500 days of unleashing our economic engine Amazing growth – while protecting environment, health and welfare from actual threats
President Trump and his administration have been in office for just over 500 days. But America is back on track, business and consumer confidence has returned, the nation’s economic engines are again firing on all cylinders, more people are employed than ever before, and the stock markets continue to surge at record levels. A major factor in all these highly positive developments has been the changed mindset in two important federal government offices: the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency. These two offices have initiated major changes ensuring that the United States is once again producing its abundant fossil fuel energy and operating under commonsense environmental policies and regulations. Just imagine what the next 950 or 2400 days will bring!
In that short time, the US economy has gone from the lowest labor participation rate since the 1970s to nearly the lowest Black, Hispanic and women’s unemployment rates in history. It added 223,000 jobs just last month. Many employers are struggling to find qualified workers, even though private sector salaries and benefits have been increasing to attract them. (Perhaps generous welfare and unemployment payouts still tempt too many?) More than 4 million Americans have received pay raises and/or bonuses.
Businesses large and small are investing billions of dollars in facilities and equipment, and the Dow Jones Industrial average skyrocketed from 18,800 points just after the November 2016 elections – to a record 26,617 on January 26, 2018, before falling to 23,533 and then rebounding to 25,200. IRA, 401(k), and private and government pension funds have gained hundreds of billions in cumulative value.
Economists predict a growth rate of 4% for the second quarter of 2018, while one of the best forecasters says we may hit 5% by year’s end, thanks to extensive investment capital flowing into the USA.
The primary reasons for these changes were anticipation of and reaction to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of December 2017 and the Administration-wide reduction in regulations: not enacting many new ones, while reversing past bureaucratic rules, obstacles and delays. Two departments led the way: EPA and Interior.
* The Obama Department of the Interior implemented numerous actions to curtail fossil fuel production, mining, ranching and other economy-enhancing programs. During his first 500 days, Secretary Ryan Zinke reversed, eliminated or streamlined many of those rules and decision-delaying processes.
In accordance with the 2017 Tax Act, he opened the narrow “Coastal Plain” of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to leasing and drilling, so that the area’s enormous oil and gas potential can be evaluated. Environmentalists had blocked access for nearly 40 years, denying America critically needed energy that can be developed safely under practices proven by decades of operations at the Prudhoe Bay oilfield.
Secretary Zinke also ended DOI’s war on coal and opened large tracts of valuable Utah coal reserves that had been closed off via abusive use of the 1906 Antiquities Act. He did so while fully protecting smaller monument areas of true historic, prehistoric and scientific value. Onshore and offshore, he opened millions of acres to oil and gas leasing, so that they can go through a full formal study and review process, with some of them ultimately being made available for exploration, drilling and production.
These and other actions have already helped send US oil production to a record (projected) 2018 output of 10.7 million barrels a day. They have created thousands of jobs and generated billions of dollars in lease bonus, rent, royalty and tax revenues to support essential government programs and services.
The new DOI and other government policies also helped the United States export a record $20 billion in crude oil, liquefied natural gas and refined products in April 2018 alone. US natural gas exports also increased – by 66% over their first quarter 2016 level.
After years of neglecting this critical obligation, Interior has dedicated tens of millions of dollars to restoring, repairing and maintaining national park lands, trails, lodges and visitor centers, so that families can continue enjoying them.
Meanwhile, many other Interior Department lands will now be managed under traditional “multiple use” guidelines that permit motorized access, non-wilderness recreation, grazing, forest management, timber harvesting, and responsible development of energy resources above and below the ground – all via expedited planning and permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws.
Finally, with an eye toward America’s current and future defense, renewable energy, communication and other needs, Interior issued a detailed report assessing the nation’s access to the “critical minerals” that are essential for manufacturing those vital technologies.
* Under President Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency was the most regulation-prone agency in government. Its heavy-handed rules cost the US economy billions and killed countless jobs. No longer.
During his first 500 days, Administrator Scott Pruitt’s EPA reduced or eliminated numerous burdensome regulations, likely saving America at least $1 billion a year in regulatory costs so far – while still protecting air and water quality and safeguarding human health against actual, demonstrable risks.
He helped persuade President Trump to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Treaty, which would have forced the USA to slash its greenhouse gas emissions and thus its reliance on fossil fuels, and pay billions of dollars annually into a “green climate” slush fund. Meanwhile, China, India and other rapidly developing countries will continue expanding their oil, gas and coal use … and CO2 emissions. In short, Paris will bring no climate benefits, even if CO2 actually is a primary factor in climate change.
Pruitt also repealed the deceptively named “Clean Power Plan,” which used dishonest claims about particulate, mercury and carbon dioxide emissions, exaggerated “social cost of carbon” data, and dubious assertions about climate change to justify rules that forced numerous coal-fired generators to shut down.
Pruitt also proposed to end the longstanding EPA practice of using secretive, questionable, non-replicable, even deceptive science to support agency policy and regulatory initiatives. The new rules will ensure that any science underlying agency actions is transparent and publicly available for independent experts to examine, validate or debunk. Studies that do not comply cannot be part of the decision-making process.
Equally important, Pruitt ended the underhanded sue-and-settle tactic that allowed radical environmental groups to work with EPA officials behind the scenes, to devise policies, sue in friendly courts to force their implementation, and then settle the cases – without parties affected by the decision able to present testimony or have their day in court. (My only complaint here is that Pruitt perhaps should have waited until conservative groups had some opportunities to use the same tactic to advance their policy agendas.)
The Pruitt EPA has garnered bipartisan praise for moving to expedite the cleanup of Missouri, Montana, Texas and other Superfund toxic waste sites that have posed threats to local communities for decades. It received similar support (and environmentalist criticism) for rescinding the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that gave EPA effective control over every creek and temporary puddle in the nation
Those who still believe rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing dangerous manmade climate change will be happy to know that the United States has reduced its CO2 emissions more than any other country – even as America entered a new energy and economic renaissance under President Trump. In fact, they were down another 2.5% in 2016, on top of an 11% decline 2005 through 2015.
This is largely due to the Obama era war on coal, which resulted in hundreds of coal-fired generating units closing since 2008, with many replaced by increasingly efficient natural gas generators. With China, India, Germany and the rest of the world using fossil fuels to generate reliable, affordable electricity, it’s time for the United States to do likewise. Zinke and Pruitt are doing exactly that.
All of this represents enormous progress in returning to environmental common sense, restoring business and consumer confidence, and unleashing America’s powerful energy and economic engines.
However, there is still much to do: from immigration reform to renegotiated trade agreements that end the expanding tariff battles, and building more pipelines to get the nation’s increasing oil and gas production to power plants, refineries and export terminals – to ensuring a lasting Trump legacy through legislative deals, court victories and longer-term strategies, to augment executive orders and regulatory actions.
Using all this progress as a guide, imagine what could be accomplished over the next 500 days, the 950 days before Mr. Trump’s first term ends – or the next 2,400 days until the end of his second term!
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of many articles on energy and the environment. He has degrees in sciences and environmental law.