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Meg Jacobs: With picks for State, EPA, Interior and Energy, Trump leaves little doubt about intentions on energy, climate

She says on Trump's worldview, oil, and lots of it, will make America great again

Editor’s Note: Meg Jacobs teaches history at Columbia and Princeton. She is the author of a new book, “Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s” (Hill and Wang). Unless otherwise noted, facts included here reflect that book’s research. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. Follow her on Twitter @MegJacobs100.

CNN  — 

With his four most recent Cabinet picks, President-elect Donald Trump leaves little doubt where he is headed on energy and climate change. The selections of Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry and Ryan Zinke are quite stunning. Rex Tillerson, for example: the problem with him as secretary of state is not his ties to Russia at a moment of heightened tensions and charges of election tampering. The problem – at least if you are worried about global warming – is his background as the CEO of ExxonMobil.

Meg Jacobs

And with the complementary picks of Pruitt at the EPA, Perry at the Department of Energy and Zinke at the Department of the Interior, it looks like it will be “Drill baby, drill” on a global scale. While we have all been focused on Russia, immigration, trade and Twitter wars, Trump has made it abundantly clear the real through-line of his administration is going to be energy.

The tagline of Trump’s energy policy could be, “It’s the oil, stupid.”

Energy is the one issue that Trump has been remarkably consistent and clear on since entering the public eye back in the 1980s, including in an exploratory speech in New Hampshire before the 1988 campaign in which he talked about seizing Iranian oil and getting tough with the Saudis. He has long made clear that he hates getting pushed around and thinks energy is an area where the United States has to act tough to produce resources, intimidate its allies, take on its enemies, and enjoy the good life that oil provides.

Expect the Trump agenda to be energy independence on steroids. In his major campaign speech on the issue, he said, “Imagine a world in which our foes and the oil cartels can no longer use energy as a weapon.” He mapped out his one-two punch of deregulation at home and aggressive foreign policy toward oil producers abroad. As he put it, it will be an “America first energy plan.”

Since his earliest interviews, including his 1990 Playboy magazine interview, Trump despised what he saw as American weakness, especially in the oil producing areas of the Middle East. “We’re laughed at by the rest of the world.” That lack of respect, he believes, dates to the Carter administration, when OPEC raised oil prices and Iranian fundamentalists took Americans hostage.

For decades Trump has taken a hard line on Saudi Arabia, and during the election threatened to cut off imports from the country — the second-biggest exporter of oil to the United States after Canada — unless the Saudis and other Arab countries committed ground troops to fighting ISIS, or at least financed the effort to fight terrorism. As for ISIS, Trump says the way to bring it down is to cut off its access to oil.

The flip side of Trump’s aggressive stance abroad is deregulation of energy markets at home. With the rise of fracking, the United States has reduced its reliance on imports. And Trump promises to unleash the country’s natural resources even more through a slash and burn deregulatory policy.

“America’s incredible energy potential remains untapped,” he said in a May energy speech. “It’s a wound that is totally self-inflicted.” Trump will move to lift restrictions on drilling, including on federal lands, will green-light pipelines, and reduce emissions controls.

How Trump decides to deal with a host of energy related policies – both foreign and domestic –could have profound effects. For example, releasing the flow of domestic oil and other fossil fuels could add to the glut of energy on the world market, as would easing sanctions on Russia, which could potentially depress oil prices. If Trump pulls out of the Iran deal, something he has alluded to, that could mean a reduction of supply to the world market from that country. The same is true if Trump takes an aggressive stance on fighting ISIS, which could trigger further unrest in the Middle East.

If he succeeds in rolling back EPA regulations, including on auto fuel efficiency, that could increase demand for black gold. So, too, would his plans for infrastructure: He promises to lay down the most roads since Dwight Eisenhower’s creation of the federal highway system.

For the oil industry, an increase in production and consumption would be a win-win, as the uptick in the energy markets has already revealed.

If Trump’s goal is to boost American oil supply and demand as the way to make America great again, he’s got the right team in place. Tillerson has sat atop a global energy empire, and he will now channel those skills to building a global American empire. It is unlikely that global treaties like the Paris Accord will fit within this vision. Meanwhile, domestically, Pruitt will likely roll back all kinds of regulations in order to boost fossil fuel production and use.

The newly announced interior secretary nominee, Ryan Zinke, the at-large Montana congressman who campaigned on a platform of achieving North American energy independence, will do his part, too. Even as an outdoorsman, he is in favor of increased coal, oil and gas production, including his backing of the Keystone Pipeline. He has echoed his new boss’ charge that climate change is “not a proven science.”

And then there is Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and champion of the oil industry who, in his bid for president, promised to abolish the department that he will now lead. With a long record of climate change denial, including calling the science behind global warming a “phony contrived mess,” it seems likely that Perry will support the slashing of funds for renewables and a switch back to fossil fuels and nuclear.

After reports surfaced that the Trump transition team asked the Department of Energy to identify staffers who had worked on climate policy efforts under the Obama administration, scientists, too, have become fearful that decades worth of national progress on climate change could simply get wiped out.

Last Sunday, on Fox News, Trump reiterated his view on climate change. “Nobody really knows,” he said. All we know, he said, is that “other countries are eating our lunch,” and that is something that a President Trump won’t tolerate.

By gutting Obama’s Clean Coal plan, approving Keystone, canceling Paris, he promised in his May energy speech to bring back “complete energy independence.”

“We will make so much money from energy,” he said. “We are loaded and we had no idea. We’re richer than all of them.” In Trump’s worldview, oil, and lots of it, will make America great again.