Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump remain silent on the Dakota Access pipeline that the Obama Administration paused on Friday. But the two leading Presidential nominees have said enough on energy policy to make clear their polar opposition on how to power America through the 21st century:
The two major-party presidential candidates have staked out nearly opposite positions — Trump’s based on fossil fuels, Clinton’s on renewable power.
Trump vows to expand drilling for oil and natural gas, both onshore and off. He wants to end America’s dependence on OPEC and rescue the failing coal industry, which he says has been strangled by President Obama. His stances largely match the energy priorities pushed by the Republican Party for the last eight years.
Democrat Clinton, meanwhile, pledges to turn the United States into the world’s “clean energy superpower,” installing 500 million solar panels nationwide during her first term. She wants to kill subsidies to oil and gas companies, cut America’s use of petroleum by one third and upgrade the electric grid to handle more wind, solar and geothermal power [David R. Baker, “Clinton and Trump Polar Opposites on Global Warming and Energy,” San Francisco Chronicle, 2016.09.10].
Tufts University economist Gilbert Metcalf estimates that eliminating the $4 billion annual oil and gas subsidies would have minimal effect on the production and consumption of fossil fuels… which suggests that Big Oil does not need our help. Clinton’s Climate Issues page says she would redirect that funding to investments in clean energy.
Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” doesn’t say how he would “save the coal industry,” but we may assume from his rhetoric (“we have three times more coal than Russia“*) the plan is likely a Palinesque id-cry of “Burn, baby, burn!” Clinton lays out details on her intent to protect retirement benefits for coal miners, reform the black lung benefit program, establish a stopgap funding program to make up for loss of coal-related revenue in mining-area school districts, build infrastructure (including broadband!) to support economic diversification and revitalization in coal communities, fund reclamation of mining sites and repurposing of power plant sites for new industries, and expand clean energy projects to put displaced miners back to work.
In related news, Alan Guebert’s Farm File column this weekend looks at the latest Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity report from the United Nations Environment Programme:
Growth of global material use has accelerated over the past four decades, while economic growth and population growth have been slowing. Overall, the global economy expanded more than threefold over the four decades since 1970, population almost doubled and global material extraction tripled [Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity, United Nations Environment Programme, 2016].
There’s only so much stuff we can dig up and burn. The UNEP report says we have 188 years of coal left—1,318 billion tons. When I wrote about the need for conservation in 2009, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated we had 134 years of coal left; now EIA says total global recoverable reserves are around 110 years, 978 billion tons.
Coal is not renewable. Wind and solar, cornerstones of Clinton’s plan, are. Trump’s “plan” fattens today’s energy corporations while leaving future generations in the dark. Clinton’s plan points us toward sustainable energy consumption.
*Bonus Trump Flub! The World Energy Council says the U.S. produces 3.3 times more coal than Russia each year. However, if we’re talking how much coal each country has, EIA says the U.S. holds the biggest chunk of global recoverable coal reserves, 26%. Russia has the next biggest chunk, 18%. 26% divided by 18% is 1.4. Mining-Technology.com puts the U.S.–Russia ratio at 1.5. We have more coal than Russia, but not three times more coal. When talking about how much more coal we have than Russia has, Trump is wrong by a factor of 2.