Trump praised for energy policies, criticized for trade tariffs at Tri-Cities summit

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The Trump administration has prioritized innovation over regulation, placing the nation in an era of energy abundance and choice, said a high ranking Department of Energy official in the Tri-Cities on Tuesday.

Mark Menezes, the under secretary of energy, is DOE’s principal adviser on energy policy and a wide array of existing and emerging technology. It was his first visit to the Tri-Cities area.

He talked about the Trump administration’s success in a range of energy fields and the importance of being the world leader in nuclear energy.

He spoke Tuesday at the Association of Washington Business (AWB) 2019 Federal Affairs Summit. The summit was held at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

“We are an ‘all of the above’ administration, and we have seen great improvements over the last two years in renewable energy growth,” said Menezes.

Solar generation has expanded 85 percent, and wind generation has expanded more than 20 percent.

For the first time this year wind generation will exceed hydropower in the nation, he said.

“We are producing energy from more types of fuel, more affordably and more efficiently than ever,” he told the gathering.

Mark Menezes

The United States is exporting liquefied natural gas to 36 nations.

“Today rather than being dependent on OPEC nations, we are their economic competitor,” he said.

Advancements have come as the nation has had the largest reduction in harmful emissions ever recorded, he said.

Nuclear’s clean energy role

The Trump administration is also bullish on nuclear power, Menezes said.

Nuclear energy can provide reliable baseload — or constant energy generation around the clock — while being the largest source of emission-free generation in the country, he said.

The Columbia Generating Station near Richland, the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power plant, is likely to play a key role as the state of Washington’s new clean electric system requirements take effect.

By 2045 the state will require 100 percent clean electric system.

Columbia Generating file.JPG
Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station north of Richland. Tri-City Herald file

Energy Northwest already is talking about applying to extend the 1983 license of its nuclear power plant for a second time, after being granted a 20-year license extension to 2043.

The Tri-City area also could play a role in developing the next generation of nuclear power and helping maintain the nation’s global leadership in nuclear energy, rather than allowing other nations without nonproliferation restrictions to take the lead, Menezes said.

Among DOE’s interests is small modular nuclear reactors and working with the military on microreactors, he said.

DOE is committed to using taxpayer dollars for breakthrough technologies that are too costly or too high risk for the private sector to develop on their own, he said.

Cantwell on tariffs

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., also addressed the summit, talking about the importance of reaching the 95 percent of consumers outside the United States with U.S. goods.

For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population is middle class, she said.

“Opening up markets should be an opportunity,” she said. “I definitely differ with the president’s approach, which I quantify as a ‘tariffs first’ approach to trade,” she said.

Maria Cantwel

She’s not just beating up on the policies of a president from the opposing party, she said, giving an example from the Obama administration.

Previously a 31 percent tariff was placed on Chinese solar panels because China had been dumping panels at below cost in the U.S. market.

China responded by imposing a retaliatory tariff on polysilicon, shutting U.S. manufacturers out of the world’s largest polysilicon market.

Seven years after that dispute started, 500 highly skilled workers at the REC Silicon plant in Moses Lake have been laid off and production has either slowed or stopped, she said.

China’s explosive rise was a shock to the global trading system. For decades, Western economies like the United States have struggled with the growth of this economic powerhouse.

“It just shows you that those kind of trade wars started by tariffs don’t necessarily get us the results, or get us the results in a timely fashion, and can cause a lot of damage to communities and workers,” she said.

China’s current retaliatory tariffs are costing Washington companies $367 million in lost sales, she said. China’s agriculture imports have dropped substantially, she said.

With Trump proposing another 10 percent tariff, China has threatened to halt import of U.S. agriculture products altogether.

A different and more effective approach to trade enforcement is critical to defend Washington’s thriving export economy against unfair trade practices by other nations, she said.

The United States should be working with allies in Europe and Japan to stop China from stealing intellectual property and to give fair market access to American companies, she said.

“China will never be able to be a partner in information age economy if they don’t respect property rights,” she said.

Other tools that the nation can use in growing its trade opportunities include providing resources for trade rule enforcement and credit assistant to open up markets through the Export-Import Bank, she said.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.