Campaign issues: Energy policy

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As discussed last week, this year’s presidential race seems more likely to be decided based on negative attacks than on the issues. But that doesn’t mean the issues don’t matter, and we plan to continue tracking where the candidates stand on them – an undertaking that has been facilitated by the declining number of candidates.

The presumptive nominees (at this point) have not received high marks in our previous reports on campaign issues, although, of course, their respective positions may evolve between now and the November election. Several of the now vanquished GOP candidates offered ideas that seemed more promising.

Taxes, 12/7/15 – We dinged Hillary Clinton for advocating tax increases that would slow the economy and Donald Trump for proposing irresponsible tax cuts. Tax plans of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio & Ted Cruz offered varying degrees of tax simplification coupled with arguably acceptable revenue losses.

•Spending, 2/8/16; Deficits & debt, 2/29/16 – Clinton proposed unwarranted spending increases; Trump’s proposed tax cuts were not paired with realistic spending cuts. Of all the candidates considered, Cruz and John Kasich seemed most likely to tackle the fiscal problem effectively.

Free trade, 3/21/16 – We rated Clinton’s proposals as “muddled and Trump’s (also Bernie Sanders’) approach as “unacceptable.” Kasich was the only candidate to receive a “good” rating.

Social Security, 3/28/16 – This mammoth “pay as you go” program is already running in the red, and Trump’s commitment to maintain the status quo ignores reality. Clinton’s proposals for selectively increasing existing benefits would make the situation even worse. Cruz’s reform proposals struck us as “worth considering.”

This entry will cover another issue: whether the remaining candidates support regulatory curbs on CO2, etc. emissions and, if not, how the agencies concerned should be stopped. Letter to presidential candidates,
6/9/15.

7. Despite claims that manmade global warming is a huge threat, satellite measurements show no significant increase in average global temperatures over the past 18 years – even as the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (currently about .04%) has continued to increase. If other factors (e.g., the level of solar activity) are driving global temperatures, there is no good reason for a switch to more expensive, less reliable energy sources. Also, other countries, e.g., China and India, might not choose to accept the economic penalty involved by following the US lead. Given the foregoing, do you support proposals of the EPA et al. to mandate carbon emission reductions in this country? If not, how should the agencies be stopped?

The presumptive nominees differ sharply on this issue, with one of them favoring the continuation (or acceleration) of current plans to combat climate change and the other deriding said plans as costly and unnecessary (but not proposing a coherent alternative).

A. Hillary Clinton has outlined an energy plan that would build on the policies of the current administration and is supported by a familiar litany of talking points. Making America the world’s clean energy superpower and meeting the climate challenge, hillaryclinton.com, accessed 5/10/16.

1. The manmade global warming (aka climate change] theory is “settled science,” and anyone who says otherwise has a political agenda. There is an urgent need for action because the damage is already being done. “2015 was the warmest year on record . . . 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have come since 2001 . . . American families are seeing the impacts of climate change with their own eyes . . . record drought in California . . . frequently flooded streets of Miami and Annapolis.” We must not “force our children to endure the catastrophe that would result from unchecked climate change.”

2. This country’s “carbon pollution” has been cut to its lowest level since 1995, but much remains to be done. The US must “lead the world in the fight against climate change by bringing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below what they were in 2005 within the next decade – and keep going.”

3. “[On] day one, Hillary will set bold national goals that will be achieved within ten years of her taking office.” Half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term – cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals and offices by a third – reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships and trucks. All this would be done “without relying on climate deniers in Congress to pass new legislation.”

4. Our country will “compete for the $13.5 trillion of global clean energy investment unblocked by the historic international climate change agreement reached in Paris” and become “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” Many “good-paying jobs” will be created, and there will be other benefits as well (see following points).

5. Many programs are planned or under way: Clean Power Plan (“will prevent 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 asthma attacks annually”); efficiency standards for cars, trucks and appliances (“already reducing energy costs for American households and businesses by over $75 billion per year”); $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge ("[encourage] solar and energy efficiency investments in low-income communities").

6. End “wasteful tax subsidies for oil and gas companies,” and invest the savings in clean energy. “Ensure that the fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible and that areas too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.”

