Starting in 1973 during the oil embargo, American presidential administrations have called for energy independence. While the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations all discussed energy independence, there has been a mixed response with respect to an actual move toward independence.
When President Trump ascended to the US presidency, he called for “energy dominance.” Whether it means energy independence in a creative way or is distinct from his predecessors, there is clearly a push toward developing an energy plan that is not reliant on Middle Eastern oil. Energy Secretary Rick Perry referred to President Obama’s efforts toward energy independence as “bureaucratic blockades” whereas the Trump administration’s efforts toward energy policy, according to Secretary Perry, is to achieve dominance.
Perhaps it is too soon to tell what exactly is meant by “energy dominance.” Nonetheless, there are signs that President Trump is succeeding in rolling back Obama-era restrictions. Only time will tell what this will mean for energy independence.
Whether Trump succeeds in making U.S. energy policy more "dominant" (whatever that means), this is a separate issue from how that policy is impacting the environment. While all sides of the debate appear to assert that the environment needs to be protected, words do not always meet the administration's actions. The question remains, where should the government strike the balance when regulating energy exploration? Does energy dominance mean forgoing a balance of interests in this regard? What type of regulation is necessary to achieve that balance? How important is the input of the energy sector in responding to this issue? How much influence is too much influence before the issue is foregone? These questions have long fueled debates and will likely continue for the foreseeable future. It remains very murky and unclear how the Trump administration intends to approach these questions except to say that the administration is clearly far more pro-industry than the Obama administration.
Under Obama’s EPA, there were significant regulations on drilling equipment to prevent and regulate leaks. The EPA under Obama named its policy openly and clearly: “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources; Final Rule”, and was issued on June 3, 2016. The Obama administration claimed that these leaks released methane into the air, asserting that such leaks could lead to a buildup of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.
Recently, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced a two-year halt on the rule to reconsider the matter. It seems that the Trump administration is questioning the Obama administration's assertion that methane leaking from drilling equipment could lead to a buildup of greenhouse gasses. Furthermore, the EPA wants to study whether there are alternative methods to halt emissions without burdensome regulations that harm the energy sector.
Comments and Criticism
Many construe this action by the EPA as Trump being aligned with Big Oil to the determinant of our environment. Many also view big oil and other large energy conglomerates as indifferent to environmental matters.
Regardless of whether such claims reflect the reality, the fact is that greater government regulation on oil companies hurts their bottom line. Government regulations increase corporate costs, thereby eating away at profits. To stay profitable, companies will then look to cut costs or increase prices. Any additional regulation upon oil companies will inevitably increase the costs that those companies will have to bear, which may be especially difficult for smaller companies. If alternative methods are available or if the harm is none or minimal, such legislation may be more political than practical. Nonetheless, whether a less costly alternative exists remains to be seen. Either way, Obama-era rules are clearly on their way out in the hands of this new administration.