Two weeks in, how does Mr Trump affect Australia?

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Image by Banksy.

I read with interest an article in The Saturday Paper called Goad of Silence by Mike Seccombe this morning, this led me down into an intriguing rabbit hole into the depths of the internet. Mr Seccombe described how different official social media channels of information, such as the National Aeronautics and Space (NASA) Administration Twitter account were being blocked by the Trump administration. And that “rouge” unofficial Twitter accounts had sprung up in their place such as @RogueNASA, I went to investigate the @RogueNASA account. Besides being impressed by their fund-raising efforts with pins and patches for charities such as Black Girls Code and FIRST Robotics!, I came across a non-descript looking link for a newsletter titled Garrett on Global Health. It was written by Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health Council on Foreign Relations. This nondescript looking link is the most comprehensive report detailing the first two weeks of the Trump Administration that I have come across. Ms Garrett provides analysis of three national security presidential memoranda (NSPMs), presidential statements, Executive Orders (EOs) and provides a list with links below, of nineteen presidential actions undertaken by President Trump between the dates of January the twentieth and the thirty-first of this year.

  1. “minimizing the economic burden” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  2. freezing all regulations
  3. reinstating the Mexico City abortion policy (also known as the global gag rule)
  4. scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership 
  5. freezing hires for the federal workforce 
  6. advancing the Dakota Access Pipeline
  7. advancing the Keystone XL Pipeline
  8. expediting environmental reviews on infrastructure projects
  9. promoting pipelines “produced in the United States”
  10. reviewing domestic manufacturing regulation 
  11. increasing border security measures 
  12. eliminating “catch-and-release” strategies
  13. pursuing undocumented immigrants
  14. reevaluating visa and refugee programs
  15. strengthening the military (NSPM 1)
  16. reorganizing the National Security Council (NSPM 2)
  17. implementing a lobbying ban
  18. calling for a plan to defeat the self-declared Islamic State (NSPM 3)
  19. reducing regulations

Out of forty-three top State Department positions, thirty-five were vacant by the second of February. Usually new presidents want to avoid mass resignations and wait until replacements have been found. Mr Trump’s party controls the House and the Senate and his party is most likely to support his choice of Supreme Court nominee. This means that the presidential actions above are expected to be backed by legislation and to become law. As Ms Garrett highlights, this behaviour from a new president isn’t unusual, what is different though is the speed of these changes and the confusion and turmoil that it has brought to the executive branch.

On the twenty-seventh of January Mr Trump signed an EO titled: “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Iran is one of seven countries included in the ban, the other six are Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. Mr Trump reportedly has business connections with Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, hence those countries seemingly being deemed as safe. It has been estimated that around ninety thousand people have been affected by this, including an Australian born teenager denied a visa to attend space camp in America because his parents are from Iran. A lawyer for the Justice Department revealed last Friday that around one hundred thousand visas have been revoked since the ban was put in place. A formal dissent memo was signed by over a thousand State Department employees, this is unprecedented in the first month of a new presidency, as well as the record amount of signatures. White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said that he was aware of the memo but warned that diplomats should either “get with the program or they can go.”

There has been concern amongst the scientific community that science data stored on American government websites will be erased. Scientific gatherings to save and store government data stored have been organised by a non-profit group called 314 Action.

“The government has done a great job of collecting and maintaining climate change data on these websites located all across the federal government,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, the founder of 314 Action. “The concern is that the data may no longer be publicly available, and then that they may no longer gather the data. It’s a lot easier to deny climate change when you don’t have data.”

Data Refuge is a public, collaborative project that was established by Penn libraries and the Penn program in Environmental Humanities. Data Rescue events are also being held all around America where volunteers are copying data from government sites and government data bases for safe keeping. After Mr Trump was inaugurated a few agencies restricted the amount of information available to the public. An EPA memo said “no press releases will be going out to external audiences, no social media will be going out … no blog messages … no new content can be placed on any website.”

America has a Whistle-blower Protection Enhancement Act that has been in place since 2012 and by chance the Follow the Rules Act happened to be before “The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee” last Thursday. Legislation strengthening measures related to nondisclosure policies, or gag orders, that restrict the ability of federal workers to communicate with Congress, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and inspectors general were approved. “This law has lived up to its name,” said Eric Bachman, OSC’s deputy special counsel. “It has significantly enhanced OSC’s ability to protect federal employees from retaliation.”

An America First Energy Plan was also released shortly after Mr Trump’s inauguration and it contains such phrases as: “Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own. We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well.”

“The Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.” And that “Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.”

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act 2016 (NAIF) was passed by the Australian Parliament on 3 May 2016, with its headquarters established in Cairns on the 1st July 2016 and it is supported by the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic). It’s offering $5 billion in concessional loans to encourage private sector investment in Northern Australia. Last Wednesday the Prime Minister (PM) of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull addressed the National Press Club (NPC) and said

“We will need more synchronous baseload power and as Australia is a big exporter we need to show we are using state-of-the-art, clean, coal-fired technology,” and that “The next incarnation of our national energy policy should be technology-agnostic.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison stated after Mr Turnbull’s NPC speech that ‘Coal is a big part of the future under a Coalition Government’ Mr Morrison also told the ABC that he won’t rule out Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) funding towards clean coal either “It’s the Clean Energy Finance Corporation — it’s not the wind energy finance corporation.”

