoting energy. Repeating this mantra ad nauseum compels the populace to accept it.
Exhibit A in the deception is the portrayal of coal. Trump and his followers love to blame Obama and environmental activists for a “war on coal,” but the reality of coal’s demise is due purely to market forces, in a most ironic way.
The 21st-century fracking boom led to a glut of cheap shale-derived natural gas, which simply became more economically attractive to power distributors. An October study from Case Western Reserve University explains:
“Between 2007 and 2015, shale gas prices dropped almost in half, positioning natural gas to outprice coal mined in four of the five U.S. coal regions…the benchmark gas prices (“Henry Hub” prices) in the past four years [have been] cheaper than the coal of the two regions in Appalachian for over 88% of the months. Further, gas has been cheaper than the coal of Appalachia, Illinois, and the Rockies for over 57% of the months. Even the cheapest coal, in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, competes poorly in the great population centers east of the Mississippi once rail transport of $0.03 per ton-mile is considered. That prompted investment in pipelines and gas storage infrastructure that have made gas even more competitive.”
ScienceDaily posted the study, also noting that no new regulations were put on coal since the 1990s until just this past summer. This of course means the decline of coal actually had nothing to do with Obama or the EPA — unless you want to include how fracking boomed under Obama.
But these facts are lost in the absurd excuse for “debate” that goes on over energy and jobs. Respectable free market outlets such as Reason.com report on it, but this kind of logic no longer has any place in U.S. politics.
Electric utilities are further poised to abandon carbon fuels. Nicholas Akins, chief executive officer of American Electric Power, said, “So there’s no question that the industry is moving forward with cleaner energy. We will not be building large coal facilities. We’re not stopping what we’re doing based on the new administration. We need to make long-term capital decisions. I don’t think the course will change.”
Trump’s egregious collection of fossil fuel devotees threatens to affect America’s leadership in renewable energy technology. The future is clean energy, and we are seeing exponential advances in innovation. Scientists have even developed an “artificial leaf” which produces fuel from the sun – a revolutionary achievement that spells the end for gasoline.
Not to mention, renewable energy such as rooftop solar arrays and small-scale, regional solar utilities allow for decentralization of the grid, giving more power to local communities. It is the ultimate form of domestic energy production.
The good news is, experts say even the best efforts of Trump aren’t going to stop the advance of clean, renewable energy. Market forces will continue to make renewables more and more economically competitive, to the point where they will soon eclipse carbon fuels.
Donald Trump’s fossil fuel cabal represents the last gasp of the dinosaur age of energy. They’re hell-bent on exploiting carbon fuels before they become obsolete – not for any whimsical notions of “creating jobs” or helping the middle class, but solely on the altar of greed.
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