At the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh last week, Donald Trump promised a roomful of fracking executives and stalwarts, "Oh, you will like me so much, you will get that business. You are going to like Donald Trump."
After Trump expressed his support for local fracking bans in August, "fracking king" Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, a Trump energy advisor and rumored pick for Trump energy secretary, was forced to step in and explain that the Republican nominee was "confused" by the question and is indeed "solidly behind fracking." Trump drove the point home at last week's conference, recognizing Hamm and asking a lone New York shale-producing hopeful to stand and be recognized for his continued perseverance despite a statewide fracking ban.
This was a telling episode, showing what to expect from a Trump presidency. Trump has an exceptionally limited policy background, forcing voters, like the nominee himself, to look to his advisers for policy specifics.
Not that he hasn't had a few choice positions on oil to share, such as when he said of taking on ISIS, "I'd bomb the hell out of the oil fields .... I'd then get Exxon, I'd then get these great oil companies to go in – they would rebuild them so fast your head will spin." A "ring" of U.S. troops would then surround the wells, protecting the oil companies, Trump said.
But that was a year ago. Today, Trump's policy prescriptions are far more scripted. And he's learning that he will not, in fact, run the entire federal government himself.
Trump has amassed a long and highly instructive list of advisers; many of them are also his leading campaign contributors. They're a wily bunch of extremist climate-change denialists, fossil-fuel supremacists, and at least one Koch Industries lobbyist, as well as Gordon Gekko-types who buy distressed oil companies, strip them for parts and sell them for a tidy profit. And they're all looking to cash in on some extremely well timed pro-oil hoopla from the GOP nominee.
Take Kathleen Hartnett-White, rumored pick to head Trump's Environmental Protection Agency. She's a senior fellow and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a leading right-wing climate denialist think tank that has been funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, the Heartland Institute and a slew of small fracking oil-field players – "a Who's Who of Texas polluters," as the Texas Observer described the group's donors in 2012. TPPF's president and CEO, Brooke Rollins, is also a Trump adviser.
In Pittsburgh, Trump surprised many by announcing he has an "environmental agenda" that would "be guided by true specialists in conservation." He may well have meant Hartnett-White. Unique among his advisers, she's a former government regulator, appointed by then Gov. George W. Bush to the Texas Water Development Board and by Gov. Rick Perry as chair of the Texas Environmental Quality Commission, "the second largest environmental regulatory agency in the world after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency," according to her bio.
In an interview, Hartnett-White assures Rolling Stone that, if asked, she'd "love to serve" in a Trump administration. What draws this longtime breeder of National Champion Jack Russell Terriers to Trump is "his optimism" – the kind of optimism that will propel him to fully exploit America's "extraordinary energy bounty." The Republican nominee surely has not disappointed, pledging in speeches to lift restrictions on all sources of American energy production, implement a moratorium on new, more onerous federal regulations, and eliminate the worst of those already on the books, starting with President Obama's signature climate policy, the "so-called Clean Power Plan," as Trump identified it.
As with so many energy policies Trump has discussed on the campaign trail, each of these is found in Fueling Freedom, Hartnett-White's 2016 book co-authored with fellow Trump adviser Stephen Moore, an economist and Heritage Foundation fellow.
Fueling Freedom is a hymnal to all things fossil fuels, the dirty-energy, non-satirical equivalent of Thank You for Smoking. Hartnett-White says the book is a primary reason she was asked to join Trump's team – along with her work as an environmental regulator and their shared devotion to the oil shale (or fracking) revolution.
Hartnett-White's is no hippy-dippy free love energy strategy like the "all of the above" policies touted by Obama and Jeb Bush. There's no "weak and parasitic renewable energy" here, no "green job craze," electric cars or biofuels. And there's certainly no shared global sacrifice to tackle the "exaggerated nonsense" of global warming. Quoting Charles Krauthammer, she and Moore write, "Global warming ... is a creed, a faith, a dogma that has little to do with science."
This is an "America First" energy strategy that will double the amount of oil fracked in the United States, untap 1.5 trillion barrels of oil in states like Alaska, California, Colorado, Texas and Utah as well as offshore, and propel the U.S. to become the dominant oil producer in the world, exporting so much that we'd replace Saudi Arabia as the world's swing producer. Doing so would unleash what the authors dub "the Master Resource": fossil fuels.
