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Analysis | The Energy 202: Trump pumped up claims about oil and gas during State of the Union

By Dino Grandoni


President Trump during the State of the Union address before members of Congress on Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
President Trump's State of the Union speech included a celebration of the recent boom of production and employment in the U.S. oil and natural gas sector. Since taking office in 2017, the president claimed, "we are doing numbers that no one would have thought possible just three years ago."
The problem with that statement: The energy surge Trump is touting started well before he took office. And it did not come about due to any major regulatory change. Rather, it stemmed from a technological shift.
As The Post's own Fact Checker team put it: "The notion that a revolution in energy began under the Trump administration is wrong."
It was just one of the many overinflated claims on energy and the environment that Trump made in his annual address to Congress. The president painted a rosy picture of his actions to protect the environment — even though his administration has systematically sought to undo policies intended to curb climate change — and insisted the country became energy independent under his watch, which energy experts say is not the case.
Trump credited his administration's rollback of regulations for uncorking more domestic oil and gas. Over the past three years, Trump's environmental deputies have undone rules meant to make offshore drilling safer after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and to curb the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells.
“Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world, by far," Trump claimed.
Yet according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States has been the world's top natural gas producer since 2011 and the world's top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013. That decade-long boom is due largely to the adoption of new drilling techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
"The shale oil and gas surge happened under Obama, not Donald Trump, who merely inherited it," said Paul Bledsoe, an energy expert at the Progressive Policy Institute who served in the Bill Clinton White House.
Trump's touting of domestic energy production was a piece of a broader effort to emphasize during the nationally televised speech the "roaring" U.S. economy, now in its 11th year of growth, as Trump prepares for what is set to be a contentious reelection bid later this year. Yet there's also growing concern even within his own party about climate change.
Trump seemed to thread the needle by obliquely addressing the issue during his speech. Seeking to counter claims that his administration is environmentally destructive, Trump noted he recently joined a new international initiative designed to combat climate change by planting trees to lock climate-warming carbon out of the atmosphere.
During the speech, Trump said he signed onto the initiative "to protect the environment." The president left the phrases "climate change" and "global warming" unmentioned.
“Climate change is a crisis that threatens our health, our economy and our national security — and President Trump gave it one throwaway line in an hour long speech," said Joe Bonfiglio, president of the advocacy arm of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Trump also claimed that after three years in office, "America is now energy independent."
There are a couple of ways to consider this statement. Gaining independence from Middle Eastern oil producers has been a staple of State of the Union speeches since Richard Nixon. And indeed, the fracking boom has meant the United States is far less reliant on foreign petroleum than it once was.
But the country still imports plenty of oil — about 9.94 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Refineries along the Gulf of Mexico rely on imported heavy crude since that is the type of petroleum they are built to refine.
The mix of imported oil is a lot different from the days of the 1970s oil crises, when Middle Eastern embargoes led to long lines at gasoline pumps. Half of that imported petroleum now comes from Canada and Mexico, while only 16 percent of it comes from Persian Gulf countries.
But for some, the mark of true "energy independence" will be the day the United States is a net energy exporter — that is, when sells more energy to other countries than it buys.
The country is not quite there yet. In the first five months of 2019, the U.S. consumed more energy than it produced domestically, making it not independent of foreign sources, Politifact found after Trump made a similar claim at the 2019 House Republican Conference.
But the country is edging close to that threshold, and could cross it before Trump leaves office, according to EIA projections. Last year, the nation marked its first month in at least 70 years of exporting more crude oil and petroleum products than it imported per day.
Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.
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Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at the White House. (Alex Edelman/Bloomberg)
— The contingency plan: At least one Cabinet member skipped the State of the Union. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was the designated survivor, The Post’s Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner report.
  • Following in Rick Perry's footsteps: "The designated survivor is typically a Cabinet-level official who is chosen to skip high-profile events — State of the Union addresses and inaugurations — so that he or she may assume power if a disastrous event occurs, eliminating others in the line of succession ... Bernhardt, who was confirmed as Interior secretary in April, follows in the footsteps of then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was designated survivor last year, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who filled the role in 2018.

