The Fuse

Energy Policy 2016: Spotlight on Hillary Clinton

by R. Kress | June 17, 2015

Status: Declared candidacy on April 12, 2015

Party: Democrat

Background: Clinton is no stranger to the White House, having lived there for 8 years as First Lady. She served as the first female senator from the State of New York, before launching her ultimately unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid, after which she then joined the Obama administration as Secretary of State.

Senate Voting Record Snapshot:

Energy Policy as Secretary of State:

  • Clinton’s State Department took steps to try and facilitate the export of hydraulic fracturing technology, to enable allies with promising shale geologies to replicate the U.S. oil and gas production boom
  • The Obama administration, and Clinton herself, have referred to natural gas as a “bridge fuel” as part of the transition from coal to renewable energy
  • Throughout her term as Secretary of State, Clinton’s energy diplomacy platform included vocal concern about geopolitical and economic risks driven by climate change
  • In 2010, although largely keeping quiet on the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline, she alluded to the fact that the Obama administration might “be inclined” sign off on it

Back in 2008:

Transportation Policy and Energy Security: In late 2007, with the Iraq War still in full swing, dependence on foreign oil was a critical national issue. Then Senator Clinton released a comprehensive plan to address the “energy and climate crisis,” which referred to dependence on foreign oil as one of the “biggest challenges of our time.”

Turning to the transportation sector, Clinton’s suite of proposals included the following:

  • The establishment of a “Strategic Energy Fund”that would raise $50 billion over 10 years by taxing the “excess profits” of oil companies and cutting their existing tax breaks. The money would have been invested in “clean energy technologies,” including renewable energy, energy efficiency, “clean coal,” plug-in hybrids, cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels, and more. Clinton described it as “an Apollo Project-like program dedicated to achieving energy independence.”
  • Boosting fuel efficiency standards to 55 mpg by 2030, supported by $20 billion of “Green Vehicle Bonds” to help U.S. automakers retool their plants to meet the standards
  • An accelerated push for domestic production of electric vehicles, and a significant federal investment in public transportation.
  • Cutting foreign oil imports by two-thirds from projected levels by 2030
  • Doubling of federal investment in basic energy research, including funding for an ARPA-E

Gas-Tax Holiday: In 2008, Clinton proposed a gas tax holiday in the midst of the financial crisis that divided the Democratic Party. This push was one of the starkest policy differences between her and her rival Barack Obama. At the time, her plan most closely aligned with Senator John McCain, the Republican challenger.

The proposal would have suspended the federal excise tax on gas—which was then and is still 18 cents per gallon—between Memorial Day and Labor Day. To compensate for the revenue shortfall, she planned to levy a tax on the oil industry.

At the time, high gas prices were stressing Americans at $3.38 per gallon. Critics, including rival Obama and a providing very little actual relief at the pump while likely increasing gasoline demand, and estimated that while the savings would have totaled an impressive $8 billion nationwide, the average family would save less than 60-cents per day.

Hardball with OPEC: Labeling the international oil group a “monopoly cartel,” Clinton identified the nine out of twelve OPEC member states that are also part of the World Trade Organization (WTO), arguing that their participation violates of the latter’s rules and regulations.

Going Nuclear: Clinton has remained “agnostic” about nuclear power as an energy source. While opposing new federal subsidies for nuclear energy, she called on American innovators to devise a solution to the technology’s inherent cost and waste before further investment. In the meantime, she pushed for termination of work at the Yucca Mountain site which she called “flawed.”

2016 and beyond:

What’s the Plan?: So far, Clinton has yet to fully delineate a proposed energy policy for 2016 as she did for her campaign eight years ago. Don’t expect her policy this time to be a carbon copy of 2008. For one, the energy landscape has changed. Fracking is not mentioned at all in her 2008 plan, nor is the Keystone XL pipeline. Some environmentalists have expressed concerns regarding her independence on the KXL issue, over recent revelations that her family’s Clinton Foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from fossil fuel companies and a Canadian group that backed the Keystone XL pipeline.

Environmental Street-Cred: Before announcing her candidacy, Clinton made sure to make an appeal to environmentalists by giving a pair of speeches on climate change. In September 2014, she told the National Clean Energy Summit that climate change is “the most consequential…collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.” Soon after, she took an even harder line approach with the League of Conservation Voters by saying that “no matter what the deniers may say, sea levels are rising, ice caps are melting…[and] are wreaking havoc.”

Key Hire: Former White House senior adviser John Podesta has joined Clinton’s team as campaign chair. In addition to his former role as head of the liberal Center for American Progress, he’s known for spearheading the Obama administration’s climate strategy.

Political Minefield: At this stage, pundits agree that Clinton is likely to employ a big tent approach on energy and climate issues. As the presumptive Democratic nominee, it’s in her best interest not to get too granular just yet and play it safe. The Washington Post estimates that, if anything, Clinton is likely to be more conservative on energy policy this election than she was eight years ago.