The presidential candidates on Sunday finally got a chance to weigh in on one of the biggest issues that has been avoided thus far in the debates: energy.
One of the attendees asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump what they would do to make sure the country’s policies meet energy needs, while remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job losses for workers in the fossil fuel sector.
Trump attacked the Obama administration, but was not very specific about how he would bring back jobs in the conventional energy sector. “Energy is under siege by the Obama administration,” he said. “The EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, is killing these energy companies.”
“I am all for alternative forms of energy, including wind and solar, but we need much more than wind and solar,” he added.
Trump also touted “clean coal,” and said the U.S. has 1,000 years of coal left. But the clean-coal projects the U.S. government has supported have been very expensive, and have not yet been brought to the scale that would be needed to meaningfully cut power sector emissions. The Republican Party Platform addressed the coal issue this year by simply declaring the fuel “clean” by fiat.
Meanwhile, the cost of coal has plummeted largely because of the competition from natural gas, not from new greenhouse gas regulations as Trump has suggested. Major coal companies have declared bankruptcy in the last year. Trump’s plan was to try to revive those companies.
“I will bring our companies back. They will make money. They will pay off our tremendous budget deficits, which are tremendous,” he said. “But we are putting our energy companies out of business.”
Trump did not discuss climate change, which he does not think is real.
Clinton, on the other hand, touted the growth in American energy in the Obama years, which has largely been due to the technological advances that have allowed companies to tap into oil and gas contained in shale formations.
“We are now, for the first time, energy independent,” said Clinton. “We are not dependent on the Middle East. But the Middle East still controls a lot of the prices. The price of oil has been way down, and that has had a damaging effect on a lot of the oil companies, right? We are, however, producing a lot of natural gas, which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels.”
While Clinton’s answer took a broader look at energy than Trump’s, it might not necessarily please some of her critics on the left who are less enthusiastic about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas. This was one key difference between Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the primary. But Clinton maintained that natural gas is an important part of the “transition” to clean energy.
“We have got to remain energy independent,” she said. “It gives us much more power and freedom than to be worried about what goes on in the Middle East. We have enough worries about what goes on over there than having to worry about that. So I have a comprehensive energy policy, but it really does include fighting climate change, because I think that is a serious problem. And I support moving toward more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can, because I think we can be the 21st century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses.”
She also discussed her plans to help coal workers transition to new jobs.