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Trump's Executive Order: A New Energy Era

Brittaney Warren, G7 Research Group
April 2, 2017
See also Comment @ G7G20.com

"My administration is putting an end to the war on coal. We're going to have clean coal — really clean coal," Trump declared to an audience filled with coal miners on March 28, 2017, at the signing of a new executive order titled Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. In his speech, Trump highlighted the key points of the order, all centred on creating "a new era of energy in America." Among them were an immediate re-evaluation of the Clean Coal Power Plan, the lifting of a ban on federal leasing for coal production, and an expansion of energy production in infrastructure, trucking and manufacturing. Trump also highlighted his action on two controversial pipelines: Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline, which he promised will create "thousands and thousands of jobs." That oil would flow through these pipelines built with American steel, he said, and will "create so many energy jobs." This extensive deregulation would "allow the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to focus on its primary mission of protecting our air and protecting our water."

This may sound like a good pitch to coal miners and oil workers now, but in the short to medium term it does not bode well that this significant part of the American population will be ill prepared for the jobs of the future. First, once the oil starts flowing, the two pipelines will not create "so many" jobs. The U.S. State Department estimates Keystone XL will create only 50 permanent jobs, with 15 of those temporary contractors. The Brookings Institute estimates DAPL will create 40 permanent jobs.

Second, across the U.S. coal mining jobs are already becoming the jobs of yesterday. Demand for coal has been steadily declining. Between 1990 and 2015 coal mining jobs declined by nearly 50%, and are continuing to drop. Bloomberg News reports that in the United States in 2015 there were 65,971 coal-mining jobs. This dropped to 53,000 in 2016, with low confidence that this trend will reverse in 2017. Meanwhile, the Environmental Defense Fund reports that American jobs in sustainability sectors have reached an estimated 4.5 million, with renewable energy jobs making up 769,000 of that in 2015, a 6% rise since 2012. Solar and wind jobs combined are growing 12 times faster than the U.S. economy, and wages for solar workers are above the national average. With sustainability jobs available in every state, a coalition of U.S. mayors refusing to comply with Trump's executive order, and rising demand for renewable sources of energy, it would be more prudent to prepare America's coal workers, especially the young, for the transition from a sunset to sunshine industry.

This transition is what the Group of Seven and Group of 20 increasingly focus on. It will be a sharp point of contention between G7 and G20 leaders and the U.S. president when he participates in the leaders' summits for the first time in the coming months. Consensus on energy issues, however, will likely be easier in the G7 club, which will meet in Taormina, Italy, on May 26-27, given its early history of promoting coal production and consumption and its more recent history of promoting clean coal and carbon capture and storage technologies (see Appendix A).

The G20, on the other hand, has made no coal commitments since its start, focusing on promoting and developing low-carbon technologies for clean energy and energy efficiency instead. In this regard, the G20 is more forward looking. It is likely essential to develop carbon-capturing technologies, given the resistance to phasing out coal production and its widespread use for electricity across the globe. However, cleaning up coal completely is not possible as its production and consumption come with such enormous social and environmental costs. Yet even the 2017 G20 chair, Angela Merkel, has expressed reluctance in speaking truth to coal in an election year, despite her science background and leadership on G20 compliance with its climate change commitments.

Regardless of the G7's and G20's weaknesses, both summit institutions have come to consensus that climate change itself is a real and growing force that needs to be reckoned with if we wish to maintain a liveable planet. Trump's environmental policies echo a four decades-old perspective, a time when the G8 simultaneously acknowledged the "environmental risks associated with increased coal production and combustion" and committed to doubling coal production.

It thus remains to be seen how far the leaders will acquiesce to Trump's outdated policies at the G7 summit in Taormina in May and the G20 summit in Hamburg Summit in July.

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Appendix A: G7/8 Coal and Carbon Sequestration Commitments 1975–2016 (N = 41)

1978 Bonn, Germany

1978-25: [The U.S.] will increase coal production by two-thirds

1978-28: In order to discourage excessive consumption of oil and to encourage the movement toward coal, the U.S. remains determined that the prices paid for oil in the U.S. shall be raised to the world level by the end of 1980

1979 Tokyo, Japan

1979-28: We pledge our countries to increase as far as possible coal use [without damage to the environment]

1979-29: [We pledge our countries to increase as far as possible coal] production [without damage to the environment]

1979-30: [We pledge our countries to increase as far as possible coal] trade [without damage to the environment]

1979-31: We will endeavor to substitute coal for oil in the industrial sectors

1979-32: [We will endeavor to substitute coal for oil in the] electrical sectors

1979-33: We will encourage the improvement of coal transport

1979-34: We will maintain positive attitudes toward investment for coal projects

1979-35: We will pledge not to interrupt coal trade under long-term contracts unless required to do so by a national emergency

1979-36: We will maintain, by measures which do not obstruct coal imports, those levels of domestic coal production which are desirable for reasons of energy policy

1979-37: [We will maintain, by measures which do not obstruct coal imports, those levels of domestic coal production which are desirable for reasons of] regional policy

1979-38: [We will maintain, by measures which do not obstruct coal imports, those levels of domestic coal production which are desirable for reasons of] social policy

1980 Venice, Italy

1980-16: To this end, we will seek a large increase in the use of coal and enhanced use of nuclear power in the medium-term, and a substantial increase in production of synthetic fuels, in solar energy and other sources of renewable energy over the longer term

1980-18: Together we intend to double coal production and use by early 1990

1980-19: We will encourage long-term commitments by coal producers and consumers

1980-20: It will be necessary to improve infrastructures in both exporting and importing countries, as far as is economically justified, to ensure the required supply and use of coal

1980-21: We look forward to the recommendations of the International Coal Industry Advisory Board. They will be considered promptly

1980-22: We are conscious of the environmental risks associated with increased coal production and combustion. We will do everything in our power to ensure that increased use of fossil fuels, especially coal, does not damage the environment.

