How Much Will Trump's Energy Plans Impact Florida? Not A Lot, Says UM Economist

Nov 28, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump has made much of his planned energy policies. He has said he'll boost the coal industry by rolling back President Obama's Clean Power Plan and in a recent video outlining plans for his first 100 days in office, Trump said he wants to expand the shale energy industry as well.

So, how much will these measures impact a state like Florida, swampy and with no coal mines? Not much, according to some experts. 

 

"Shale energy" comes from fracking -- the process of drilling into the earth and using high-powered jets of water and chemicals to extract gas or oil from deep underground. It is credited with boosting the United States' oil- and natural gas-producing capabilities significantly, driving down gas prices. But fracking is controversial because it can release chemicals that cause cancer, may cause small earth tremors and requires large quantities of water.

Because of environmental and health concerns, many cities and counties in Florida have banned fracking. But the state of Florida hasn’t officially taken a position on it. In fact, a  bill to study and regulate it failed in the state Legislature last session.

All this leaves questions as to how Trump’s shale energy policy would affect potential fracking in Florida.

 

'I would not expect to see fracking here' - David Kelly

"I don't think the fracking rules really impact Florida all that much," said David Kelly, a University of Miami economist who specializes in energy and the environment. 

Florida's swampy terrain and water-filled underground aquifers make it unlikely that there is much oil or gas to be fracked, whether or not the industry is regulated.

"Unless somebody discovers new oil reserves," Kelly said, "I would not expect to see fracking here."

Kelly also said he doesn't expect Trump's effort to revive the coal industry to impact either energy or jobs in Florida. That's because, once again, the state's terrain isn't conducive to that form of energy.

Florida has no coal mines, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration -- not surprising given that it barely has hills. So new coal jobs are out of the picture here.

Kelly said Trump can try to boost coal by rolling back the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan. The plan is supposed to help states with coal power plants reduce pollution by giving each state a carbon emissions goal -- some decrease in the amount of carbon the state’s power plants release.

Florida currently has eight coal power plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But it is already getting two-thirds of its electricity from natural gas.

 

'The coal industry undoubtedly has been hammered ... Part of that is due to the fact that natural gas has become a lot cheaper' - David Kelly

"My view is that we’ll continue to move more and more towards gas," Kelly said. "It's relatively inexpensive and there are many existing regulations in place that make coal unattractive. How many of those Trump can roll back is unclear, but he won't be able to roll back all of them."

To prepare for the Clean Power Plan, Kelly said, many coal power plants were switched to burn natural gas instead. The conversion didn't cost much since most plants are designed to burn both coal and gas. But Kelly said he doesn't think the converted plants will be switched back to coal, even if Trump repeals the Clean Power Plan.

"The coal industry undoubtedly has been hammered," he said. "Part of that is due to the fact that natural gas has become a lot cheaper. Those dynamics will not change when we roll back this regulation [the Clean Power Plan]."

Twenty-eight states, including Florida, have joined with numerous energy companies and labor unions in legal opposition to the Clean Power Plan. Their case is currently in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Supreme Court has halted enforcement of the Clean Power Plan while it’s under appeal.

Kelly says the most likely way for Trump to thwart the plan is to refuse to defend it in court, then have the Environmental Protection Agency rewrite it.

Notably absent from Donald Trump’s energy policy are solar and wind power.

Kelly says Florida is well-suited to producing solar energy but he doesn’t expect Trump to focus much on energy from the sun, given the president-elect’s vocal support for fracking and coal.