Interior secretary: SpaceX wouldn’t be building rockets if it were regulated!

PRINCETON, NJ—Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has in his time as a Navy SEAL—and he wants to keep them far away from your family. “I don’t want your kids to ever see what I’ve seen,” he told a dimly lit ballroom of offshore wind energy executives at a Westin Hotel in Princeton this morning.

Zinke, sounding for a moment more like a left-leaning “no wars for oil” protestor than a Republican cabinet member, argued that producing energy in America was a moral imperative. Being held hostage by foreign energy—and being led into wars driven by that energy—was . Thus, the Trump administration strives for “energy dominance,” with an “all of the above” approach to energy production. Zinke was here to show that, despite the rhetoric about coal and oil, the Trump administration could be a friend to renewable energy producers.

“Let’s make American energy great again!” Zinke called out.

The question, of course, is how to do that, and Zinke had an answer. The energy business needs to look more like… SpaceX.

Can you believe these hats?

Zinke had recently toured SpaceX, and he couldn’t conceal his awe at what the company was doing. When he visited the factory floor, Zinke saw a non-traditional work environment: music was playing, workers were sporting “flat-brimmed hats” (“Personally, I don’t like them”), the average age was 28, and the excitement was unbelievable. And yet, despite the hats and the youth and the music, the company was actually launching rockets!

To Zinke, this is proof that limited regulation leads to more innovation.

“We’re just not very good at incorporating innovation” into our regulatory scheme, he said. If SpaceX were regulated, “they wouldn’t be building those rockets.”

(Of course, SpaceX faces many regulations. The company has lobbied the Trump administration to have them reduced, saying in 2017 that “it requires heroics” to alter a rocket launch license, among other things.)

Thus, “reducing the regulatory burden” is a key part of the Trump administration’s agenda for Zinke. But the interior secretary, speaking to a room of true believers in wind power, made clear that this doesn’t mean ignoring the environment completely.

“We have the best environmental regulations in the world,” he said, adding that if people doubted the of good regulation, they could join him in touring energy production facilities in other parts of the world. “Energy dominance does not mean skirting environmental stewardship,” he said. “It does not.”

More room for wind farms

What energy dominance mean is an “all of the above” approach to production (a phrase the Obama administration used, too). Well, maybe not so much through huge solar installations, which require “an enormous amount of acreage” and reduce land to a single use, eliminating the ability to hunt, to fish, to recreate, and (in fourth place) to secure animal habitats. The “best place for solar is on the roof of a house,” Zinke said, where it doesn’t affect things like “hunting.”

All of that is good news for wind. “Wind has a unique opportunity” in the US due to our abundant ocean coastlines, Zinke said. “Wind has the greatest opportunity for growth.”

Of course, offshore wind can create some problems for fishing vessels, and “the fisherman’s voice matters, certainly to myself and certainly to the President,” but the US can learn to do offshore wind right by looking to (and learning from) those who have done it before us, such as our European allies. To that end, and in support of an “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” Zinke announced that Interior is opening up another 390,000 acres off the coast of Massachusetts for lease to wind power companies.

(While significant, this increase pales in comparison to the 77.3 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico opened to oil and gas drilling in March.)

As a set of ideas, the speech didn’t quite come together. On offshore wind, we should follow the example of high-regulation western European states that have produced innovative results in defiance of Zinke’s own thesis? SpaceX, which complains about being over-regulated, has succeeded due to the fact that it’s not regulated? We have the best environmental regulations in the world, so the EPA is gutting many of them?

Zinke didn’t attempt to clarify such questions, as his talk was more a collection of stump speech moments than a considered set of policy statements.

Still, simply showing up to an event like this, saying positive things about environmental stewardship and wind power, was at least a sign that the Trump administration is not opposed to renewable energy—and Zinke says that his department plans to open significantly more water along the Eastern seaboard soon. Hopefully, the turbines placed there can someday be built by 28-year olds in ball caps.

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