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‘America First Energy Conference’ Highlights Gains, Remaining Work

August 27, 2018

The Heartland Institute hosted its second America First Energy Conference at which more than 40 speakers from government and the private sector discussed energy and environment regulatory reforms necessary to advance U.S. energy dominance.

The Heartland Institute hosted its second America First Energy Conference (AFEC 2018) in New Orleans, Louisiana.

More than 40 speakers from the federal and state governments, industry, academia, and other think tanks at the August 7 event discussed President Donald Trump’s efforts to foster U.S. energy dominance, among myriad other energy and climate topics.

Participants discussed energy and environment regulatory reforms the Trump administration has made so far and what changes to energy and regulatory policies they believe still need to be undertaken to advance U.S. energy independence and security.

Action Plan Accomplishments

In November 2016, The Heartland Institute developed a 13 point energy and environment action plan described as a “Pro-Environment, Pro-Energy, Pro-Jobs agenda [that] would produce millions of jobs and billions of dollars in income while more effectively protecting the natural environment than is currently being accomplished,” to inform the Trump administration’s efforts to promote U.S. energy dominance. The administration has adopted, begun implementing, or completed nine of the 13 recommendations in Heartland’s action plan, said Jim Lakely, director of communications at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, at the conference luncheon.

Among the recommendations the Trump administration implemented were withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, stopping implementation of the Waters of the United States Rule, ending the use of secret science by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approving oil and gas pipelines blocked by former President Barack Obama, and rolling back extremely restrictive Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandates.

An AFEC 2018 panel documented the harms that would have been imposed by Obama’s fuel mileage mandates. Nick Loris, the Herbert and Joyce Morgan fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told the audience federal regulators estimated the Trump administration’s freeze on mileage requirements will save 12,700 lives by 2030 by allowing people to buy safer vehicles.

Calling to End Fossil Fuels

During his keynote address at the opening breakfast of the conference, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said fossil fuels are vital to U.S. energy security and economic prosperity.

Landry noted New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described socialist, has said “we should institute a carbon tax to the tune of about 2.3 trillion dollars that would finally wean the United States off of fossil fuels.”

Landry said he finds it alarming Ocasio-Cortez’s message resonated with many candidates competing in the 2018 elections, 750 of whom have signed a “no fossil fuels” pledge.

Ending the use of fossil fuels would produce an environmental disaster, Landry said. Using the city of Houston as an example, Landry compared the environmental footprints of different sources of electric power in a PowerPoint slide illustrating the amounts of land necessary for various power sources to provide the 2,700 megawatts of electricity the Houston metropolitan area uses each day.

It would require more than 21,000 square miles of corn to create enough ethanol to provide Houston’s electricity for a day, 869 square miles of wind turbines, 156 square miles of solar panels, or alternatively, 19.6 square miles of natural gas wells or 39 square miles of oil wells, and that is just to power Houston, much less the rest of the United States or the world, Landry said. This comparison shows how dangerous and ridiculous the zero-fossil-fuels proposals are, Landry said.

Trump Administration Speaks

An underlying theme of the conference was the progress the Trump administration has made in its push for American energy dominance.

Trump administration officials who addressed this topic at AFEC included Special Assistant to the White House Office of American Innovation Brooke Rollins, Interior Department Assistant Secretary Joe Balash, and Jason Funes, a special assistant in the office of External Affairs at the Interior Department. The speakers discussed a variety of actions Trump has taken to grow jobs and the economy and assert U.S. energy dominance.

Speaking on the opening panel, “The Future of Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas,” Funes said, “Oil production under President Trump has increased two million barrels per day since the beginning of his administration.”

In addition, Funes said, “The U.S. is exporting four times as much oil as it exported a decade ago,” going on to describe how increased fossil fuel production on federal lands was benefitting the environment.

“It is a nexus to increasing conservation projects, it’s an avenue to fund the deferred maintenance backlog at our national parks, [and] to restore habitat for endangered and threatened species across the country,” Funes said.

Ongoing Regulatory Rollback

In the dinner keynote address, Balash said Trump has gone well beyond his promise to roll back two regulations for every new one proposed, saying, “Last year, this administration rolled back 22 regulations for every one that it proposed.”

“Unfortunately, I think we need about a decade of that to get back to a reasonable place,” Balash said.

Trump has ended the Obama “war on coal,” Balash said.

“When it comes to coal, we don’t think the Department of the Interior, or anyone in the federal government, should be picking winners and losers in the energy space,” Balash said. “We believe the market should figure that out.”

Balash, who is from Alaska, detailed the Interior Department’s efforts to move forward with new oil leases off Alaska’s coast and in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR–A) and the long-awaited opening of a portion of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas leasing in 2019.

