Most people don’t spend much time thinking about national energy policy, and it is rarely a major issue in election campaigns. The 2016 elections were no different.
Yet Donald Trump’s administration and Republican members of Congress now promise a sweeping reversal of energy priorities, claiming a public mandate to do so.
In fact, Trump recently announced he wants expedited approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that the Obama administration blocked.
Obama offered a thoughtful approach to energy policy.
He sought to develop all energy sources, including fossil fuels and nuclear power, even as he gave new emphasis to renewable energy and energy efficiency as ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
One result is that wind and solar energy are rapidly gaining market share thanks to technological advances that have improved efficiency and lowered costs.
In some states, including Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois, new wind turbines can produce power more cheaply than other technologies even without subsidies.
At the same time, domestically produced oil has reduced our dependency on imports to a record low, and natural gas, much of it from shale fracturing, is now abundant and cheap, which is the chief reason for declining use of coal.
In short, we are in the midst of an energy revolution that promises impressive dividends and a very bright future.
The benefits in improved air quality, public health and reduced greenhouse gas emissions are substantial, and recent studies tell us they will grow over time while also increasing employment and strengthening the economy.
Despite this remarkable progress, fossil fuels still constitute over 80 percent of our energy use. Forecasts indicate only a modest decrease over the next few decades, depending on the path we choose to take. It is imperative we get this right.
However, the Trump administration and Congress are pursuing a very different and risky energy agenda. They want to greatly increase oil and gas drilling offshore and on public lands, and with fewer restrictions.
They want to halt the EPA’s Clean Power Plan even as states, utilities and industry already are finding efficient ways to meets its goals over the next decade or so.
They want to roll back energy efficiency and vehicle fuel economy standards despite the savings to consumers, cleaner air and public health benefits they produce.
They want to end subsidies for renewable energy while maintaining long-standing and generous breaks for fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Many suspect they will reduce research on climate change while ignoring findings from existing studies and simultaneously backing out of international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — despite the U.S. being the world’s biggest emitter per capita.
Recent polls tell us that public concern about climate change is at an eight-year high, and that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor development of renewable energy sources as well as cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.
There is no evidence that the public wants to reverse course on energy policy and climate change.
This is not the time for ideologically driven, radical policy change. That could do real harm to the nation and the world.
The Trump administration and Congress instead should create a path forward toward broadly acceptable goals.
These include promoting a diversity of energy sources, keeping existing nuclear plants — a low-carbon power source — online, continuing appropriate incentives for wind and solar energy, advancing energy efficiency and supporting research on carbon capture and storage.
It is imperative, of course, to choose the most effective policy tools to reach agreed-upon goals. These will likely include regulation, market incentives and both public and private investment in new technologies.
We also need to continue — and preferably expand — the innovative clean energy initiatives at state and local levels and within the business community that have been so important over the past decade.
Michael E. Kraft is professor emeritus of political science and public and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. Readers may write him at UWGB, 2420 Nicolet Dr., MAC B310, Green Bay, WI, 54311, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.