Trump vs. Clinton: Who's Better on Energy?

A Motherboard report card.

Sep 26 2016, 8:20pm

Editor's Note: In anticipation of the presidential debates, Motherboard has graded Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the depth of their insight, and the viability of their policies, regarding the subjects near and dear to us: cybersecurity, health, energy, space, environment, telecom and, of course, marijuana. Spoiler: It's not always pretty.

We're grading on a curve when it comes to energy policy. If the goal is to get as much energy as possible, then Trump's policies lap Clinton's. But it's not the 1970s, and we don't live in a world where it's fine to pretend that a kilowatt hour from oil or coal is just as preferable as a kilowatt hour of solar or wind. Trump's tendency to plug his ears and advocate that we drill, baby, drill isn't simply ignorant of climate change, it's reckless and indefensible knowing that the humankind has stared over the precipice that is irreversible global warming and jumped off it anyway.

Trump has said that energy regulations will be looked at through one lens only: "Is this regulation good for the American worker?" In America, of course, there is a lot of coal, oil, and natural gas, so Trump's plan is to ramp up production of all of the above as much as possible. He is unrepentantly pro-fracking and has vowed to roll back President Obama's Climate Action plan, which is an executive action directing his administration to cut fossil fuel use. Same with the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, which Trump has called "anti-energy" and is currently in limbo because we don't have a full Supreme Court. Both of these actions would have the effect of loosening regulations on the coal and oil industries.

Trump is also an avid supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been seen as a potential climate disaster. To his credit, I guess, Trump has noted that he supports "all sorts of energy," which of course includes wind and solar. But Trump has also said that wind is "killing all the eagles," (he'd have a better case if he brought up bats) and has called solar "very expensive."

Clinton, on the other hand, is trending in the correct direction from an environmental standpoint. She grasps that America must move toward clean energy and recognizes that fossil fuels are a main driver of climate change. So, points for that. However, much of her support for clean energy seems to be a recent evolution. In the 2008 presidential primaries, she was a tepid supporter of coal, and only came out against the Keystone XL pipeline as primary opponents Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders pulled her to the left.

Still, the gulf between Clinton and Trump's energy stances cannot be overstated. Clinton has vowed to make half of the United States's energy using clean sources by the end of her first term (this includes nuclear; we are at about a third right now). She's also said the US will have half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term. This is a somewhat arbitrary number, because the entire power industry uses overall generation capacity—not all solar panels are the same—but in any case, it would be a large increase over the estimated 102 million we have today.

To sum up, Clinton hasn't always been great on energy but is saying the right things now. She's trending in a good direction while Trump is still living in a la-la land where climate change doesn't exist.