A cornerstone of the Obama administration’s energy policy was a very open war on fossil fuels. Coal was the most prominent target, but oil and natural gas were not far behind. While taking credit for declining oil and gas prices largely driven by increased supply resulting from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and directional drilling, the administration did all in its power to hamstring these methods of extracting oil and gas. Its instrument of choice was the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which used rules of questionable legality to burden energy producers. The Obama administration also opposed the Keystone XL pipeline intended to transport oil from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast as well as the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Things have certainly changed under President Trump. Shortly after his inauguration, the new president signed executive orders aimed at reviving both pipelines and expediting environmental reviews of other infrastructure projects. Claiming that “the regulatory process in this country has become a tangled-up mess,” he criticized the “incredibly cumbersome, long, horrible permitting process” for oil and gas.
The Obama administration’s justification for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline was a masterpiece of dissembling and obfuscation. According to the administration, the decision was driven primarily by concerns about “global warming.” The administration also downplayed the number of jobs that Keystone would create.
These justifications for rejecting Keystone help to explain Trump’s electoral victory in 2016. The Democratic Party once claimed to be the party of the working class. Unions have traditionally been the party’s most important constituency. But with its Keystone decision, the Obama administration made it clear that the Democratic Party put the concerns of bi-coastal “environmentalists” over the interests of workers, many of whom defected to Trump, helping him to win such reliably Democratic states as Pennsylvania and even Michigan.