America’s Environmental Choice in 2016

Election season in the U.S. is never boring, and this cycle has had more than its fair share of excitement. As the race stands today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the front-runners, with Secretary Clinton polling at 46 per cent and Donald Trump polling at 40 per cent. Much has been written about the views of these two candidates, but of course they are not the only ones in the race. There are two other currently active campaigns being run, those of Libertarian Party Candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party Candidate Jill Stein. Neither of these two candidates have been invited to debate, but Johnson has been making an impressive run for a third party (though starting to drop over the last week or so), currently polling at around 6 per cent.

In this election cycle, the range of issues addressed by the candidates has been quite diverse. Environmental and energy policy has always been a hot topic, with more voters placing priority on it every year. Democrats tend to value the environment much higher in their voting decision than Republicans and Independents do, but all candidates have been quite vocal in regard to this topic. Jill Stein is running on the Green Party’s ticket, and therefore places the Environment very high on her priority list, but because she is polling at under 3 per cent, Clinton, Trump, and Johnson have a much more likely chance of actually getting to implement their proposed platforms. So under a Clinton, Trump, or Johnson presidency what would America’s environmental and energy policy look like?

Don Graham

Image courtesy of Don Graham, © 2013, some rights reserved.

Hillary Clinton

As the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary’s statements on environmental and energy policy are generally more pro-environment, but she has been quick to link how this can also be pro-business. Secretary Clinton would build on the policies put into place by President Obama and push for the switch from carbon based fuel sources to cleaner energy such as solar panels. She has said she will get rid of the subsidies that have been given to oil and gas companies in order to fund investments in clean energy. Clinton’s environmental and energy platform is based on fighting climate change by using the power of the state to drive a shift in energy infrastructure. She has stated that she would defend the Paris agreements, and claims her State Department laid the groundwork for that agreement to be conceived. As far as energy and environmental policy goes, Hillary Clinton’s proposals aren’t surprising, and are in line with many environmentalists’ views, as evidenced by the endorsements she received from two prior EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) administrators in August.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s statements on environmental and energy policy are generally in line with the Republican mantra of less regulation. He has placed much emphasis on energy being more of a strategic and economic priority than an environmental one. He strongly supports energy independence and has said he wants to accomplish this by taking advantage of all the energy resources the U.S. currently has available to it: oil, natural gas, shale, and clean coal. He places heavy blame for the United States’ energy dependency on the Obama administration’s environmental regulations and says he will eliminate them and try to invigorate America’s energy sector by doing so, including eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency, calling its work ‘a disgrace’. He has also said that he would not rule out any method of extraction, if it would bring wealth to the U.S., including fracking. He would pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement completely, in order to ensure America has complete control over its own energy policies. There is also some confusion over whether or not he believes climate change is real, evidenced by his tweet from 2012 saying that, ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.’ In a later debate with Hillary Clinton however, he stated that he did not believe this. He would like to see the Keystone XL pipeline pushed through the approval process, stating the importance of bringing jobs to the U.S., and adding that he would demand a piece of the profits for American citizens. In its entirety, Donald Trump’s energy and environmental proposals are more centred on using American energy to become independent of foreign entities and bring jobs to the economy, putting America’s environmental resources and public health on the backburner.

Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson’s environmental and energy proposals are not nearly as specific as the two major party candidates as he has not been in the spotlight as much. He tends to align with some of Trump’s proposals and some of Hillary’s, making his position a very interesting one. Johnson supports continual regulation from the EPA of environmental polluters, but says the EPA must stay focused on this directive, and be careful not to become a political tool to handle the market. He believes that the best energy policy for the U.S. is one that is dictated by the free marketplace with minimal interference from the government. He therefore does not believe in subsidies for energy resources, and believes the free market should be the one to determine which energy resources Americans use the most. He cites the decline in coal power plants as evidence for this theory, stating that natural gas is so much cheaper than coal because of consumers’ choice and therefore coal, which is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, has died out. In essence, Johnson’s view on energy and environmental policy is close to many moderates on the environmentalist spectrum. Ignoring the fact that his campaign’s website says humans are ‘probably’ involved with climate change, he acknowledges the government’s role in protecting future generations from climate damage through regulation, as long as it does not interfere with the creation of new jobs and the free market of the American economy.

In this election cycle it seems the three choices for environmental and energy policy will be proactive, backtracking, and laissez-fare. Clinton’s proposed policy will be proactive in dealing with the prospects of climate change, and the most advanced and progressive the U.S. has seen yet. She will start the long transition we must take from a fossil fuel based energy base to a much more diverse pool of clean energy. Trump’s proposals however have no basis in environmental fact or reality. To abolish the EPA would be disastrous and would set America back decades while neglecting our responsibility to our allies to be globally conscious. Not to mention of course the possible climate change denial, which has no basis in any scientific fact. Johnson’s policies, while middle of the road, are too little too late to combat climate change; the time for a reactive approach is long gone. The choice Americans make in this coming election will certainly dictate if our children will face even harder decisions than we have.