The United States does not have, and, in reality, has never had, a comprehensive national energy policy that has been deliberated as a whole by the American people. Rather, the US has a messy patchwork of individual policy decisions made over a period of more than a hundred years, many of which were greatly influenced by rich and powerful energy companies. Moreover, US energy policy as it stands today is nearly devoid of consideration of the climate change threat.

Major energy policy acts have been passed and signed into law in 1992, 2005, and 2007. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 has no fewer than 27 titles and includes some provisions to promote energy conservation and renewable energy. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 threw bones to all energy sources and has been criticized for providing generous subsidies to the oil and nuclear industries. The stated purpose of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is “to move the United States toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers, to increase the efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government, and for other purposes.” While the law includes provisions for increasing energy efficiency in the buildings sector and for appliances, for increasing fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, and for establishing a renewable energy fuel standard for biofuels, the bill that passed into law failed to include provisions passed by the House that would have significantly cut federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry; the Republican-controlled Senate rejected these provisions. Though not exclusively an energy bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided for more than four billion dollars in federal tax credits to homeowners for energy efficiency improvements, authorized additional renewable energy and efficiency research and development, and called for reductions in diesel engine emissions. Lastly, what would have represented the most recent, comprehensive regulatory scheme for addressing carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants and thus a key component of US energy policy, the Clean Power Plan developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency under the authority of the Clean Air Act, was mired down by legal challenges under the Obama Administration and has been completely abandoned by the Trump Administration.

One of CSPW’s complaints about climate change policy under President Barack Obama is that his preferred “all-of-the-above” approach to the nation’s energy mix did not in any way, shape or form reflect the urgency of the climate threat, even as articulated by the President himself on multiple occasions. In his first year in office, President Obama committed to do all he could to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent below 2005 levels, by the year 2020. The President’s Climate Action Plan released in 2013 reported partial progress toward this goal and set out an ambitious set of policies and programs for promoting clean energy and improving our infrastructure and assisting communities across the nation to be more climate change-resilient. While not all the elements in the Climate Action Plan were achieved, and President Obama was limited in what he could do because he could not rely on Congress to pass climate-friendly legislation at any time throughout his two-term presidency, there were several notable achievements, the most notable being his refusal to allow the Keystone Pipeline to go forward as planned. The environmental community was actively opposed to this pipeline, citing the tendency of pipelines to leak and pollute large areas of land and water, and the carbon emissions associated with the oil to be transported by the pipeline.

Neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence have expressed a viewpoint any other than dismissal of climate change as a problem or even a real phenomenon (like Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Donald Trump has called climate change a “hoax”). Rollbacks of President Obama’s climate initiatives have been promised on more than one occasion. However, a good analysis published by Mother Jones indicates that doing so may be a lot more difficult than Trump thinks. For example, even though Trump has vowed to bring back coal mining jobs, the coal extraction industry is on its last breaths, primarily as a result of energy market forces.

It is not clear to us what will become of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) – a major strategic planning exercise to develop government policy for the next generation of energy infrastructure – under the Trump Administration. One of CSPW’s major criticisms of the QER under President Obama was its treatment of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future; since the infrastructure used to extract, process, and transport natural gas to market is essentially the same as that for oil and petroleum products, continued reliance on natural gas only delays the transition to clean, renewable energy and has only marginal CO2-reduction benefits in the near term.

National energy policy as it relates to the climate threat is probably the number one problem facing the nation at the present time, even though our political discourse does not reflect this reality in the slightest. The Trump-Pence White House, so far, has been marked by scandal, disorganization, controversy, and chaos. One of the President’s first actions was to reverse President Obama’s decision on the Keystone Pipeline and allow the project to move forward. The White House is talking about opening up public lands to oil and gas drilling, and reinvigorating the coal industry. The FY2018 federal budget proposal to Congress contains draconian cuts for clean energy and climate among the cuts for other important discretionary programs. Just what Congress will do with this budget is a complete unknown at this point. Regardless, CSPW will be there to fight for the return of science and reason in order to promote critically needed energy policies that effectively address global climate change.