President Donald Trump has seen the future and it is oil. And plastic.
Where most environmental scientists and most US allies fear that overuse of fossil fuels is driving the planet into crisis, the US president sees only opportunity.
In a speech on Tuesday to hundreds of workers building a new Shell petrochemical factory near Pittsburgh, Trump did not bother paying even lip service to environmental concerns. He just wanted to make clear that America is winning.
“We’re the number one energy producer and I’m so proud of that,” he said. Trump said that his priority on entering office had been to halt “the war on energy.”
The Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex will make manufacturing-grade plastic out of liquid natural gas extracted through fracking from the Marcellus Shale deposit. The facility, a huge web of pipes and half-constructed buildings, is a symbol of Trump’s aggressive pro-fossil fuel agenda -- and a powerful statement to his working-class voters that he meant business when he promised to restore the US manufacturing base.
Pennsylvania is a particularly important target: the state will be one of the vital pieces in the 2020 presidential election puzzle and Trump is struggling.
Plastic, once celebrated as a near-miraculous byproduct of hydrocarbons, is increasingly seen as a scourge, clogging up rivers, circulating forever in the seas, invading the food chain, and showing up everywhere from the deepest ocean to the seemingly pristine Arctic.
All that, Trump says, is someone else’s fault. “It’s not our plastic. It’s plastics that’s floating over in the ocean,” Trump told reporters on the way to the Shell plant.
Trump’s focus on old-school heavy manufacturing and fossil fuel energy production goes far beyond just visiting the occasional new factory. He has sought to rewrite strict environmental protection rules that he referred to on Tuesday as “horror stories.”
Trump gleefully told the crowd that his Environmental Protection Agency chief, Andrew Wheeler, “knows how to break it up.” Breaking it up means the Trump administration’s dismantling of regulations put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama, including the Clean Power Plan, which sought reduced greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
One of his first acts as president was on an even bigger scale: pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to unite the planet in a joint push to reduce carbon emissions.
Trump told workers that the restrictions imposed in the agreement would have “taken away our wealth.”
“They didn’t want you to drill. They didn’t want you to frack. They didn’t want you to do steel,” he said. “It wasn’t for us. It was good for others.”
29 STATES AND CITIES SUE TRUMP
A coalition of 22 US states and seven cities on Tuesday sued Trump’s administration to block it from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants. Tuesday’s challenge argues that it violates the EPA’s duty under the Obama-era Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution from power plants, and artificially narrows the EPA’s authority. The lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, could end up at the Supreme Court.