TRUMP SPECIAL: Trump just might pan out for mining, energy

The energy and mining industries in the USA got an early Christmas present when president-elect Donald Trump nominated Oklahoma attorney-general Scott Pruitt to lead the national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Pruitt has been vocal in his displeasure with the agency – and, in particular, how it enforced current president Barack Obama’s executive orders on power-plant emissions and his plan to reduce greenhouse gases.

Pruitt joined a coalition of state attorneys-general who filed suit over the Clean Power Plan in 2009, and he has stated his desire to extricate the USA from the Paris Accord – a broad, multi-national initiative intended to reduce global carbon dioxide output and curb climate change.

He also established a Federalism Unit in Oklahoma, aimed at increasing local control over regulation and enforcement.

Trump claims that the EPA “has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control, anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs”. And when it has instituted universal standards and rules for all states in the American union, Pruitt has responded in litigious fashion.

He has sued the EPA multiple times to thwart the expansion of regulations on pollution, and he joined 13 other attorneys-general last summer in a lawsuit over the implementation of the Clean Air Act.

This is clearly nothing new for Pruitt, who has a penchant for legally challenging the pillars of the Obama administration. He joined some of his fellow Republican Party attorneys-general in a lawsuit over Democratic Party member Obama’s immigration policies, and he has sued the administration over the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform.

The energy and mining sectors will find allies in other key appointments by Republican Party president-elect Trump.

The nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is the former ceo of oil giant Exxon Mobil. And commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross was the architect behind International Steel Group. He sold the company to leading global steelmaker ArcelorMittal for $4.5 billion in 2004, netting $260 million for investors.

The president-elect has lambasted Obama’s “war on coal” and has promised to resurrect the US domestic coal industry. Although he did not specifically address the mining industry beyond coal, the selections for Trump’s cabinet seem to hint that relaxed regulation and less-intrusive federal oversight are on the horizon.

But any market participants who expect immediate relief will be disappointed, as Obama’s signature climate bill, the Clean Power Plan, is being litigated in the DC Court of Appeals.

The bill is intended to reduce the USA’s dependency on coal and other greenhouse gases, and would have a broad effect on the mining industry. If repealed, it would reduce the amount of environmental regulation on the mining sector.

The plan is intended to lower the amount of domestic US energy derived from coal to 27% by 2030. But even without the plan being fully implemented, the hoped-for decrease has already begun due to the rapid shift to natural gas, which now powers 34% of all US electrical consumption.

Mining equipment manufacturers are also hopeful of better trading under Trump’s men.

They have been mired in a slump for the past five years, the result of a Chinese economic downturn that pushed commodity prices and mine expansion to a multi-year low. Easing restrictions on new mines, fracking or any other energy-related prospect would benefit the entire supply chain, aiding the manufacturing, blue-collar power base that Trump inspired in his historic presidential campaign.

Additionally, Trump’s proposed infrastructure investment and support for the Keystone XL pipeline would increase the domestic US need for equipment, raw materials and labour.

Trump, tempestuous as ever through the days leading up to his inauguration, has generated uncertainty about the direction in which he will push his administration.

But when the dust settles and his cabinet nominees are approved, it is clear that the industry will have friends in high places.