WASHINGTON — After spending its first year working feverishly to lift up the fossil fuel industry and introducing a budget that would gut funding for renewable energy programs, the Trump administration maintains that it isn’t playing favorites when it comes to powering America.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry spoke about the ongoing push for so-called “energy dominance” during a panel discussion Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. They stressed that the administration favors and all-of-the-above strategy.
“That’s the type of energy policy that President Trump wants to see,” Perry said. “Where we’re using our resources, we’re using American innovation and we’re not sitting there and just saying we’re going to regulate our way into nirvana, because that is a fallacy.”
“If you’re going to have energy on public lands, produce it — wind, solar — and I’m all of the above,” said Zinke, drawing an “amen” from Perry. “To me it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s made in America, I’m good with it.”
The familiar comments come just weeks after the Trump administration unveiled its 2019 budget proposal, which called for a more than 65 percent cut in funding for the Energy Department’s office on renewable energy and efficiency. The budget also called for a more than 19 percent increase for Energy’s fossil energy research and development office.
Last month, an Energy Department official told those gathered for a coal conference in West Virginia that he was “here to help,” as S&P Global reported.
“I went to Washington, D.C., for one purpose and that was to help create coal jobs in the United States,” said Doug Matheney, special adviser in the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy. “That’s my total purpose for being there. I’m not a researcher, I’m not a scientist, I’m an advocate for the coal industry.”
In January, President Donald Trump approved a 30 percent fee on all imported solar panels, which analysts warn could result in job losses and a spike in the cost of solar panels. Solar companies created one in 50 new jobs in the United Staes in 2016. The Government Accountability Office also accused the White House of illegally withholding $91 million in funding to Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, an experimental energy research program responsible for “holy grail” breakthroughs in battery storage technology.
Zinke said Friday that getting rid of punitive and adversarial government regulations will drive innovation.
“We are enormously clever people,” he said. “And allowing us to innovate is what happened in fracking, in energy and batteries. There’s no one more clever than Americans are, so our regulatory framework has to reflect that.”
But the regulatory rollbacks have almost exclusively been giveaways to fossil fuel companies. Trump signed an executive order to roll back Obama-era policies aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and said he would pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris climate accord ― the international agreement to cut carbon emissions to ward off the worst effects of global climate change.
Zinke also overturned an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on federal land, moved to expand domestic mineral production and proposed last month to open nearly all U.S. waters — not including those off Florida, after a request from Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) — to offshore drilling.
The administration also green-lighted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines and pushed a proposal designed by coal baron and Trump ally Bob Murray to bail out coal and nuclear power plants with a plan that would add $10.8 billion in ratepayer costs.
Trump touted his fossil fuel achievements during his own speech Friday at CPAC, making no mention of renewables.
“We’ve ended the war on American energy — we were in war,” he said. “And we’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal, one of our great natural resources.” He called the Paris accord “totally disastrous” and “wealth knocking-out.”
Alexander C. Kaufman contributed to this report.