Thursday, June 22, 2017

My thoughts on President Trump's suggested solar border wall with Mexico.

The end of the border fence near Tijuana, Mexico. James Reyes/Public Domain

I'm going to skip the normal format for this one and comment on a proposal that President Trump made. As a new way to pay for the wall, Trump has suggested that we line the wall with solar panels. The theory is that the energy produced by the solar panels would pay for the wall and, assuming Mexico buys our energy, it would fulfill Trump's campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall. 

I think it's an interesting idea to say the least. It has some very obvious upsides. The first advantage is political. If the Democrats try to shut this down or criticize it Trump can hit them on environmental grounds. He can basically say that if the Democrats are in support of the environment and combating global warming they have to support the wall. Given the absolute hysteria on the left after Trump left the Paris environmental accords, it would look incredibly hypocritical for them to oppose this proposal. 

This creates an obvious split between two Democratic party coalition members, environmentalists and immigration advocates. The idea is that the two groups will come to metaphorical blows over the plan. Obviously, the environmentalists will support clean energy and the immigration advocates will oppose any wall on the border.

Will it work out that way? I am not sure. Despite Trump trying to make an obvious gesture to environmentalists, I doubt they will go along with it. Most of them hate Trump and would oppose him even if he caved on every single environmental issue and oppose him on principal alone. Others will notice the same thing I did and will be opposed to it just because they don't want to fight the immigration block, which probably has some crossover as well. Plus, they have tried to block border walls/fences before due to environmental impact on endangered species.

Either way though it gives President Trump a good way to bludgeon the left. He can rightly claim that the Democratic Party both hates him and the wall so much that they won't even compromise on a plan that could help the environment. Even if it only pulls away a few Democratic voters it might still help. It also damages their claims that global warming is important if they won't even support a plan that could reduce our reliance on dirty energy. 

Economically the idea makes sense as well. Turning the wall into a money maker could reduce the costs of construction and maintenance. One of the major criticisms of the wall is the high initial cost of the project and the fact that it will require maintenance. So far efforts to get Mexico to pay for the wall have failed, largely because Trump hasn't decided to tax remittances, the money orders people send to Mexico. Doing this will help defray the costs and if we sell the energy to Mexico, they will "pay" for it... kinda. It also has the added benefit of not completely destroying the Mexican economy, which taxing remittances would do. 

There are obvious job benefits as well. Making the wall in general will create shovel ready jobs, but using solar power will also help US companies specializing in solar energy. It wouldn't be a huge increase, but it would add a few jobs to the US economy. And because the solar panels will need maintenance and someone to manage the power, some of those jobs won't go away after the wall is finished. 

It also gives the wall some insurance. The great fear among supporters of the wall is that as soon as a Democrat wins either the White House or Congress, they could tear it down. Getting rid of an energy source that provides jobs and perhaps even makes money creates a much higher cost in doing so than just a border wall. I am guessing that a solar wall would be popular as well, so getting rid of it would have a large political cost. The Democrats might do so anyways but it would cost them more support than it would with a normal wall.

So will the solar wall happen? Unfortunately it's not up to Donald Trump. Right now he has to convince Congress to pay for the initial construction of the wall and that has been like herding cats. Right now the Republicans in the House and Senate are more focused on health care and the Democrats in Congress... well the less said about their "muh Russia" witch hunt the better. 

Still, I think this is a great idea and a huge win for the Republican Party if they can pull it off. Doing so would greatly please the Republican base, who have wanted more effective borders for a very long time and have been infuriated by the lack of action on the issue. It would also greatly blunt Democratic criticism of the wall and make them look like hypocrites, either on the environment or on immigration. It's a win win for Republicans so I can't imagine that they aren't, at the very least, taking the proposal seriously. 

No comments:

Post a Comment