Former ExxonMobil executive Rex Tillerson appears before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for his confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of state. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
— Tillerson skeptical about humans impact on rising climates: At an industry conference in Houston on Tuesday, Rex Tillerson, the former U.S. secretary of state under Trump and the former CEO of ExxonMobil, questioned if humans could combat climate change, Bloomberg News reports.
  • To quote: “With respect to our ability to influence it, I think that’s still an open question,” Tillerson said at the Argus Americas Crude Summit, per Bloomberg. “Our belief in the ability to influence it is based upon some very, very complicated climate models that have very wide outcomes.” While Tillerson called climate change “a very serious matter,” he said the success of efforts to limit global warming “remains to be seen.”
  • Exxon is coming off a victory in a climate case in New York: In December, Exxon successfully fended off a case by New York prosecutors that it misled investors in how it calculated the financial risks of climate change, Energy 202 previously reported. New York’s attorney general said she won’t appeal, Bloomberg wrote

Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister. (Andy Rain/European Pressphoto Agency/Bloomberg News)
— From industrial revolution to green revolution: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says his country, which was the first to industrialize, has the “responsibility to lead the way” on climate change, The Post’s Karla Adam and Brady Dennis report. Johnson has already announced that Britain will ban new gas, diesel and hybrid cars by 2035, instead of the current target, 2040. The United Kingdom plans to hold a major international climate summit — a follow-up to the 2015 Paris climate talks — in Glasgow in November.
  • Is that feasible, critics wonder: The British government has nine months to prepare while the French took “several years” to pull together 2015’s talks, Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s chief scientist for Britain, told Adam and Dennis. And Claire O’Neill, a former energy minister, was heading the talks up until she was fired last week from heading up the climate conference. O’Neill responded by writing an open letter to Johnson, published in the Financial Times, saying the government is “miles off track from its goal” and blaming partisan politics. “We are almost out of time to win the battle against climate change and start the process of climate recovery,” she wrote. “I hope you will use my sacking as a moment to reset the dial.”

A worker covers his face to avoid rising dust at a coal-fired power plant, partially financed by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, under construction in Kudgi, India. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)
— Japan isn't over the coal: One decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan plans to build as many as 22 new coal-burning power plants in the next five years, the New York Times reports. The decision renews questions of whether Japan will meet its own goal of a 26 percent cut in emissions by 2030.
  • Previously: Japan has faced criticism before for its funding coal plants in other countries. For instance, Japan ranks second in the Group of 20 nations that give public funds to Chinese coal plants, The Post previously reported
  • By the numbers: “Together the 22 power plants would emit almost as much carbon dioxide annually as all the passenger cars sold each year in the United States,” per the Times. 
— Funding questions spur letter from conservative group: Congress should reject any increase to the federal gas tax, the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform’s president, Grover G. Norquist, wrote to lawmakers this week. The letter was a response to a $760 billion infrastructure package announced last week by House Democrats. But they didn’t say how the proposal would be paid for, saying Trump should decide, The Post’s Michael Laris reported at the time. Norquist suggested that the government should focus on wasteful spending instead of the tax.
  • The White House’s take: Trump has said in the past that he’d consider the tax as a method for funding his infrastructure campaign promises, The Post previously reported. One representative told The Post that the Trump White House “hasn’t been taken off the table, as most previous administrations have done.” However, Sean Spicer, while still at the White House, told reporters that Trump was only considering the tax “out of respect” for truckers.
— AGs write to EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency should track so-called "forever chemicals" under EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, according to 18 attorneys general who filed a comment letter with the agency on Monday. The inventory, under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, requires annual reporting of how much of toxic chemicals are released into the environment. The letter comes as the EPA has requested comments in its rulemaking process.
  • Which states signed on: New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. 

Nevada convention to culminate with chance to hunt deer with ‘accomplished conservationist’ Trump Jr and son
The Guardian


Coming up:
  • The National Association of State Energy Officials holds its 2020 Energy Policy Outlook Conference and Innovation Summit in Washington, DC from Feb. 4-7.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight holds a hearing on “Management and Spending Challenges within the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” on Feb. 5. 
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing on Feb. 5. 
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies holds an oversight hearing on the Energy Department’s role in advancing biomedical sciences on Feb. 5.
  • The New Hampshire Democratic debate will be on Feb. 7.


— Even with less snow, these dogs are still sleighing: The 24th year of the Sedivackuv Long, a traditional five-day dog sled race in the Czech Republic, still happened despite a lack of snow. Organizers said they had to alter some routes. Click here for a photo gallery from the race.

Dogs look out of their transportation box before the start of the traditional Sedivackuv Long dogsled race near the village of Destne v Orlickych Horach in the Czech Republic on Jan. 23. (Petr David Josek/AP)


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