Trump would join a relatively short list of white men (including Hamm) praised in the book for harnessing the Master Resource over the centuries to gain dominion over our more savage tendencies, just like the humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, they write.
Worried about harmful side effects of fracking? Don't! "Contrary to false reports in the media, virtually no documented environmental problems have been associated with fracking – ever." Want to balance the federal budget, eliminate our trade deficit and retire our entire national debt? Done! Royalties from oil, natural gas and coal resources from massively increased production on federal lands and waters have you covered. Worried about the carbon dioxide emissions of burning so many more fossil fuels? Pshaw! Increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are good for you! "Spread the news!" they write. "Man's carbon footprint shrinks his physical footprint on the earth."
What about "climate justice for communities of color"? "Irrelevant," they assure. Concerned for Native Americans fighting oil infrastructure or production projects, such as those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline? Don't! As Hartnett-White explains, it turns out these, as well as "Canadian Native Americans," might just be paid-off pawns of the Russians trying to undermine American oil production. Phew.
There is reason to be afraid, according to the book, and danger comes in many forms. There's the Environmental Protection Agency, the United Nations, California, green-energy policies that "undermine human progress" and "are not really clean at all," people who want us to "build windmills and ride our bicycles to work" and, of course, science. "We're not a democracy if science dictates what our rules are," Hartnett-White tells Rolling Stone.
What do these ideas translate to in practice? Luke Metzger, director of the non-profit Environment Texas, has spent years going head-to-head with the Texas Environmental Quality Commission. As chair, Hartnett-White "embodied the philosophy at the agency, which was to put the interests of big polluters ahead of public health and the environment," Metzger tells Rolling Stone.
He cites a 2003 state auditor report finding that TEQC under Hartnett-White consistently failed to hold violators accountable for breaking its laws, applied fines that amounted to only about 40 percent of the profits the companies made breaking the law, and introduced policies that weakened its own regulations.
Hartnett-White "was put in that position by the governor for that very reason," Metzger says. "Gov. Perry had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from these very businesses who had an incentive to make sure there was as weak a regulatory structure in place as possible. She definitely filled that role to a tee."
There is also a pure propaganda value to all of this, Hartnett-White admits. Sure, she concedes, the world is currently suffering from an oil glut, with supply outpacing demand. Demand for oil will increase, she explains, simply by the United States stating its intention to increase production. (If the world believes the U.S. isn't going to follow the "climate change evangelists," then policies won't be adopted reigning in fossil fuels, and demand will grow.)
Enter Trump, heralding the good news about America's pending fossil-fuel world domination. You can just feel the anticipatory hand-rubbing not only of Hamm, but of Wilbur Ross, John Paulson, Steve Feinberg and Carter Page, Trump's hedge-fund and private-equity crony advisers, ready to cash in.
Their ilk, however, have a particularly bad reputation in the Bakken – America's most notorious fracking field – due to their exclusive focus on the bottom line and profits, to the detriment of safety and lives, forcing companies to cut corners and do more with less (including tens of thousands of fewer workers), and contributing to a worker death rate in North Dakota that is seven times the national average, Kevin Pranis of the Laborers International Union of North America tells Rolling Stone.
Nonplussed, Hartnett-White is effusive about the seemingly boundless job growth the Master Resource will bring. Citing a figure also found in Fueling Freedom, Trump pledged in Pittsburgh that freeing America's energy sector would add 500,000 jobs annually (after earlier declaring that "oil and natural gas production employs some 10 million Americans," when the actual number is less than 170,000). "All the workers that get put to work, they're going to love Donald Trump," he said.
But America's oil workers aren't biting; across the board, they're backing Hillary Clinton. Even the United Mine Workers of America, representing the nation's coal workers, aren't supporting Trump.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Pittsburgh Local 66 even went so far as to withdraw its sponsorship of the Shale Insight conference in protest of Trump's appearance. "There's just no way that I was going to associate Local 66 with any function that gives this guy an avenue to speak," Jim Kunz, business manager for the union, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, calling the GOP nominee "a snake oil salesman."