Presidential Candidate Renewable Energy Policies

September 25, 2016

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A recent study out of Harvard concludes that press coverage of the ongoing presidential campaign rarely includes policy specifics. Yet college-age voters report very high support for action on climate change, and policies to promote renewable energy development are one of the key tools for addressing climate change. To address the reporting deficit, I submit these summaries of the four candidates’ positions on renewable energy development for everyone’s consideration.

Hillary Clinton (Democratic Party)

Hillary Clinton is a politician with a consistently demonstrated preference for incrementalism. Her campaign materials, consistent with the Democratic Party Platform, state that she believes that climate change is a major threat; that the United States should act consistent with its INDC commitments under the Paris Agreement, and that a cornerstone of that commitment is a transition to a “clean energy economy.” According to the Clinton campaign, this means:

  • Generating “enough renewable energy to power every home in America,” meaning deploying an additional 120 GW (cumulative 140 GW) solar power by 2021 (a seven-fold increase, and double current forecasts); achieving a 33% national renewable energy portfolio by 2027; and implementing the Clean Power Plan.
  • Reducing energy used by U.S. buildings by one third, meaning tightening building codes, adopting appliance standards, and funding efficiency renovations.
  • Reducing U.S. oil consumption by one third with cleaner fuels and efficiency gains, meaning imposing higher corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE) for light- and heavy-duty vehicles, and investing in renewable fuel R&D.

A key part of Clinton’s plan is to induce these activities at the state and local level using $60 billion of competitive federal block grants – a program called the Clean Energy Challenge – as well as direct spending on infrastructure by the federal government. She argues that there is enough Republican support for this kind of spending to get a bill through Congress. However, Clinton also supports domestic natural gas exploration and production, and has declined to support a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Like other Democrats, she does not support significantly expanded domestic oil or coal production or use.

Jill Stein (Green Party of the United States)

The GPUS candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, takes more aspirational positions but provides fewer details. Action to fight climate change and transition to renewable energy is a fundamental platform of the entire party. The “Green New Deal,” similar to other proposals that carry the same title, proposes to:

  • Provide a suite of government support to (undefined) green industries;
  • Direct an unspecified amount of government money to renewable energy technology development and deployment (Jill Stein does not support biomass, and so these funds appear to be solely proposed for wind, solar, and geothermal development);
  • Shut down the fossil fuel industries (coal, oil, natural gas) to the extent possible; and
  • Enact a full employment program to put at least 16 million people to work retrofitting buildings, building mass transit and regional food systems, and (undefined) clean manufacturing facilities.

Dr. Stein has claimed that the full employment plan would entail first-year direct government spending of about $700 billion, which she would pay for via a 30% reduction in the defense budget, and tax reforms. I was not able to find an independent review of these claims. Dr. Stein has offered no explanation of how she would gain Congressional support for this initiative, or act without such support.

Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party)

Carbon emissions reduction strategies are controversial among libertarians, as is government support of renewable energy. The Libertarian Party platform states: “government should not be subsidizing any particular form of energy. We oppose all government control of energy pricing, allocation, and production.” Gary Johnson has expressed consistent opposition to cap-and-trade. Although he very recently voiced support for a carbon tax, he walked that back in the face of party criticism. He appears to support oil, gas, coal, and nuclear, as market favorites.

Donald Trump (Republican Party)

Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He has spoken strongly in favor of all domestic fossil energy development. He has also often stated his skepticism of the viability of renewable energy technologies, particularly wind and solar. He has offered no proposals for supporting the development of renewable energy resources. He has stated that he will “cancel” the Paris Agreement and, by implication, implementation of the Clean Power Plan. He has also threatened to abolish the EPA, though recently he has clarified that he will “refocus” it. It appears that he is considering appointing an oil executive to the Department of Interior, consistent with opening federal lands and offshore resources to oil and gas production. Although difficult to predict with certainty, it seems likely that a Trump administration would halt or, if possible, reverse, most of President Obama’s energy policy initiatives, cut funding to agencies engaged in climate and renewable energy research and development, halt relevant rulemakings and weaken enforcement of completed rules.

In any event, the Republican Party Platform makes clear that a Republican administration would offer little or no government support to the renewable energy industries. “We encourage the cost-effective development of renewable energy sources — wind, solar, biomass, biofuel, geothermal, and tidal energy — by private capital.”

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Adam Orford

Energy & Resources Group, Goldman School of Public Policy (MPP/MA 2018)

Columbia Law School (J.D. 2006)