7. Revitalize coal communities with a $30 billion plan to (a) “ensure coal miners, power plant operations, transportation workers, and their families get the respect they deserve and the benefits they have earned;” (b) "invest in economic diversification and job creation;" and (c) "make coal communities an engine of US economic growth in the 21st century.”

8. Eliminate lead poisoning as a public health risk within five years, clean up more than 450,000 toxic brownfield sites across the country, expand solar and energy efficiency solutions to low-income communities, and include the voices of community leaders, the environmental justice movement, and outside experts in taking on these challenges with a new Environmental and Climate-Justice Task Force.

B. Donald Trump has not posted an energy policy, nor offered his ideas in a systematic way. Like most of his now vanquished GOP rivals, however, he has expressed skepticism about the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT). Both parties are fractured, but on energy each is unified, Marita Noon, netrightdaily.com, 3/9/16.

Donald Trump is the biggest opponent of climate change having called the man-made crisis view a “hoax” and tweeting that the Chinese started the global warming ruse “in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” [Trump later said this tweet was a joke.] In his book, Crippled America, Trump opens his chapter on energy with a tirade on climate change in which, talking about historic “violent climate changes” and “ice ages,” he acknowledges that the climate does change, but concludes: “I just don’t happen to believe they are man-made.”

Thus, on chilly days, Trump has been known to suggest that some global warming would be welcome – as in this tweet on
10/19/15.

It's really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!

Trump has expressed support for the Keystone pipeline, increased US fossil fuel production, and reining in the EPA. Environmentalists fear that if elected president he would denounce the Paris Agreement, which was signed without congressional approval, and thereby effectively nullify it. Greens declare war on Donald Trump, Kyle Feldscher, Washington Examiner,
5/8/16.

Political director Khalid Pitts said the Sierra Club and its members would do whatever it takes in the coming month to make sure that doesn't happen. "The Pope, the Dalai Lama, big business leaders, huge majorities of the American public and nearly every nation on earth want action to tackle the climate crisis, but Trump's refusal to acknowledge reality would completely undermine U.S. global leadership and our key alliances around the world."

Let’s get government regulators out of the way, Trump seems to be saying, so that businesses can get back to doing what they do best:

•“Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations. *** We can leave a little bit, but you can't destroy businesses.” Trump says he will cut the EPA as prez, Sara Jerde, talkingpointsmemo.com,
10/18/15.

•He promises to “[get] rid of a tremendous amount of regulations,” albeit without being very specific about what regulations might be on the chopping block. Trump wants to help US businesses by lifting slew of regulations, Brian Snyder, Reuters,
5/5/16.

•Clean energy policies have put many people out of work in Appalachian coal producing areas, and Trump would supposedly act to save mining jobs. Clash between Trump and Clinton over coal foreshadows a tough fight for her in battleground states, Michael Finnegan, chicagotribune.com,
5/6/16.

Although West Virginia is solidly Republican for the general election, the adjacent battleground states of Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania include Appalachian regions where the mining jobs that Trump vows to save are the linchpin of local economies. Clinton's bungled remarks [in March] on coal's grim future — "I misspoke," she conceded last week — opened the way for Trump to strengthen his bonds with the voters she offended.

Logical consistency isn’t Trump’s strong suit, however, and he has also endorsed support for alternative energy programs. Not only did he decline to condemn ethanol mandates while competing for votes in Iowa, for example, but wind energy tax credits as well. Trump in favor of subsidies for wind energy, Kyle Feldscher, Washington Examiner,
11/19/15.

During a voter forum in Newton, Iowa, Trump said he's "OK" with wind energy subsidies, mostly because the price of oil has plummeted during the past year. With oil costing so little, there's not much incentive to build windmills to generate wind energy without subsidies, Trump said.

C. Discussion – We fundamentally disagree with Clinton’s energy plan (and the policies of the current administration that would be perpetuated), and here’s why. For discussion, see Global warming skeptics are not enemies of science, 5/2/16.

•Many scientists have questions about the MMGWT, and that’s not because they are funded by Exxon or have a political agenda. The scientific debate should not be shortcut or politicized.

•The impression of relentlessly rising global temperatures is created by omitting important facts, e.g., longer-term climate trends, satellite data, and the manner in which computer models have consistently overstated future global temperatures.

