Trump pledges to roll back the Biden administration’s progressive climate policies but there are significant legal implications

Rashid Husain SyedFossil fuel, the emerging global energy picture and climate issues are back on the political agenda in the United States, as is always the case in an election year. And it is getting nasty.

In a meeting with top U.S. oil executives at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, last month, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump vowed to reverse dozens of the Biden administration’s environmental rules and policies, provided they raise $1 billion for his presidential campaign. Trump’s campaign is reportedly trailing behind Biden in raising funds, and desperation is creeping into his camp on the issue.

A Washington Post report citing unidentified sources familiar with the meeting said that in the discussions with U.S. energy executives, Trump vowed to undo much of Biden’s work to fight climate change, promising the oil industry executives he would end the Biden emissions rules that were aimed at promoting electric vehicles and halt the current administration’s freeze on permits for new liquefied natural gas exports, among other actions.

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At the meeting, the Republican presidential contender also said he would auction off more leases for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and reverse drilling restrictions in the Alaskan Arctic, the Post reported. During the meeting, he also reiterated his complaints about wind power.

According to the Post, Trump told the chief executives that giving $1 billion would be a “deal” because of the savings they’d get when, assuming he wins, he guts taxes and regulations.

In the meantime, oil industry officials have reportedly begun drafting the text of executive orders reversing the Biden administration’s green policy initiatives on day one of the second Trump presidency, Politico reported, indicating that the industry executives may have already taken the Trump bait.

Concerns are growing about Trump’s’ deal offer’ to the oil industry. In an opinion piece, Zeeshan Aleem, an opinion writer for far-left MSNBC, said that his alleged attempt at quid pro quo with oil executives could violate federal bribery laws. ‘We’ve known for a long time that Trump will do anything it takes to advance his interests. But these acts that potentially cross the line into vulgar bribery are noteworthy not because they’ll necessarily make us think less of him, but because of the catastrophic consequences this kind of corrosion of democratic norms could have for everybody else on the planet.’

Jordan Libowitz, vice president for communications at left-wing Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told the media that its lawyers are looking into whether Trump’s reported actions violate any federal bribery statutes. CREW targets Republican officials and conservative groups far more frequently than their Democratic counterparts.

Trump’s offer highlights another interesting aspect of the debate. Despite Biden’s progressive tilt, it can be safely said that big oil has boomed under Biden. Yet the question remains as to why the fossil fuel industry is ready to stand behind Trump.

Discussing the issue, the Financial Times says, “The president’s focus on tackling climate change has upset U.S. producers, who are instead funding Trump. Joe Biden has overseen a boom in U.S. oil and gas production, but his pro-climate policies have made him unpopular with the industry.”

Biden made tackling climate change a central priority for his administration and vowed to crack down on America’s oil and gas industry. He has brought in environmental rules that range from endangered species protections and a clampdown on methane leaks to restrictions on offshore leasing and the suspension of new licences for the multibillion-dollar terminals needed to liquefy American gas and ship it abroad, FT reported.

To many Democratic voters, such restrictions are long overdue. But in Midland, the west Texas frontier town, the city that sits at the heart of the Permian Basin, at 6.1 million barrels a day, pumps more than OPEC powerhouses such as Kuwait, Iraq or the UAE and has made the U.S. the biggest oil producer in history, these steps have made Biden an unpopular man, FT underlined.

“It’s the worst presidency with regard to energy policy I’ve ever seen – and I’ve been involved in energy for 40 years, my entire career,” says Steve Pruett, chief executive of Elevation Resources, in Midland, Texas.

This attitude is prevalent even though America’s oil and gas industry has flourished under Biden. At more than 13 million barrels per day, U.S. production is at record levels, exports of American hydrocarbons have surged, and the scale of annual profits has been unprecedented – primarily driven by a jump in commodity prices following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Energy policy is emerging as a critical battleground between Biden and Trump. Former President Trump seems set on exploiting the discontent in the industry by telling voters in fossil fuel states that, if re-elected, he would adopt a policy of “drill, baby, drill.”

Mary Landrieu, a former Democratic U.S. senator and now a lobbyist with oil and gas clients, is correct when she says, “The industry is caught between Trump and Biden.”

Personal interests are overriding everything else.

Toronto-based Rashid Husain Syed is a highly-regarded analyst specializing in energy and politics, with a particular emphasis on the Middle East. Besides his contributions to local and international newspapers, Rashid frequently lends his expertise as a speaker at global conferences. Organizations such as the Department of Energy in Washington and the International Energy Agency in Paris have sought his insights on global energy matters.

For interview requests, click here.

The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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