Fossil fuels will probably be at the forefront of energy and environmental policy under the new Trump Administration, said Charles D. McConnell, executive director of Rice University’s Energy and Environment Initiative, in a recent talk hosted by the Norwegian Consulate General in Houston.
McConnell served 2 years as an assistant Secretary of Energy in the Obama Administration before taking his current position. He has spent 35 years in the energy industry, which includes a 31-year career at Praxair followed by serving as a vice president at Battelle Energy Technology.
Notwithstanding new US President Donald Trump’s famous unpredictability, McConnell suggested that the administration would emphasize oil and gas development; stress the continuing need for oil, gas, and coal in the world’s developing countries; encourage US fossil fuel exports; and shift environmental policy away from a central emphasis on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
“The time I served in Washington, environmental responsibility became equivalent to a fixation, a singular focus, on carbon dioxide,” McConnell said. “And I have got to tell you, there is a lot more to environmental responsibility than CO2 emissions. People need food, water, and access to energy.”
Approximately 1.4 billion people are without energy in the form of electrical power, and this is in areas with the most population growth and that are expected to produce 90% of global economic expansion in coming decades, McConnell said. For these populations, some of the most critical needs are for energy sources that can ensure clean water and eliminate indoor air pollution from cooking over poorly vented fires. Increasing the availability of fossil fuels to generate electricity will bring a major improvement to peoples’ lives in these areas, he said.
“The connection of that energy/water nexus, the energy/food nexus is incredibly powerful,” McConnell said. “I believe it will be at the top of the list of this new administration.”
Elsewhere in the world, there are uncertainties over transnational energy supplies that could be curtailed or used as a policy lever for political reasons, he said.
“It is all about energy security,” McConnell said. “The rest of the world needs to know that the United States is going to continue to develop its resources. We have no reason not to be the leader in the world for energy, and we are becoming that.”
Commercial arrangements, how energy is traded, will probably be a focal point of Trump Administration policy. “Trump is likely to play to what he sees as the advantage of the US,” McConnell said. He characterized Trump as “a dealmaker” and said that will be “really, really impactful from an energy standpoint.”
Trump has talked extensively about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “When we first did NAFTA, energy with Mexico was not on the table—politically not on the table, not allowed to be,” McConnell said. “Could it be on the table? Sure, a huge impact, not just for the US but also for Mexico. So that is an example, I think, of looking at the trade agreements and looking at them in a different way.”
Technology investment is another area where the Trump Administration is likely to shift direction.
“If you look around the world in the last 15 years, we have probably spent over USD 20 trillion developing renewable technology,” McConnell said, referring to investment from global sources. “I am not suggesting that is a bad thing, but it is a stunning number, isn’t it?
“During that same period of time, we have invested USD 20 billion in fossil fuel technology,” he continued. “And yet 80% of our energy globally is fossil fuels. And guess what the IEA [International Energy Agency] projects by 2050? We will double the world’s demand for energy, and it will still be 80% supplied by fossil fuels. And yet we are spending all our money on renewables. I don’t think that is going to continue to happen in this administration.”
McConnell said he did not believe that the US would drop out of the COP 21 global agreement on reducing climate change, as some people have speculated.
“Is Trump going to roll back everything environmentally? No, he won’t,” McConnell said. “That is not going to happen, primarily because most of the American companies—major American companies—have a global footprint. You can’t have requirements in the US that do not meet global expectations. Rex Tillerson [the new US Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil chief executive] will tell him that in spades.”
Fossil Fuels’ Importance To Rise Under New US Administration
Joel Parshall, JPT Features Editor
23 January 2017