As the presidential election season enters its final, frenzied phase, it has become readily apparent that which of the two candidates is elected as the new the President of the United States on November 8 will have a monumental impact on the nation’s energy future. Although Democrats and Republicans traditionally differ on their energy views, policy experts have stated that the sharp disconnect between Hilary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s competing plans concerning energy and climate change is nothing short of historic.
Clinton’s energy plan prioritizes investing in and incentivizing renewable-energy technology to help create jobs and transition the United States to a lower-carbon economy. Trump, meanwhile, calls Clinton and her energy plan extremist, and his “America First” energy plan focuses primarily on the country’s energy independence and growth in fossil fuel production and use.
Clinton’s energy plan aims to reduce coal use by cutting fossil fuel emissions by up to 30% by 2025 and putting the nation on a path to cut emissions more than 80% by 2050, consistent with the terms of the Paris Agreement, an international climate agreement ratified by over 60 countries. Clinton intends to defend President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, arguably the most significant energy regulation to date and one that focuses on reducing carbon pollution from sources such as coal and strengthening the transition to clean energy.
Clinton has publically stated, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” a comment that angered and alienated many in the coal industry. While including a stated plan to reduce fossil fuel reliance, Clinton’s energy plan also includes a $30 billion initiative to invest in the economic diversification of former coal-mining towns. This initiative would support long-term healthcare for retired coal miners, help coal workers find jobs in emerging industries such as renewable energy, and work to redevelop former coal-mine sites for new uses. This initiative would be financed with unappropriated resources from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.
Trump’s energy plan, meanwhile, involves eliminating regulation that impacts the growth of the coal industry. Trump supports ramping up fossil-fuel production and use as a way to assist in job growth and lead to a resurgence in American manufacturing. Trump has stressed his plans to pull out of the Paris Agreement and roll back emissions-reduction targets. His campaign supports deregulating fossil fuels such as coal, and he has pointed to data indicating that lifting federal regulations on American energy production will amount to a $700 billion increase in annual economic output.
He has vowed to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, rescind the Waters of the U.S. Rule (also known as the Clean Water Rule) that clarifies which waters and wetlands would fall under federal protection, revoke the more stringent 2015 ozone standards, and streamline permitting for energy projects. When faced with questions concerning the impact fossil fuels such as coal have on climate change, Trump has stated that climate change is a hoax and that is he is supportive of rational environmental concerns but not at the expense of decreasing the nation’s fossil fuel production.
It is no secret that coal production has fallen sharply over the past decade, and the loss of coal mining jobs has devastated the economies and communities of many Appalachian and Rust belt states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania. In West Virginia, for instance, approximately 16,000 people directly work in the coal industry, which produces $7 billion in sales and pays several hundred millions dollars to the state annually in taxes. However, the number of people directly employed for coal mining in West Virginia has been on the decline for years, and mining employment there fell 25 percent between 2014 and 2015. Mining-heavy states such as West Virginia are battlegrounds that Trump hopes to win over in November with his plans for coal. Despite inclusion of Clinton’s coal-mining initiative, many coal miners are expressing anger at her plan and hanging on to Trump as the only hope they have as their livelihood continues to be threatened.
Oil and Natural Gas
Clinton’s energy plan includes promises to cut oil and gas subsidies. Clinton opposes Arctic drilling and is skeptical about oil production off the southeastern Atlantic coast. She opposes construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a proposed $8 billion oil pipeline that would bring crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas, reasoning that the project distracts from U.S. efforts to combat climate change.
Meanwhile, Trump’s plan would lift most restrictions on oil and gas companies and allow them to drill in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. He intends to revoke policies that place restrictions on new drilling zones, including in the Arctic and the Atlantic coast. Trump’s campaign described Obama’s decision to close the Atlantic reserves to drilling as a “job-killing” policy, and Trump has committed to lifting moratoriums on energy production in federal areas within the first 100 days of taking office.
Trump has spoken out against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for fining energy companies in North Dakota, and he has stated that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abused the federal Endangered Species Act by restricting oil and gas exploration. Trump has indicated that he will ask Trans Canada to renew its permit application to build the pipeline within the first 100 days of being President and claims the pipeline would create 42,000 jobs.
Clinton has touted domestically produced natural gas as playing an important role in the transition to a clean energy economy. Clinton supports hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” but she emphasizes the importance of creating new standards and safeguards to make fracking safer and less environmentally destructive and supports the rights of localities to ban it. Taking a similar approach, Trump is committed to the use of natural gas and supports fracking, although he has also stated that states and municipalities should be allowed to ban the drilling practice.
Clinton’s energy plan focuses primarily on one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the U.S. economy: renewable energy. Clinton’s campaign has the stated goal of generating half of the U.S.’s electricity from renewable resources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric by the end of her first term as President and growing renewable energy use in such a way that it powers 100 percent of American homes by 2027. Her strategies for accomplishing this include investing in clean-energy research and installing 500 million solar panels by the end of her first term as President. She plans to launch a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to partner with local municipalities to cut carbon pollution and expand clean-energy technology to lower-income families. She aims to increase solar capacity to 140 gigawatts by the end of 2020, a 700 percent increase from current levels, by offering grants, market-based incentives, and prizes for communities that aid in the growth.
Trump, on the other hand, has repeatedly bashed renewable energy sources. He has stated that green energy is behind the times, that solar energy is an unproven technology, and that wind turbines are responsible for the destruction of shorelines (a distaste for wind originating, some have speculated, from Trump’s lost legal battle against an off-shore wind development project near one of his golf resorts in Scotland).
These contrasting positions on renewable energy underscore the unprecedented divide between the two Presidential candidates on issues of energy and climate. Given the enormous gulf between Clinton’s and Trump’s policies, the trajectory of the nation’s energy future is truly in the hands of the American voters.
A similar version of this article appeared in the October issue of Coal Age Magazine.