Last Friday Australian Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, announced that he had opened up the $5 billion NAIF fund for new “clean-coal” power stations. He told ABC AM that “I’ve received some interest over the past week associated with our commitment to build base load power stations, including to support clean coal options”

Mr Canavan also cited a 2012 report by industry consultants GHD, which indicated that clean-coal power stations could be commercially viable in Australia’s north. “Some people might not realise that in North Queensland there is no base-load power station north of Rockhampton and industrial consumers in north Queensland pay often up to double the prices in southern Queensland”

Mr Canavan dismissed comments by AGL and Energy Australia that argued that new power stations would be expensive to build and would require significant public funding. “With all respect to those very eminent companies, we wouldn’t take advice from Coles or Woolworths on whether we should allow Costco for example to come into the Australian market,” Mr Canavan said.

“I am not surprised that existing generators don’t want another large-scale base load power station to come into the market, part in an area like North Queensland where they are clearly making good money selling electricity at very high prices.

“Good luck to them and good luck to them in the market.”

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy, doesn’t agree and said that there was no such thing as “clean coal”. “Every coal-fired power plant is damaging our climate, intensifying heatwaves and bushfires, polluting our air and bleaching coral reefs,” she said.

“Australia needs energy that doesn’t pollute, not energy that pollutes a little less than Australia’s existing coal generators, some of which are among the dirtiest in the world.”

Noting the use of “base load” in the quotes above, I will quote the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, in 2014 “It’s an obvious conclusion that if you want to bring down your greenhouse gas emissions dramatically you have to embrace a form of low or zero-emissions energy and that’s nuclear, the only known 24/7 baseload power supply with zero emissions,” she told Fairfax Media.

A “baseload power supply” is in a nutshell, “continual power supply.”

“I always thought that we needed to have a sensible debate about all potential energy sources and, given that Australia has the largest source of uranium, it’s obvious that we should at least debate it,” said Ms Bishop.

It was reported last week by the Guardian that long term coal industry lobbying for years in Australia, by American and overseas corporations, has put pro-coal talking points naturally into Australian leaders’ mouths.

As John Quiggin wrote in Crikey last month, the only real viable option for clean coal was via a “carbon capture and storage” program or (CCS). The only version of CCS that could be considered commercially viable is when Carbon dioxide (CO2) is pumped into exhausted oil wells. This works best though with a pure source of CO2 such as natural gas rather than a mix of gases from coal-fired boilers. After decades of work and funding spent on CCS technology (including $590 million spent by Australian governments since 2009), there is only one operational power plant using CCS, the Boundary Dam project in Canada.

Even if all of the coal-fired CCS projects listed by the Global CCS Institute in Melbourne as possibly happening by 2030, are included in the total amount of CO2 captured, it would be less than 20 million tonnes a year.

Australia roughly generates this amount of energy in two weeks.

The Turnbull government’s administration, despite the focus of the main stream media on presidential phone calls and name mishaps, appears to be pretty much aligned with the Trump administration. Fred Palmer was the Peabody Energy Vice-President for government relations in 2010 and in the same year that the “Advanced Energy for Life” campaign was born. Peabody Energy Corporation (Peabody) is headquartered in St. Louis, America and it is the largest private-sector coal company in the world. Peabody has been developing, refining and honing its campaign tactics ever since. Mr Palmer describes former Australian PM Tony Abbott, as a “precursor” to Trump in the context of climate change and energy policy.

“When Tony Abbott came in, he came in running against the carbon tax. When Donald Trump came in, he came in running against the Clean Power plan. That’s the parallel I am talking about.” When asked if he had problems getting through to the federal government he responded, “No it was not. I was thrilled to have that meeting and reception that I got,” says Palmer.

“I had zero problems. If they had time, they talked to us.”

He also thinks that Mr Trump will be “spectacularly successful”.

And that “We are going down the path of his America first energy plan. There is nothing in there about renewables and there’s nothing in there about carbon taxes. It’s fossil fuel-centric and it is meant to be. It’s a fossil-fuel future for the United States.”

Followed by “I guarantee you the world is going to follow.”

There is no money to be made out of coal today, it’s had its time and has progressed us from the days of having to rely on whale blubber or whale oil for energy sustenance and steam powered ships. Renewable energy can also be a base-load energy that Australia can rely on and lead the world in how to do it rurally even, if there is political will.

Australia is in a unique position, not just in regards to our geological positioning and weather elements but we are surrounded by water and we live in very different circumstances, when we compare this with land locked countries in the Middle East. Countries such as Syria that Australia is involved in protecting values wise or war wise, is a part of this ban too. It is high time that we question our values and ethics as a country. Our countries shipping ports also need to be thought about for the long term of Australia’s future and not just a short-term sugar hit for a state government’s or federal government’s budget bottom line.

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