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Trump courts energy industry

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Donald Trump is seeking to make inroads with the fossil fuel industry as he moves into the general election.

The businessman and presumptive Republican presidential nominee has not made energy a focal point of his campaign, but the sector has historically been a strong GOP ally. Trump is expected to use a Thursday speech before a North Dakota petroleum convention to provide more detail about his platform.

So far, Trump has staked out only a handful of energy positions. He’s skeptical of climate change, wants to revive the coal industry and plans to review Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules he doesn’t like enacted under President Obama. But he’s also been inconsistent at times.

November’s elections will have massive ramifications for energy policy. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has promised to continue Obama’s agenda if elected this fall, and her opponent, Bernie Sanders, has said he would go even further in transitioning away from fossil fuel energy.

“Obviously the presidential election may end up playing a very important role in what happens with the [EPA’s climate rule for power plants],” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said at a National Press Club event this week.

“I am optimistic with the Republican nominee, there might be an opportunity to withdraw these regulations, and that could give coal the little bit of the boost it really needs.”

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who is advising Trump on energy policy, said the real estate mogul could reap dividends in battleground states if he releases his energy platform now. Pennsylvania has a growing fracking industry, for example, and there is coal mining in Ohio.

“I’d say he’s got an opportunity to put that marker down in the energy producing states and rally them, but I think that’s the easy part,” Cramer said. “The other opportunity he has, with a true all-of-the-above, level-the-playing-field, pick-no-winners-and-losers … [strategy is to] gain support beyond the energy-producing states.”

One prominent coal industry executive is already backing Trump: Bob Murray, the head of Murray Energy Corp. and a vocal critic of Obama. Murray met with the White House contender last week and concluded “he’s got his head on right,” according to SNL Financial.

Trump also has the support of energy moguls T. Boone Pickens and Harold Hamm.

Others in the energy industry are waiting to hear more from Trump.

“We’re all waiting to see what he has to say on Thursday,” said Ron Ness, the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which is hosting Trump on Thursday. “Frankly we haven’t seen a lot of depth or a lot of discussion. … We’re thinking this is a great place to talk energy.”

Like many in the GOP, Trump has dismissed the science behind climate change, equating changes in the atmosphere to weather. He told talk show host Hugh Hewitt in September, “I am not a believer, and we have much bigger problems,” and he’s called global warming a Chinese conspiracy.

Even so, Trump has raised concerns about climate change in his business career. In a May application to build a seawall at a golf resort in Ireland, Trump officials said “global warming and its effects” necessitated it, as first reported by Politico.

The New York tycoon has lambasted Obama’s work on climate change, including the Paris climate deal. The agreement, which sets carbon reduction targets for countries, is unfair to the United States and should be renegotiated, Trump told Reuters this month.

He has promised to revive the American coal industry, which has shed jobs and production as demand for the product has declined, and vowed to put miners back to work.

“They’re going to start to work again, believe me. They’re going to be proud again to be miners,” Trump said in West Virginia earlier this month.

Trump, though, has at times spoken favorably of green energy. During the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses last fall, he said the government should continue setting ethanol blending requirements for gasoline refiners and subsidizing wind energy.

But taken as a whole, where Trump has discussed energy policy, he’s mostly sided with fossil fuel interests. In a March questionnaire with the American Energy Alliance (AEA), Trump said he would scrutinize Obama-era EPA rules on clean water and power plant carbon emissions, saying, “Under my administration, all EPA rules will be reviewed.”

The League of Conservation Voters, which has endorsed Clinton, said Trump’s positions won’t fly with voters.

“Hopefully there’s more clarity coming soon, but with what little we have heard, Trump’s pro-drilling, anti-EPA and anti-clean air and water protections are right in line with GOP leadership,” said Seth Stein, a spokesman for the group.

Overall, energy industry groups appear receptive to supporting Trump’s candidacy.


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