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Clinton Energy Plan Focuses on Sustainability; Trump Offers No Detailed Vision

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. 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.


  1. Tim 2016-09-11 12:15

    “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.”

    Big oil has never needed our help, those subsidies have always been a republican transfer of funds from us to them. On a smaller scale republicans do the same thing here with state tax money. It is the republican way.

  2. mike from iowa 2016-09-11 14:45

    Drumpf’s energy plan in toto is taking Iraq’s oil.

  3. Robert McTaggart 2016-09-11 16:58

    From the Clinton websites above: “In China, nuclear and renewable energy are growing three times faster than coal-fired power, with more wind and solar capacity added last year than the US and Europe combined.”

    Clinton does support carbon capture. If she can develop more wind/solar power and more wind/solar industry in coal communities, great. Both wind and solar will be more inefficient in Appalachia, so I suspect that more Appalachian energy will come from natural gas, and more industry will be dedicated to carbon capture.

  4. happy camper 2016-09-11 17:39

    With the buckling knees, staggering, and repeated seizures I’m more worried about Hillary’s sustainability.

  5. mike from iowa 2016-09-11 17:45

    She has endured nearly forty years of slander, innuendoes and right wing nut job vicious verbal attacks. She has sustained herself admirably. And wingnuts have already declared the attacks won’t end if she is elected. Sounds purely partisan to me, but what would one expect from a morally bankrupt political party with no ideas of how to govern?

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-11 18:42

    Dr. McTaggart, how many former Appalachian coal miners can carbon capture put put to work?

  7. Robert McTaggart 2016-09-11 18:51

    That is a good question. Right now carbon capture is failing at its one test site (mississippi or alabama), but pretty sure that there are national labs, universities, and companies looking at it. The problem is they want to compress CO2 into a liquid and bury it, so the energy penalty is another 40-50%…which is too much.

    So right now I would say zero until the facilities start being built.

    The other issue may be that you have to convince coal miners to do something other than coal mining. Do not underestimate the strong familial ties to coal mining and pride in hard labor that coal miners have.

  8. Craig 2016-09-12 08:44

    A lot of coal miners have seen what has happened to the older generations too. They have seen people dying from coal, and they have seen the cycle of layoffs and bankrupt mines that put them and their family members out of work relying upon an unemployment check to keep the roof over their heads.

    I doubt coal miners are as stubborn as some would like to believe. Give them a way to earn an honest days pay for an honest days work and they will be on board.

    @ happy – you can focus on Hillary’s manufactured health controversy if you wish, but she isn’t the candidate who has cancelled numerous campaign stops with no explanation (low energy). Based upon how often Trump forgets what his prior positions were as he invents a new position, and how he doesn’t appear to be able to stay on topic, I’m also curious if he is starting to suffer from the effects of a degenerative mental disease. Keep in mind Trump’s father died from Alzheimer’s at 65 and the disease is believed to be hereditary. Trump is now 70 and would be the oldest President ever inaugurated – he is already showing signs that the campaign is hard on him – imagine the stress of being a sitting President.

  9. Robert McTaggart 2016-09-12 08:57

    As someone from West Virginia, there are folks that would like to do something other than coal mining. However, they have heard those stories for a long time, and the transition away from coal hasn’t happened yet. They know a lot of the development for alternative energy has happened on the coasts, not in Appalachia.

    I’m not saying that diversification away from coal in West Virginia would be a bad thing, but that is what many of the communities know. The transition is not as simple as you make it out to be. Making promises in the time of an election is different than on-going interest in the value of the people.

  10. Craig 2016-09-12 09:14

    I agree a transition is not easy nor quick. However at least in this case Clinton isn’t just running around saying she is going to invest in wind or solar and kill coal. She is actually taking the time to think about what the impact to the coal communities would be.

    When she mentions retirement benefits for coal miners, or proposes a school funding program to make up for loss of coal-related revenue, or speaks of economic diversification and revitalization in coal communities etc. it shows she goes beyond the talking points. Most the rest of the nation outside of those areas her message would be more powerful by just focusing on renewables, yet she is outlining her plan for the coal communities even though practically all of them reside in red states.

    I also notice Clinton does at least mention nuclear. She has been quoted as saying “nuclear energy has an important role to play in our clean-energy future” although historically she hasn’t been consistent in her support so it is difficult to know for certain. I would say there is a greater chance that nuclear energy could thrive under her leadership than it could under a man who simply wants to dig up and burn more coal however.

  11. Adam 2016-09-12 13:21

    It’s not just about Trump and Hillary – it’s about saying no to GOP small minded small government values. If Republicans had their way, we still wouldn’t have any electricity in rural America.

    Conserva-voters defend Trump, just like they did W, by claiming, “he didn’t really mean what he said” and “that was sort of a joke” and “it’s toung in cheek humor.” These are the only voters who are not swayed much by reckless words spoken from their candidate’s mouths.

    Conservatives would like Trump a lot more if he just wore a bright shinny belt buckle more often and had photo ops of himself ‘clearing brush’ back home on the ranch… And Trump doesn’t evoke God in conversation enough to coagulate the conserva-voter base behind him.

    GOP’s days are numbered.

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