His most recent energy appointments show that president Trump insists on moving the U.S. away from clean energy. This goes against the global trend and will put this Administration on the wrong side of energy history, writes Allan Hoffman, a former official at the U.S. Department of Energy and contributor to a new handbook on the history and future of solar power.
Watching the Trump Administration evolve (I write this a few days after its 100 day anniversary) is a painful and scary activity.
As I wrote in a commentary for Energy Post on the Administration’s first week: “.. we do already know a few things: the next few years, with a Republican House, Senate and White House, will be a real test of the Republican Party, where party loyalty in a number of cases will come into conflict with national values and interests. Checks and balances among the three branches of the U.S. government, a pillar of our form of democracy, will be tested as never before in my lifetime. Not only was the recent election a test of the American people but the next few years will be a test of our democratic institutions as well.”
What are my views now that the first 100 days have passed?
Before Trump was elected, Simmons served as vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative think tank that espouses fossil fuel use and opposes the international climate agreement
On the 102nd day Yale University historian Timothy Snyder warned that “..it’s inevitable Trump will look to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency sometime next year. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them.”
This is not the first time I have seen or heard such speculation, sometimes in the media and most immediately from an older friend who grew up in Europe during his most formative years. I take these comments seriously as I recognize that democracy is vulnerable to demagogues, as De Toqueville pointed out almost two hundred years ago, but cannot yet bring myself to believe that that is where we are today.
My hesitation is bolstered by the behavior of our courts and our media in these past 100 days, two pillars of our democratic system. The courts have resisted what they have perceived as Trump’s unconstitutional initiatives on immigration and sanctuary cities, and the media have been unusually outspoken on Trump’s inconsistent statements and lies. Where I have been extremely disappointed is in the behavior of our legislative branch, controlled by a Republican Party leadership that has often put party and political advantage over national interest.
I also stated in the earlier commentary my belief that we would learn a lot from President Trump’s appointments to his cabinet, White House staff and to the 4,000 positions in the federal agencies and departments he controls. These have been, for the most part, highly discouraging.
While he has appointed a few experienced people to his cabinet and personal staff, his agency and departmental appointments have often gone to individuals who have expressed limited to no support for, and even hostility to, the missions entrusted to them. The case of Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency has been well documented.
Trump’s recent appointment of Daniel Simmons as the acting head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is another case in point. It puts this important office in the hands of someone who has, according to the Washington Post, “… questioned the value of promoting renewable energy sources and curbing greenhouse gas emissions… ”
The Washington Post writes that “Before Trump was elected, Simmons served as vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative think tank that espouses fossil fuel use and opposes the international climate agreement that nearly 200 countries struck in Paris in late 2015.”
There is little doubt anymore that the world is moving inexorably to an energy system that relies less and less on traditional energy sources
The week before, Trump nominated David Bernhardt, a lobbyist who served at the Interior Department under George W. Bush, as Interior’s deputy secretary. Bernhardt was a partner at Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck, a consultancy representing oil and gas firms, mining companies and agricultural interests.
This is in sharp contrast to the policies of the Obama Administration which sought to move the country onto a clean energy path and places Trump and his administration on the wrong side of history. There is little doubt anymore that the world is moving inexorably to an energy system that relies less and less on traditional energy sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear, and toward a clean energy system that relies increasingly on energy efficiency and renewable energy.
This is not an ideological position but one that recognizes the climate change and other environmental impacts of fossil fuel use, the costs and other difficulties associated with nuclear fission power, and the increasingly attractive economics and job creation potential of renewable energy technologies.
President Trump’s actions and appointments may affect the pace of U.S. movement onto this path, but he cannot stop it. Other countries are moving rapidly in this direction, recognizing the many benefits to be derived, and individual U.S. states will continue their encouragement of clean energy technologies. The U.S. Congress can enact policies that reverse this potential slowdown, or support it and take a chance that it will not be punished by American voters in future elections. Public opinion polls clearly indicate that this would be a foolish bet.
Allan Hoffman is author of the blog Thoughts of a Lapsed Physicist. He is a former Senior Analyst in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and physicist by training.
Hoffman is a contributor to a new comprehensive handbook, Sun Towards High Noon, edited by solar pioneer Peter F. Varadi, which details the meteoric expansion of the solar (PV) industry and describes how solar power will change our energy future.