With President Donald Trump’s revival of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, the gauntlet has been thrown down between Americans who care for the environment and the crony capitalists who want to pillage it. Supporters who gravitated toward Trump’s economic message applauded his executive orders, but the pipelines have little to do with job creation. Far from following through on campaign rhetoric, Donald Trump’s energy policy can best be described as America Last.
Americans will suffer the consequences of these pipelines. When they break, as pipelines routinely do – 140,000 gallons of oil leaked in Iowa the day after Trump signed the executive orders – the spills will contaminate American land and American water. When the few remaining traces of our beloved public lands are given away by the GOP and ravaged by corporate interests, Americans will live in an uglier world deprived of wilderness and natural beauty.
All this is reason enough to oppose the Republican energy agenda, but the truth is the pipelines will be no great benefit to Americans economically either. Keystone XL is a project of the Canadian company TransCanada to transport fracked oil through several US states. Trump has said he’d tax 25 percent of the profits and demanded that the pipes use American steel, but between both pipelines fewer than 80 permanent jobs will be created – about 40 for DAPL and 35 for Keystone XL.
It’s also not clear where the oil will go once it’s traveled through the pipes. The US recently became a net exporter of refined oil. Exports to growing markets, particularly in Asia, are on the rise. Most of the oil used at home is produced at home, and 40 percent of what’s imported comes from Canada. American workers are doing dangerous work, tearing up their own land for oil that may well be sold overseas for the profit of international conglomerates.
Activists struggled for months against the brutal forces of militarized police to defeat the Dakota Access Pipeline. Finally, after a barrage of bad headlines and condemnation from the United Nations, President Obama ordered the pipeline halted. Trump’s reversal came amid zero public lobbying. It’s not a stretch to suppose that Trump was responding to pressure from the oil titans in his own inner circle.
Kelcy Warren is the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. He donated more than $100,000 to the Trump campaign. Trump’s Secretary of Energy nominee, Rick Perry, sits on the company’s board. Warren expressed “100 percent” confidence that Energy Transfer Partners “will get this easement and we will complete our project” under President Trump. Trump himself is alleged to have financial holdings in Energy Transfer Partners.
Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, is surely eager to resume his business with Russian President and fellow oil tycoon Vladimir Putin. The two had just worked out an Arctic drilling deal potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars when Putin annexed Crimea and got himself sanctioned. Under Tillerson, Exxon also arranged a joint venture with a Saudi Arabian petrochemical company to do business on American soil, in the Gulf of Mexico.
None of this has anything to do with putting Americans first. It’s about corporate profit and nothing more. What Americans would benefit from is an energy infrastructure overhaul. New industries would flourish, job opportunities would explode, and the energy produced would be clean and sustainable. But that’s not what Trump’s Big Oil friends and donors want.
Trump campaigned explicitly against wind energy, citing bird deaths. Pretending Trump cares about birds is laughable, but he is right that bird deaths are a consequence of harnessing wind. Bird deaths by wind turbines, though, are a drop in the bucket compared to the millions killed by power lines, house cats and flying into windows. And the sustainable energy industry is bursting with opportunity. If Trump wanted to put Americans first, he wouldn’t be resisting the clean energy revolution.
As Trump sets up America to abandon the energies of the future and destroy its own land, the rest of the world is picking up the slack. America’s position on the world stage is compromised by signals that we will not combat climate change or pursue alternative energies. Whether Trump is actually Putin’s puppet or not, he couldn’t be playing the part better. Trump’s energy policy is a giant middle finger to working Americans.