Unlikely election win shuffles federal policy outlook
The poll-defying victory of Donald Trump in last week’s presidential election has abruptly reshaped the political landscape when it comes to energy development in Colorado and the West.
Oil and gas and coal-mining interests and advocates are reveling in their somewhat unexpected good fortune over Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, and the likelihood of an easing of federal regulations and increased access to lands and minerals in the years to come.
Environmentalists, for their part, are coming to grips with a sharply different reality than the one that looked more likely as recently as Tuesday, when Clinton was largely expected to win. Had she done so, she likely would have continued forward with the generally more pro-environmental agenda President Obama pursued over the past eight years.
“It’s a new world we’re all going to have to deal with,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the conservation group Earthjustice.
“We’re pleased that an oil-and-gas-friendly administration is going to take over,” said Robbie Guinn, a vice president with SG Interests, an energy developer in western Colorado.
“It’s a good day for the energy industry, and here in Moffat County we can breathe a sigh of relief now,” said Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid, a supporter of the local coal mining and power-production industry.
“We’re definitely down. … We did not get a climate champion in the White House,” said Jeremy Nichols, a WildEarth Guardians representative who has worked to limit coal mining and oil and gas production and burning in Colorado and across the West because of climate change concerns.
Trump suggested during his campaign that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. Trump’s presidential transition website, http://www.greatagain.gov, is reiterating his plans to do away with Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Aimed at reducing carbon emissions, that Environmental Protection Agency undertaking is central to the United States meeting its commitments under a new global climate accord, and is currently tied up in a court challenge.
The Trump site also says the new administration will “end the war on coal” and “streamline the permitting process for all energy projects.”
It says, “Our energy policies will make full use of our domestic energy sources, including traditional and renewable energy sources. America will unleash an energy revolution that will transform us into a net energy exporter, leading to the creation of millions of new jobs, while protecting the country’s most valuable resources — our clean air, clean water, and natural habitats.
“… Energy is the lifeblood of modern society. It is the industry that fuels all other industries. We will lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities. It’s all upside: more jobs, more revenues, more wealth, higher wages, and lower energy prices,” the site says.
Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas industry group says the group is “overjoyed with the election of Donald Trump.”
“We look forward to an administration that is not hostile to domestic energy development. We also are interested in moving forward with responsible development on public lands on the Western Slope and across the West, and we believe his administration would encourage, rather than discourage, that development.”
David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said comments by Trump during his campaign seem to suggest “a much higher-level awareness and appreciation for what our industry brings to quality of life in the United States and the products that we deliver to make life better.”
He hopes that will translate into better working relationships between industry and government, and greater respect for the property rights related to oil and gas leases and the industry’s ability to use technology to reduce impacts and access federal lands.
Environmentalists wonder what Trump’s energy and environmental policies could mean for Colorado, a state that voted for Hillary Clinton and prizes its scenery, outdoor recreational opportunity, clean air and water, and an economy largely tied to these assets.
“There’s little doubt it’s going to look very different from a policy perspective (under a Trump administration), and it’s deeply troubling for Coloradans because we know how much public lands mean to the fabric of the state,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado.
Zukoski said the effects of climate change are real in Colorado, affecting the snowpack that supports streamflows and ski areas, contributing to beetle-killed forests and big wildfires, and threatening to result in aspen forests disappearing from parts of western Colorado as temperatures rise. He said the Trump camp “is promising to do everything it can to make climate change worse, reneging on international agreements and limiting policy that has been encouraging clean energy on public land. Those are direct threats to values that Coloradans hold dear.”
Trump’s website says his administration will be “firmly committed to conserving our wonderful natural resources and beautiful natural habitats. America’s environmental agenda will be guided by true specialists in conservation, not those with radical political agendas. We will refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans. It will be a future of conservation, of prosperity, and of great success.”
Trump has chosen Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to lead his EPA transition team. That concerns environmentalists, who also are alarmed over speculation that Sarah Palin may be considered to become Interior Secretary.
Maysmith said Colorado has been a leader when it comes to requiring utilities to shift to more renewable energy and cleaner power generation.
Now, “I think the urgency for us to continue to lead is that much stronger because we have such dismally low expectations in terms of what the Trump administration is going to do to tackle climate change and carbon pollution,” he said.