A lot has been happening in Washington, D.C. lately, and so it’s easy for energy updates to get lost in the noise.
Last month, however, President Donald Trump dedicated the entire week of June 26 to the topic of energy. While the event was overshadowed by a vicious public feud with two cable news hosts, the president issued four tweets related to energy, and his administration hosted multiple events on the topic.
More recently, energy has arisen in the context of European geopolitics, as Trump meets with leaders at the G20 meeting that rely heavily on Russian gas.
Here are three ways that the administration has started talking differently about its approach to energy policy.
Poland received its first shipment of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. last month, and Trump is eager to see more of that.
Russia historically has used its role as a gas supplier to Eastern Europe to advance its political objectives in the region. If U.S. gas companies keep up steady shipments to Poland, it could chip away at Russia’s leverage there.
“We are committed to securing your access to alternate sources of energy, so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy,” Trump said in a speech in Warsaw last week.
In an appearance with his Polish counterpart, the U.S. president offered to make a gas deal on the spot.
“I think we can enter a contract for LNG within the next 15 minutes,” he told Polish President Andrzej Duda. “Do you have anybody available to negotiate? It will take about 15 minutes.”
Duda then pointed out that the commercial exchange of natural gas lies outside the purview of the nations’ elected leaders, so private companies will have to handle the actual sales process.
In the past, Trump has called for American “energy independence,” meaning the ability to supply energy internally without needing to buy it elsewhere. That concept bears little relation to the current reality of global energy markets, which trade resources from country to country based on price and availability.
Even Trump’s Energy Independence Policy from March included rolling back obstacles to the completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the goal of which is to import fossil fuels from a foreign country.
By the time “Energy Week” rolled around, however, the independence language had departed and been replaced by a new goal: “American Energy Dominance.” That aim appears to involve rescinding federal regulations that impose costs on businesses and moving the country from being a net importer to a net exporter of energy.
Trump unveiled a six-point energy plan last month to propel this new era of American supremacy in energy. Initiatives include removing financial barriers to building coal plants abroad, boosting offshore oil and gas development and constructing a new oil pipeline to Mexico that will go under the border wall Trump wants to build.
Nuclear power also got a shoutout in Trump’s six-pronged plan, with a pledge to “revive and expand” the sector. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, in a press briefing for Energy Week, vowed support for nuclear power as well.
“I believe no clean energy portfolio is truly complete without nuclear power, and so does the president,” he said. “If you want to see the environment and the climate that we live in affected in a positive way, you must include nuclear energy with zero emissions to your portfolio.”
Nuclear can play a greater role with further development of advanced reactors and small modular reactors, Perry added.
“One of the things we want to do at DOE is to make nuclear energy cool again,” he said. “That’s not so much the case today because this industry has been strangled all too often by government regulations.”
During Energy Week, Perry defended his agency’s ongoing study of U.S. electric grid reliability, claiming the research will ensure the grid “isn’t tossed aside in favor of some political favorites,” The Hill reports. Speaking at an Energy Information Administration conference, Perry said he plans to roll back Obama-era policies that favored renewables over grid security. The administration is also expected to craft policies that support traditional baseload resources nuclear and coal.
When the administration talks about solutions for the energy industry, it usually involves cutting some kind of regulation. In the case of nuclear energy, a long history of cost and schedule overruns has made it practically impossible to produce new plants outside of regulated markets. The modular reactors Perry mentioned seek to solve this problem by getting small enough to be built in a factory and installed without need for massive specialized equipment.
However, the Trump budget would cut a grant seen as crucial to the development of the first modular reactor design to enter federal regulatory review.
“Overall, the White House would slash DOE’s nuclear office by 31 percent to $703 million, halve a program dedicated to extending the operating life of existing reactors, strip $38 million from an advanced reactor research effort, reduce research for recycling spent nuclear fuel by $150 million and kill a loan program designed to get innovative technology off the ground,” The Washington Postreported.