The White House [Image Source: Daniel Zimmerman, Flickr]
The US presidential race is gaining pace, with only three candidates left in the running – two Democrats and the infamous Donald Trump. It’s fairly certain that Trump would be an absolute disaster for US clean energy and action on climate change, but just how bad would he be? However, if a Democrat won, which candidate, out of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would be the most promising with regard to US renewables? Here’s where we find out.
Donald Trump [Image Source: Gage Skidmore, Flickr]
When it comes to renewables, Donald Trump is most well-known for his infamous, long-running battle with the, then, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond over the development of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), an offshore wind farm developed by Swedish company Vattenfall off the coast of Scotland, about two miles north of Aberdeen. Trump viewed the scheme as representing a potential eyesore that would be visible from his Trump International Golf Links golf course, which he bought in 2006, the year that he first began to raise concerns about the wind farm. When planning permission for the wind farm was granted in 2013, Trump vowed he would spend whatever it takes in order to get the project stopped. However, it all ended badly for him when the UK Supreme Court dismissed his appeal, and that was the end of that, but not, unfortunately, of Trump’s general opposition to renewable energy and wind power in particular.
Trump has promised to bring coal jobs back to the Appalachians, in which he is also lambasting Hillary Clinton as a ‘job killer’. Trump has no real plan explaining how he is going to achieve this of course. Bizarrely, given his earlier kerfuffle with Salmond, Trump spoke in favour of the US Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power, at a rally in Iowa in November 2015 and in the same month, in New Hampshire, told a 12-year old girl that “windmills look nice, but they kill a lot of birds”. He is equally dismissive of solar power, and is also pro-fracking as well as an unashamed climate change denier, describing global warming as a hoax and a ‘money-making industry’.
In short, in answer to whether or not the planet would be safe in Trump’s hands, the answer is a very definite NO.
Hillary Clinton [Image Source: Mark Nozell, Flickr]
We’re on safer ground with Hillary Clinton. During a MSNBC Town Hall appearance at the National Constitution Centre in Philadelphia, on April 25th, Mrs. Clinton said that she would “look at how we use clean renewable energy to create more jobs”. Last year she also promised to remove subsidies for big oil and transfer the money over to clean energy development. It may be that part of that promise will involve the installation of half a billion solar panels within four years of taking office, a pledge she made in July 2015. She would also extend federal clean energy tax incentives and make climate change a key issue and more generally she has been making promising noises on climate change consistently for over seven years. Clinton has also played a leading role in developing relations with China in order to improve international action on climate change.
This sounds very impressive, but Greenpeace USA claims that Clinton has accepted backing from the oil industry for her campaign, including direct contributions from employees of fossil fuel companies, which, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics total at least $309,101 as of April 11th 2016. Greenpeace claims that Clinton has received $2,650,850 in bundled and direct donations from fossil fuel industry lobbyists and $4,000,000 in donations from large donors to Priorities Action USA, a Super Political Action Committee (Super PAC) supporting her campaign.
The trouble with this is that it might actually be incorrect, according to FactCheck.org, which claims that Clinton has actually received very little from the oil industry. Clinton herself claims that these are just lies from the Sanders campaign while FactCheck argues that data cited by Sanders shows that funds from the industry actually amounted to just 0.2 percent of the $160 million raised by her campaign thus far.
“And that’s the problem with the Greenpeace analysis” says FactCheck. “It lumps together as fossil fuel money every dollar donated or bundled by lobbyists, even if oil and gas lobbying constitutes just a fraction of their business and even if the bundled money comes from donors with no connection to the oil and gas industry.”
There is a lot of politics playing out here, but hey, it is an American presidential election after all, so all this is not unduly surprising.
Bernie Sanders [Image Source: Gage Skidmore, Flickr]
Bernie Sanders was elected to the Senate in 2006, representing Vermont. On his website, Sanders promises that he will work towards America becoming 100 percent renewable, investing in renewable fuel, clean energy and making all US homes energy efficient. According to his supporters, Sanders has introduced a number of clean energy bills, such as the Residential Energy Savings Act, the Low Income Solar Act, the Green Jobs Act, and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, as well as helping to establish an energy efficiency public-private partnership called Efficiency Vermont. He is also very well respected among environmentalists, particularly Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. A desire to completely phase out nuclear power plants might have something to do with that. In general, Sanders appears to be the ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ of American politics – he is full of good intentions, and it would be great if he could pull it off, BUT how do the economics of it all stack up? And how much could he actually deliver?
The main presidential election is not until November, so there is still some ground to cover yet, and thus also plenty of time to assess which of the candidates will truly deliver on their green promises. In all this, there is one encouraging (or perhaps terrifying) thought: we know what the Trump camp is likely to deliver already. That leaves just Clinton and Sanders to choose from. Who will triumph?
We will just have to wait and see.