1981 Ottawa, Canada

1981-27: We will take steps to realize the potential for the economic production, trade and use of coal and will do everything in our power to ensure that it increased use does not damage the environment

2004 Sea Island, U.S.

We will support efforts to make electricity generation from coal and other fossil fuels cleaner and more efficient by:

2005-171: supporting IEA work in major coal using economies to review, assess and disseminate widely information on energy efficiency of coal-fired power plants; and to recommend options to make best practice more accessible

2005-172: inviting the IEA to carry out a global study of recently constructed plants, building on the work of its Clean Coal Centre, to assess which are the most cost effective and have the highest efficiencies and lowest emissions, and to disseminate this information widely

2005-173: continuing to work with industry and with national and international research programmes and partnerships on projects to demonstrate the potential of advanced fossil fuel technologies, including clean coal

2005-174: [We will work to accelerate the development and commercialization of Carbon Capture and Storage technology by] endorsing the objectives and activities of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF), and encouraging the Forum to work with broader civil society and to address the barriers to the public acceptability of CCS technology

2005-176: [We will work to accelerate the development and commercialization of Carbon Capture and Storage technology by] inviting the IEA to work with the CSLF to study definitions, costs, and scope for 'capture ready' plant and consider economic incentives

2005-177: [We will work to accelerate the development and commercialization of Carbon Capture and Storage technology by] collaborating with key developing countries to research options for geological CO2 storage

2005-178: We will work to accelerate the development and commercialization of Carbon Capture and Storage technology by] working with industry and with national and international research programmes and partnerships to explore the potential of CCS technologies

2006 St. Petersburg, Russia

2006-82: [We shall take measures both nationally and internationally to facilitate investment into a sustainable global energy value chain to] introduce cleaner, more efficient technologies and practices including carbon capture and storage

2006-124: We shall further encourage the activities of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) aimed at preparing and implementing demonstration projects on CO capture and storage and on the development of zero emission power plants

2006-125: In this context we will facilitate development and introduction of clean coal technologies wherever appropriate

2007 Heiligendamm, Germany

2007-84: [In recognition of the increasingly urgent needs to achieve longer term greenhouse gas abatement, we will work on accelerating development and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), including by] prioritizing national and international research and development efforts and encouraging international research and technology cooperation, to minimize efficiency losses of the different carbon capture technologies and to clarify geo-technical conditions for secure CO2 storage, encourage research, development and deployment of clean coal technologies in both developed and emerging economies with the highest energy needs

2007-86: [In recognition of the increasingly urgent needs to achieve longer term greenhouse gas abatement, we will work on accelerating development and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), including by] reinforcing our commitment made under the Gleneagles and St. Petersburg Plans of Action to support the initiatives taken by IEA and Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF)

2007-89: Underlining the importance of energy diversification, and recognizing that G8 members will choose different ways to achieve their energy diversity goals, we will continue to develop and implement the policy frameworks needed to support our intensive commitment to the global use of all clean fuels, including clean coal, renewable energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal, bioenergy, hydro power).

2008 Hokkaido-Toyako, Japan

2008-70: We will establish an international initiative with the support of the IEA to develop roadmaps for innovative technologies and cooperate upon existing and new partnership, including carbon capture and storage (CCS) and advanced energy technologies

2008-268: Mindful of the important role of a range of alternative energy technologies, we recognize, in particular, the need for research, development, and large-scale demonstration of and cooperation on carbon capture and storage.

2009 L'Aquila, Italy

2009-98: We will accelerate the design of policies, regulatory frameworks and incentive schemes focused on the development and deployment of CCS technology

2009-100: We will work to identify sources of financing for CCS demonstration projects

2009-101: We will invite the IEA, together with the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CLSF), to report on and further develop technology roadmaps and to work with the private sector to accelerate the construction and operation of demonstration projects. To this end, we welcome the work on criteria by the IEA to facilitate tracking of global progress on these projects in view of an update to be presented at our Summit in 2010

2010 Muskoka, Canada

2010-33: Several of us commit to accelerate the CCS demonstration projects and set a goal to achieve their full implementation by 2015

2014 Brussels, Belgium

2014-41: We will promote the use of low carbon technologies (renewable energies, nuclear in the countries which opt to use it, and carbon capture and storage) including those which work as a base load energy source


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Brittaney WarrenBrittaney Warren is a researcher with the G7 and G8 Research Group, the G20 Research Group and the BRICS Research Group, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She has worked in Spain and in Peru where she conducted field research on a sustainable development project with women living in extreme poverty. She has conducted research on the compliance of CARICOM members with their summit commitments on non-communicable diseases. Brittaney leads the social media strategy and marketing program for the G7 and G20 Research Groups' books and works on climate change, and was the lead researcher on an e-book project on "Delivering Sustainable Energy Access." Follow her at @brittaneywarren


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