“We are looking at ways to expand the inventory of onshore federal lands available for lease, as well as continuing to lease available lands,” said Balash. “One way we’re doing this is by further opening up frontier areas.”

Balash noted an updated Interior Department assessment of the potential for oil and gas on and offshore in Alaska in 2017 estimated the reserves collectively contained about 17.6 billion barrels (bbl) of oil and more than 50 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey estimated NPR–A and adjacent state and native lands alone hold an estimated mean 8.7 bbl and 25 tcf of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas reserves, a 600 percent increase from the agency’s last survey estimate in 2010.

No Return to Paris

During a luncheon interview on Trump energy initiatives, Rollins said, “We know the research of CO2 being a pollutant is just not valid.”

In the question and answer period after Rollins’ interview with Huelskamp, an audience member asked Rollins whether Trump might rejoin the Paris climate agreement as some have speculated he will.

“All of my experience has proven out that when this president says he believes in something, then there is no one more bold or courageous or fearless,” said Rollins. Unless something significant changes, there will be no going back to Paris under Trump, Rollins said.

Corporate Greening Concern

A message conveyed across multiple panels was that those devoted to sound science and American energy independence cannot let their guard down just because Trump is president. Many corporations, whether for financial gain or virtue-signaling, are continuing to act as if climate and energy programs imposed by former president Barack Obama were still going forward.

In the opening panel discussing the future of coal, gas, and oil, Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Fred Palmer described the continuing decline of the coal industry despite Trump’s efforts to remove unnecessary regulatory barriers.

“A number of regulated utilities across the country—no reason to name names, but there are about a dozen of them—have announced they are going to ... reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from their generating fleet, which is the Barack Obama plan and the Hillary Clinton plan,” Palmer said. “So it’s as if Donald Trump wasn’t elected president of the United States as far as they are concerned.”

Zero Emissions = Zero Cars

Revisiting that theme in a session on the Trump administration’s freeze on fuel mileage mandate increases, Heartland Trustee and Senior Fellow Joseph Bast derided General Motors’ (GM) public statement on its energy and sustainability goals.

Quoting GM CEO Mary Barra’s statement the company is working toward a future of “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion,” Bast responded, “That is impossible, and it’s absolutely ludicrous.

“Zero of each of those things means zero cars,” Bast continued. “It means zero respect for people’s personal choices of transportation. It would mean a devastating impact on the economy.”

Citing the deal car companies cut with the Obama administration to accept dramatically higher fuel economy mandates, which panelists showed will price the poor out of the new car market and cost lives, in addition to corporate “sustainability” and greening efforts more generally, Bast said, “Big companies are willing to throw their customers under the bus when it comes to appearing to be green or when it comes to appeasing an administration.”

Divestment Economics

Also on the theme of corporate and government efforts undermining U.S. energy dominance, a session on “Fiduciary Malpractice: The ‘Sustainable’ Investment Movement” discussed activists’ efforts to force colleges, universities, and municipal and state pension funds to divest their holdings in fossil-fuel-related companies.

Panelist Todd Kendall, executive vice president of Compass Lexecon, discussed the findings of a study he coauthored which found divesting from fossil-fuel-related businesses substantially reduces the returns to investors’ and retirees’ portfolios.

Analyzing the potential effects of fossil fuel divestment on 11 public pension funds over a 50 year sample period, the study found the funds would have experienced a $4.9 trillion reduction in returns if they had divested from their portfolios all companies in or financing the fossil fuel industry.

Other sessions discussed “Fueling Freedom and Prosperity,” “Reining in the Regulators,” and “Battling Russia and America’s Big Green Machine,” with the latter documenting significant collaboration between U.S. environmental activist groups and Russian energy interests.

Climate Policy Advice

The conference did not ignore climate policy. Sessions addressed “Why CO2 Emissions Are Not Creating a Climate Crisis,” “Carbon Taxes, Cap & Trade, and Other Bad Ideas,” and “Climate Lawsuits Against Energy Companies and the Government.”

Speakers on the latter panel unanimously agreed the EPA must review and rescind its finding carbon dioxide endangers human health and the environment (known as the endangerment finding). As long as EPA maintains the endangerment finding, it is likely judges will overturn many of the regulations enacted by the Trump administration and require the government to impose carbon dioxide restrictions, the panelists said.

Panelist Harry MacDougald, co-managing partner at Caldwell, Propst & Deloach, LLP, said the endangerment finding “is a direct threat to the president’s energy dominance agenda. And the next Democratic administration—and there will be one—will turn the screws.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

INTERNET INFO

America First Energy Conference 2018, The Heartland Institute: http://americafirstenergy.org/#close

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org