President-elect Donald Trump obviously doesn’t have very many fans on the environmental left. And he has said things about climate change that don’t jibe with reality. There are nonetheless some Trump policies that could have pretty good effects for the climate. There are four in particular that stand out:
Support for natural gas development. Increased natural gas exploration and development, a key promise of Trump’s platform, has produced more CO2 emissions reductions and greater particulate pollution reductions than any other single factor, including massive, market-distorting subsidies for trendy renewables like wind and solar energy. Using more natural gas is the best and quickest way to get emissions of all sorts down in the short term.
Accelerated pipeline permitting. Trump has promised to approve the Keystone XL and other pipeline projects the Obama administration has delayed or denied. For all of the environmental movement’s screaming about them, it’s quite probable that making it easier to move energy around is a net win for the environment. The most comprehensive economic models of the Keystone XL pipeline shows it would actually reduce CO2 emissions. Other projects will probably do the same no matter how much environmentalists on the left whine about them.
Support for nuclear power. The Obama administration, much to the dismay of many on the environmental left, was modestly pro-nuclear. Although Trump has been unclear on the particulars of nuclear policy, he certainly likes the idea of nuclear power and can be expected to continue to expand on Obama administration policies. Nuclear power is one of only two ways we know of (the other is hydro) to get baseload power without increasing CO2 emissions.
The end of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan was a top-heavy, bureaucratic proposal to use the Clean Air Act to deal with CO2. It would have done little to reduce climate change, while imposing huge costs on the economy. Trying to regulate carbon dioxide as if it were a particulate pollutant was a huge mistake and reduced the chances to find a market-based solution. While there’s unlikely to be a comprehensive replacement for the CPP under Trump, it may well be that inaction is better than the outgoing administration’s deeply flawed, economy-damaging “solution.”
Trump may well appoint people who make silly statements about the reality of climate change in the future and, of course, he’s not going to be one to keep his mouth shut. His administration might also refuse to participate in international conferences on the topic, which accomplish little anyway. Given that he appears to lack many conservatives’ aversion to bigger government, he also could end up supporting certain kinds of destructive energy subsidies as a way to reward those who voted for him; this would be bad.
But there are other reasons to think a Trump administration might have a pretty good climate change policy, despite not really wanting to have one at all. For example, it’s credible that some research areas the Obama administration disdained—geoengineering, in particular—could find a friendlier ear in a Trump administration than they did from Democrats. An infrastructure package and increased national security spending, if unwise on fiscal grounds, could also help advance the causes of grid modernization and improved fuel efficiency.
Image by Joseph Sohm