With just over 70 days left until the general election, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offer voters two very different visions for the country’s energy agenda and the future of renewables. In many ways, the candidates’ energy platforms are a microcosm of their larger strategies, with Mrs. Clinton focused on expanding initiatives forged during President Obama’s tenure, and Mr. Trump hewing to an earlier era of traditional sources.
In energy policy, as with nearly every issue in this election, there is little if any overlap in the candidates’ philosophies—meaning there is little ambiguity about where the industry will head on each candidate’s watch.
Trump’s energy agenda is largely defined by his stated commitment to rolling back clean energy initiatives established over the past eight years. He has promised to:
- Rescind all of President Obama’s executive actions, including the Climate Action Plan, a series of regulatory actions taken by the U.S. EPA to reduce carbon emissions.
- Cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs. In April 2016, 196 nations, including the U.S., signed the Paris Agreement. President Obama is expected to ratify the agreement before he leaves office.
- Lift other unspecified “restrictions on American energy”, which Mr. Trump claims will increase the U.S. GDP annually by $100 billion and create 500,000 jobs over the next seven years.
His position on clean energy is clear:
- “There has been a big push to develop alternative forms of energy—so-called green energy—from renewable sources. That’s a big mistake. To begin with, the whole push for renewable energy is being driven by the wrong motivation, the mistaken belief that global climate change is being caused by carbon emissions. If you don’t buy that—and I don’t—then what we have is really just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves.”
- He has characterized solar energy as an “unproven technology” with low return on investment, and has stated that wind energy is “destroying shorelines all over the world” and is a “very, very poor source of energy.”
And he is equally straightforward in his support for traditional energy sources.
- Coal is a major focus of Mr. Trump’s platform. He has stated his commitment to “save the coal industry,” which has seen significant fall-of in production and jobs as a result of natural gas extraction by fracking and strict air pollution regulations enacted under the Obama administration. Mr. Trump has promised to repeal these regulations.
- If elected, his administration will ask Trans Canada to renew its permit application for the Keystone Pipeline. In November 2015, the Obama administration rejected the fourth phase of this project, the Keystone XL.
- He has stated his support for more domestic excavation, specifically in the Outer Continental Shelf, for oil and gas. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are currently developing a five-year proposal to guide extraction between 2017-2022. Mr. Trump would presumably accelerate this process.
Hillary Clinton offers a very different vision for U.S. energy policy. Her intention is to make, “America the clean energy superpower of the world.” In order to do this, she has announced the following goals:
- Installing 500 million solar panels across the country by the end of her first term and increasing U.S. solar production to 140 gigawatts by 2020. According to her campaign, this is an increase of 700% from current levels.
- Generating enough renewable energy to power “every home in America” within 10 years.
- Cutting energy waste in homes, schools, hospitals and offices by a third.
- Reducing American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.
Her campaign has announced a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to expand renewables production that includes:
- Transitioning communities that have relied on traditional energy production for jobs, such as coal mining, to producers of renewables technology.
- Implementing and expanding clean energy standards, including the Clean Power Plan, emissions standards for automobiles and appliances.
- Lowering emissions standards nationally as a means of implementing the Paris Climate Agreement. Mrs. Clinton’s stated goal is to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent in 2025 relative to 2005 levels, with the longer-term goal of cutting emissions more than 80 percent by 2050.
- Easing regulations to allow clean energy leasing and production on public lands.
Cutting subsidies currently given to oil and tax companies.
Fracking is the one area where we see overlap between the two candidates. Mr. Trump is a long-time supporter of fracking, saying on Twitter in 2012 that it will “lead to America energy independence.” But earlier this month in an interview with a local television station in Denver, he spoke out in support of local autonomy on the issue, saying that while the country needs fracking, “if a municipality or state wants to ban fracking, I can understand that.”
Mrs. Clinton is also a long-time supporter of fracking; during her tenure as secretary of state, her special envoy for international affairs launched the Global Shale Gas Initiative. Since leaving office, she has continued to support fracking while calling for “smart regulations” in speeches and her book Hard Choices. Her position has become somewhat more nuanced on the campaign trail, highlighting regulations and local input:
“I don’t support it when any locality or any state is against it, No. 1. I don’t support it [No. 2] when the release of methane or contamination of water is present. I don’t support it — No. 3 — unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using.”
While issues like immigration and foreign policy have taken up much more airtime in this election, anyone involved with the energy industry—as a consumer, a utility or a business owner—knows that this election will have very real ramifications on how we keep the lights on. With just two months to go until the vote, our nation’s energy future is coming right down to the (electrical) wire.
Andy Beck is Executive Vice President of Makovsky’s energy, manufacturing and sustainability practice, and general manager of Makovsky’s Washington, D.C. office. Previously, Andy served as the Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Energy.