Increasing speculation on the early retirement of Donald Trump from the presidency naturally leads to thoughts of how federal clean energy and climate programs would fare under President Mike Pence. The short answer, based on his history of public service is not well.
Even should Trump serve his full first term and go the distance as a two-timer, a Pence presidency is within the realm of possibility. Fourteen vice-presidents have gone on to become president, only four have been elected in their own right.
The odds of Pence running for the Oval Office are higher than his gaining it. Six vice presidents have run for the top spot since 1960. They are Nixon (twice), Humphrey, Mondale, G.H.W. Bush, Quayle, and Gore. Only one made it, and he resigned.
Pence’s environmental record strongly suggests his trotting the same path as The Donald. His experience as a congressman, governor and vice president, could make him a more formidable foe of Nature than Trump.
Pence is not only a more polished and experienced politician than Trump; he has a rock-solid relationship with the Republican establishment. Of course, these days membership in the establishment cuts two-ways. Untouchable in his current capacity as Donald’s wing-man, running on his own would likely find him at odds with Steve Bannon.
Clean Energy and the Environment: In the Crosshairs
Public Enmity Number 1
(for high crimes and misdemeanors)
It is no secret President Trump has had clean energy and environmental regulations in his sights at least for as long as he has been running for president. As president, Trump has begun to make good on his promises to roll back federal environmental and clean energy policies and programs. These are among the only promises he has kept during his first ten months in office.
The reason he has kept these particular vows is that he can--alone and without interference from Congress. Much of the Obama-era climate legacy rests upon executive orders. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Waters Rule of the United States (WOTUS), for example, are based upon legislation but drafted by directive.
Presidential orders and memoranda have the standing of law for only as long as the executive author is in the Oval Office. They are an effective but vulnerable means for a president to set national policy in the shade of an opposition Congress. It is as true for Trump as it was for Obama.
Trump’s presidency is coming under increasing attack from establishment politicians. To lighten its load, in an attempt to right the ship, he will step up his attacks on clean energy and the environment.
I am not a psychiatrist, so I can’t really speak to why Trump is Trump. As a veteran observer of politics and people, however, I can tell with near certainty he is the type of politician who seeks elective office to validate himself. A President who has no higher calling threatens the nation and the foundation on which it is built.
There is growing speculation President Trump will be leaving office before the end of his four-year term--either voluntarily or with help from his cabinet or the Congress. Before cries of joy and sighs of relief are uttered, consider how the prospect of his leaving office could cause the worsening of an already bad situation.
This article is not as much about the means of his departure, although discussed, as it is about his motives and what it may mean for clean energy technologies and the environment.
Opinions differ as to what will spark his departure. The three most apparent prompts are impeachment, the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and voluntary retirement. Two Democratic members of the House have already filed impeachment articles, while a third is waiting in the wings.
A collective sigh of relief could be heard over Capital City in late August, after the U.S. Department of Energy released its much anticipated and even more dreaded study on the reliability and resilience of the U.S. electric grid. The report was ordered by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in April and took just five months to complete.
According to Perry’s order, the findings of the study were to help the federal government formulate sound policies to protect the nation’s electric grid. Perry had earlier commented that he, as the Secretary of Energy, had an obligation to assure the nation of a reliable and resilient electric grid.
Appearing a reasonable request, the renewable energy industry and the environmental community read the order as a thinly veiled threat of some proportion to the growing market share of clean energy technologies like solar and wind. An attack thought consistent with the anti-climate, pro-fossil/pro-nuclear leanings of the Trump administration.
The perceived threat flowed from directive’s focus on baseload power. Translated into everyday terms, baseload power pertains to large-scale central electric generating plants fueled primarily by fossil and nuclear fuels.
The on-again/off-again nature of wind and solar, without storage, has often been identified as the fly in the clean energy elixir. The negative interpretation given Perry’s order was a natural outcome of the frequency Trump and others have referred to wind and solar as unacceptable alternatives to fossil and nuclear.
Natural gas straddles the line. Even the cadre of conservatives in the Trump administration understand the demise of coal and nuclear in recent years has something to do with the abundance of low-priced natural gas—even should they ignore its relatively smaller carbon footprint.
Prior to the August release of the study, organizations like the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) sought to preemptively challenge the anticipated conclusions and recommendations of the DOE study. A report by the Analysis Group concluded the transition to non-coal, non-nuclear generating sources was being driven by the market—not by federal or state policies.
When the Department’s report was finally released, it admitted the rise of increasingly cheap and available solar and wind were not the culprits condemning coal and nuclear to the slag heap of U.S. power supplies. Still, the report suggested—strongly—the nation needed to prop up the two sectors the market was otherwise turning away from--for reliability and security reasons.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.