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Fossil Fuels A Bedrock In Trump's Plan To "Make America Great Again"

SNL Gas Week

By Jasmin Melvin, Molly Christian and Jonathan Nelson 

Though details are scant, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's energy plan touts an America-first, all-of-the-above strategy. The goal is to make the country energy independent and use energy as a strategic economic and foreign policy goal.

As a climate skeptic, Trump would try to roll back regulations on coal plants, to unwind subsidies for renewable generation and to undo a recent international climate agreement.

Frustrated by the Obama administration's focus on renewable energy, both through federal funding and regulations like the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, Trump's team would let markets work while "rebalancing the landscape," Rep. Kevin Cramer, a top Trump energy advisor, said in a recent interview.

In the interview, the North Dakota Republican outlined some of Trump's policy proposals, how they would work, and the support needed to make them happen. In addition to repealing regulations that Trump views as stifling the fossil-fuel sector, Cramer said Trump's team would put in place technology-neutral tax deductions to spur American production and better balance the distribution of federal dollars for energy projects.

"I think Mr. Trump's more recent comments acknowledge that there's at least a political desire, a populist desire in this country for a carbon-reduced future," Cramer said. "Given that and accepting that, let's not preclude anything. Let's make sure that the innovators are able to make a profit and invest in the technologies that can make coal and natural gas less CO2-intensive."

Clear view of Trump plan lacking

But many still do not have a clear view of the direction Trump might take on energy policy. As U.S. Energy Association Executive Director Barry Worthington put it, you could create a list with 10 people whom Hillary Clinton might appoint as energy secretary and likely see her nominee on that list, but you could create a 1,000-name list that might still not include Trump's eventual pick.

But with the Democratic Party seemingly moving away from President Barack Obama's all-of-the-above position "to wanting to see an end to the fossil fuel industry and a complete embrace of the renewable fuels industry," Merrill Matthews, resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation, a right-leaning think tank that is critical of restrictions on domestic energy exploration, sees areas where one might prefer a Trump administration.

Matthews said the push for renewable fuels envisioned by Clinton "is a drain on the federal coffers." If she takes office and her efforts to essentially phase out fossil fuels in the near future are not impeded by Republican lawmakers, "I think you wouldn't see economic growth, and you might very well go into recession because the energy industry has been such a net positive for the economy."

On the other hand, rolling back regulations of fossil fuels and opening up more federal lands to development would give the industry "a little more room to be able to operate in a market environment," Matthews said.

Coal's decline would quicken under Clinton, so "you would need more federal funds if you were going to try to help [those communities] out," he said. "Under a Trump administration, I suspect that decline slows down some, and you might have a chance for retirement and job changeover and other things that might require less federal help if the government were inclined to do that."


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Jasmin Melvin is a reporter for S&P Global Platts, Molly Christian is a reporter for S&P Global Market Intelligence and Jonathan Nelson is a North American power market analyst for S&P Global Platts.