The American Energy Superpower

Why Dominance Is About More Than Just Production

A pump jack near Bakersfield, California, October 2014.  Lucy Nicholson / REUTERS

For the Donald Trump White House, last week’s “Energy Week” was an opportunity to highlight, through a series of events and speeches, its goal of “energy dominance.” By this administration’s reckoning, ramping up production and exports—particularly of oil, gas, and coal—can make the United States an energy superpower. To an extent, it is right. The shift from energy scarcity to abundance over the past decade has already bolstered the United States economically and geopolitically. But such a search for dominance ignores the interdependent nature of today’s global energy market. And in any event, true dominance comes not just from energy supply. U.S. energy strength also depends on investing in tomorrow’s new energy technologies, maintaining its leadership role in global energy cooperation, increasing its resilience to market swings, and protecting the environment


Ever since U.S. President Richard Nixon launched “Project Independence”—a strategy to make the United States energy self-sufficient by 1980—in the middle of the Arab Oil Embargo, political leaders from both parties have embraced energy independence as the ultimate objective of U.S. energy policy. Although it is a catchy slogan, the concept ignores that the oil market is global, so a supply disruption anywhere will affect prices in the United States, even if the United States imports no oil whatsoever.

“Energy dominance” is an evolution of this theme. The phrase was first coined on the campaign trail, when candidate Trump made clear that “American energy dominance will be declared a strategic, economic, and foreign policy goal of the United States.” Key Trump administration officials, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, later adopted the idea. 

The concept is still murky at best, but the administration has nonetheless rhetorically focused on the benefits of more U.S. energy production and exports—especially oil, gas, and coal—as Trump did in his remarks last week. Administration officials also emphasized the potential of nuclear power, which—as a zero-carbon energy source—

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