It’s the oil, stupid: Why Democrats must block Trump on infrastructure
© Getty Images

President Trump abandoned the Paris Agreement two weeks ago. Last week he took to the road to push his agenda for infrastructure. Climate denial is the common thread.

In a speech beside the Ohio River on Wednesday, with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at his side and a coal barge in the background, Trump made it clear exactly what he means when he talks about infrastructure. Sure, he made a nod towards building new water pipes, but it didn’t take long for Trump to mention the only pipelines he actually cares about. After about three minutes he started bragging about his approval of Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

ADVERTISEMENT

An infrastructure agenda that doubles as a fossil fuel agenda isn’t so surprising coming from this administration. Some of the president’s only policy achievements to date revolve around supporting dirty energy and obstructing climate action.

 

He signed legislation — some of the only legislation to actually arrive at his desk — reversing President Obama’s rules protecting public lands and requiring more transparency from oil companies. He lifted the moratorium on federal coal leasing and promised more offshore drilling. And he ordered the EPA to begin dismantling Obama’s signature push to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector.

If so much of Trump’s agenda so far has been fossil fuel giveaways, why would his infrastructure plan be any different?

The deepest area of concern is that Big Oil actually has quite the wish list when it comes to infrastructure. Scarred by the initial rejection of Keystone XL and the near rejection of Dakota Access, the industry is actively calling for regulatory reform to help streamline the approval of future investments. Their idea is to ensure pipelines can be built whenever and wherever, without pesky things like local bans, tribal sovereignty or the National Environmental Policy Act slowing them down.

If past is prologue, the president’s infrastructure legislation could also include direct subsidization for fossil fuel infrastructure. Similar bills in the past have included tax incentives for natural gas distribution lines and refinery upgrades, and there is no real reason to believe that a bill originating with Trump and the congressional GOP wouldn’t be loaded with similar giveaways.

This push for infrastructure is driven at least in part by export ambitions. Even since Congress lifted the 40-year ban on exporting crude oil in 2015, Big Oil has been working in earnest to turn the U.S. into a global gas station capable of competing with the likes of Russia and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. broke a domestic record just two weeks ago, exporting 1.3 million barrels of crude oil in a day.  

But more exports mean more compressor stations, more export terminals and especially more pipelines. The problem is that clearing the legal hurdles in the path of these investments and providing taxpayer subsidies to support their construction are two very real possibilities for an infrastructure bill.

This is what Big Oil wants, and it is hard to imagine a Trump infrastructure bill that doesn’t go down Big Oil’s wish list line by line.

This would be disastrous for the climate. Even if coal is ignored, there is still enough oil and gas leased at active production sites around the world to blow past the 1.5 degree limit called for in the Paris climate agreement. Expanding pipeline infrastructure wouldn’t just make additional production economical — it would ensure production continues well after the climate crosses a tipping point. Assets like pipelines and compressor stations can take decades to break even, and it is hard to imagine investors abandoning them until after they have recovered their costs.

This is exactly why Democratic leaders need to be careful. Both Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Senate Dem: Officials timed immigration policy around 2020 election Senate fight derails bipartisan drug pricing bills Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are on record signaling to Trump that infrastructure is a possible area of collaboration. But if this package is another giveaway to Big Oil there is absolutely no point in coming to the table. No deal that subsidizes the expansion of dirty energy infrastructure is a deal worth striking. The climate simply can’t afford it.

Lukas Ross is a Climate and Energy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S., an environmental policy advocacy organization operating in 75 countries. Ross previously worked on biofuel policy and financial sector investment in U.S. farmland at the California-based Oakland Institute. Follow him on Twitter @LukasRoss1.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.