•The transition to a “clean energy” economy is unrealistically characterized as a win-win proposition; major economic costs would be involved, which should not be ignored.

•It is clearly inappropriate, and perhaps unconstitutional (legal challenges are pending) to mandate such a plan without affirmative congressional action.

Trump’s skepticism about the MMGWT is refreshing, and he has indicated a laudable intention to ease the burden on businesses. There is some question, however, as to whether he would follow through.

Realistically, it’s much easier to talk about cutting regulatory red tape than it is to get the job done. An enormous amount of time and effort has gone into creating public perceptions that global warming is a threat and developing programs to reduce carbon emissions. Many of the rules have already been implemented, or at least adopted in final form, and regardless of who wins the next election there will be an army of supporters (environmentalists, regulators, clean energy business interests, attorneys, etc.) geared up to defend and extend the effort. It would be far easier to continue the battle against global warming, as Clinton is committed to doing, than to turn things around.

If Trump and his supporters are serious about putting a more rational energy policy in place, much more will be required – both during the campaign and afterward - than airy generalities. For example:

•It’s not enough to be skeptical about the MMGWT; scientists should be introduced who can knowledgeably speak to the point. One way to do this might be to plug a new film, which features interviews with some 20 highly qualified experts. Climate Hustle is worth seeing, catch next time if you missed it, John E. Greer, Jr., P.E.,
5/4/16.

•Specific goals should be announced, e.g., congressional legislation to suspend the Clean Power Plan, repudiate the Paris Agreement, and require affirmative approval by Congress of future government regulations with major economic effects (the REINS Act). Even assuming Republicans retained control of both houses of Congress in November, which won’t necessarily happen, a grueling legislative battle could be expected – and the filibuster rule in the Senate would probably have to go.

•Finally, a Trump administration should be prepared to nominate individuals for Energy Department secretary, EPA director, etc. who are committed to leading major changes in current energy policies versus tinkering around the edges.

* * * * *

Some may consider the foregoing suggestions needlessly confrontational. Granted that there are differences of opinion about energy policy, why can’t our political leaders check all the ideological baggage at the door and resolve their differences amicably? Experience has shown, however, that such seemingly reasonable approaches don’t tend to work out well for conservatives:

•Progressives only get interested in compromises if they lack the votes (or arguable administrative authority) to carry the day outright. Consider how GovCare was enacted on a party line vote, with complete disdain for Republican suggestions, and now seems to be coming unglued.

•Progressives typically deny that their positions are ideological (e.g., the MMGWT is “settled science”), which leaves the thinking of their intellectual adversaries – only - as subject to compromise.

•And while “split the difference” solutions may be appropriate in some situations, they don’t work for yes or no questions. The tyranny of clichés: How liberals cheat in the war of ideas, Jonah Goldberg,
2013.

Take the idea that liberals and conservatives adopt extreme positions, so the truth is necessarily in the middle. Surely this is sometimes true, but in other cases the middle-of-the-road answer would be nonsense. “If I say we need one hundred feet of bridge to cross a one-hundred-foot chasm that makes me an extremist. Somebody else says we don’t need to build a bridge at all because we don’t need to cross the chasm in the first place. That makes him an extremist. The third guy is the centrist because he insists that we compromise by building a fifty-foot bridge that ends in the middle of the air?” Either of the extremists may be right, further discussion required, but the centrist “has no idea what to do and doesn’t want to bother with figuring it out.”

When conservatives make political deals while tiptoeing around problems, two things happen: the problems don’t get solved, and the government keeps inexorably growing.
Tune in next week for discussion of a case in point, the bipartisan energy bill that was recently passed by the Senate and may be enacted in some form by yearend.

*****FEEDBACK*****

At this stage in the run for office you DO NOT put in minute details, as that will only promote more criticism. Force Hillary to do that and see what she says. Old school Republican thinking is gone. – SAFE director

Response: Whether one agrees with Clinton’s energy plan or not, she has laid it out for Americans in considerable detail. Unless Trump explains why he disagrees, he can be effectively dismissed as a crank. It’s not “old school Republican thinking” to present cogent and compelling arguments (see our specific suggestions); in fact, Romney’s failure to do this arguably cost him the election in 2012.

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