Washington Week

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Trump vs. Clinton: Energy

By Jenna Goff and Joan Greve
Washington Week Fellows


Is climate change real? Or is it a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to harm American industry? This was one of the many questions addressed at Monday’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But the candidates quickly moved on from climate change to other topics--such as taxes, racial justice and temperament.

Washington Week is picking up where the debate left off on the question of climate change. Where do Trump and Clinton stand on issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on oil? This week, we dive into their stances on energy:


Climate Change

Clinton and Trump remain split over the most critical question of climate change: its existence. During Monday’s debate, Clinton slammed Trump for dismissing climate change as a “hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.”

The Republican nominee denied having made the claim, but a 2012 tweet from Trump resurfaced and quickly verified Clinton’s attack. Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway clarified on Tuesday that the nominee considers climate change to be naturally occurring and “doesn't believe it's man-made.”

Clinton has, conversely, cited climate change as one of the most pressing issues of this presidential campaign, calling it “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.” After critiquing Trump’s previous views on climate change during Monday’s debate, Clinton went on to say, “I think it’s real. I think science is real. And I think it’s important that we grip this and deal with it, both at home and abroad.”


Coal Industry

Clinton has been somewhat mistrusted by the coal industry since a March town hall, when she said about the development of clean energy, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Clinton apologized for the comment in May, characterizing it as a “misstatement,” but it continues to nag her in coal-reliant communities.

In her platform’s fact sheet on coal, Clinton made an overture to those coal miners by acknowledging their role in the industrial revolution and “the 20th century expansion of the middle class.” But the Democratic nominee then segued to the declining significance of coal in America’s energy plan and repeated her commitment to developing clean energy alternatives. Instead of promising a resurgence of coal, Clinton pledged $30 billion “to ensure that coal miners and their families get the benefits they’ve earned and respect they deserve.” The money would go towards, among other initiatives, healthcare benefits and job training.

But Trump has promised to return America’s coal country to earlier glory days. He told a Pittsburgh audience in September, “The shale energy revolution will unleash massive wealth for America...And we will end the war on coal and the war on miners.” Trump also said that he “will scrap the Clean Power Plan” in order to ensure prosperity for more traditional sources of energy.

His platform promises a re-examination of both the Clean Power Plan from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior’s strict regulations on coal mining permits. But some environmental scientists and activists have slammed Trump’s plan as disconnected from reality, as clean energy alternatives grow in prominence.


Clean Energy

In addition to Trump’s campaign promise to pursue a “targeted review” of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce emissions from power plants, he has also stated his commitment to “an ‘all of the above’ energy plan that would encourage, not discourage, the use of natural gas.”

The Republican nominee also criticized the government’s past involvement with clean energy during Monday’s debate, when he called the bankruptcy of the solar energy company Solyndra a “disaster.” Solyndra received federal funding to pursue solar energy before going bankrupt in 2011, but solar energy companies have been quite successful since then. As Fortune reported, such companies now employ more people than Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook combined.

Clinton has made the further development of clean energy a central tenet of her climate change plan. The Democratic nominee has proposed “making America the world’s clean energy superpower” by investing $60 billion in advancing clean energy alternatives. Clinton has also ambitiously promised “more than half a billion solar panels installed across the country by the end of [her] first term” and that every American home will be powered with clean energy by 2027.


Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Under Trump, regulations on greenhouse gas emissions would be all but eliminated. He stated in May that as president, he would “rescind” EPA regulations imposed under President Obama within his first 100 days. Trump believes that curbing planet-warming emissions kill the oil, gas and coal industries and cost Americans “trillions” of dollars in taxes.

Trump additionally wants to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement, a part of which included a pledge of 190 nations to reduce harmful emissions. By terminating this agreement and stopping US funds to UN global warming partners, developing countries would lack the financial aid necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Clinton, on the other hand, has made cutting greenhouse gas emissions a central part of her climate change plan. She wants to put the US on track to cut emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. To do so, she has proposed a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to reduce carbon pollutions in particular. This plan would offer “competitive grants and other market-based incentives to empower states to exceed federal carbon pollution standards and accelerate clean energy deployment.” She has, however, avoided mention of putting a tax on carbon emissions.


Reliance on oil

Despite the fact that Clinton has raised more money than Trump from the oil and gas industry this campaign season, she says she’ll reduce American oil consumption by a third if elected president. To do so, she plans on investing in cleaner fuels and more efficient “cars, boilers, ships and trucks.” She will set standards for appliances to run on clean fuel that helps clean the air and fight climate change.

To reduce the influence of oil and gas companies, Clinton will cut their tax subsidies so that the country can invest in cleaner forms of energy, such as natural gas. At a primary debate in February, she pointed to her track record in doing so, saying that she had been pushing for a cutback of oil tax subsidies since her time as Senator.

Yet in spite of Clinton’s stance against investing in oil and projects such as the Keystone Pipeline, her opposition to fracking (the controversial practice of recovering oil and gas from shale rock) is less strong. She supported fracking as Secretary of State, although she called for “smart regulations” on the practice. Her current stance is similar, if slightly stronger. At a primary debate in Flint, Michigan, Clinton said that she would not support fracking if any state was against it, if methane release and/or water contamination was present, and if anyone fracking did not disclose what chemicals they were using. “So by the time we get through all of my conditions,” she said, “I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”

Trump’s stance on fracking is not completely dissimilar. He has come out in support of the practice, but agrees with Clinton that towns and states should be allowed to ban it. "I'm in favor of fracking, but I think that voters should have a big say in it,” he told a Colorado TV station in late July. “I mean, there's some areas, maybe, that don't want to have fracking, and I think if the voters are voting for it that's up to them."

However, the Republican nominee’s opinions on other oil issues vary greatly from Clinton’s. While he wants to reduce the leverage of foreign oil companies, he does not wish to decrease the reliance on oil overall. Trump wants to tap into American oil reserves, believing that “America has 1.5 times as much oil as the combined proven resources of all OPEC countries.” He has expressed that doing so will create more revenue and jobs, and take power out of the hands of ISIS. Trump supports projects such as the Keystone Pipeline and new drilling technologies.