The sharp ideological differences between the two presidential candidates on energy were on display at a debate Tuesday in Richmond, Virginia, as surrogates for Trump and Clinton sparred on key issues that have been little discussed during this campaign. Besides Ken Bone’s question on energy and the environment posed to the candidates at the Town Hall debate in St. Louis and Clinton’s one line at the first debate about clean energy jobs as part of her economic plan, the big matters in the energy space have gotten the cold shoulder in 2016—despite their importance to the economy and national security.
Trevor Houser, a partner with the Rhodium Group and a former energy advisor in the first Obama administration, and Kevin Cramer, a House representative from oil-rich North Dakota, went back and forth on government regulation, climate initiatives, and the role of business in shaping policy. The substantive discussion gave insights into how energy policy would take shape in either a Clinton or Trump administration.
Below are highlights of major issues discussed at the debate.
One of the toughest disputes occurred over climate change, with the focus on the roles of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Paris Agreement. Cramer outlined Trump’s philosophy of a more hands-off agency, saying he wants the agency to return to its “core mission” of clean air and clean water.
“The problem is that we pass these broad authorities and then leave the rulemaking up to the bureaucracy, and the courts are faced with these difficult decisions when challenged because Congress isn’t definitive,” Cramer said. “We need more prescriptive legislation.”
“The problem is that we pass these broad authorities and then leave the rulemaking up to the bureaucracy, and the courts are faced with these difficult decisions when challenged because Congress isn’t definitive,”
Houser criticized Cramer’s comments, arguing that the Right’s contentions that the EPA is always overreaching and its actions will cost thousands of jobs are typically exaggerated. The EPA is a political lightning rod in the debate over climate change, as the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, using the agency, has cracked down on coal-fired plants. Republicans argue that Democrats are seeking to undermine businesses and regions that rely on coal, but the rise of U.S. shale natural gas has played a larger role in the decline of the industry, economists say.
Cramer said that environmentalists and business need to work together to solve problems, reinforcing that the energy industry should be allowed to have a seat at the table in crafting rules and regulations.
“This administration goes about it forcing things on people and industry. It’s insensitive and bad public policy,” Cramer said. In the past, industry and trade groups representing them have in fact given their input while the legislative and regulatory process played out.
“Presidential authority came from UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) agreement, which was agreed to by George H.W. Bush and Congress.”
On the topic of the Paris climate accord, Cramer backed up Trump’s assertion that the U.S. would exit the deal should the real estate mogul become president. Pulling out of the agreement would be difficult, but the representative from North Dakota gave two possible scenarios. “He [Trump] could get out of it by stepping away from the accord and just announce we aren’t going to fulfill our obligations under it,” Cramer said. “Perhaps the better way would be to call for a ratification vote in U.S. Senate, which wouldn’t pass, sending signal that our Constitution is still intact and whatever you think of the agreement itself, it’s not the authority of president to do it.”
Houser shot back by noting the president does indeed have the authority to ink agreements like the one in Paris and pointed to the historic importance of the deal. “Presidential authority came from UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) agreement, which was agreed to by George H.W. Bush and Congress,” Trevor told the audience in Richmond.
Houser touted the importance of natural gas, which he said is a bridge fuel to cleaner energy, and the production of it through hydraulic fracturing. However, he noted that the EPA ought to regulate the practice more.
There was some common ground on domestic oil drilling, but the two surrogates also highlighted the differences between the candidates and two political parties. Houser’s comments reflected how the Clinton campaign is trying to find a middle ground on energy and the environment, all the while angering the environmental wing of the Democratic Party—even though she moved to the left on the issues during the fierce fight with Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary. Houser touted the importance of natural gas, which he said is a bridge fuel to cleaner energy, and the production of it through hydraulic fracturing. However, he noted that the EPA ought to regulate the practice more.
Houser also backed up Clinton’s environmental bona fides by saying that opening up new offshore areas and the Arctic area to drilling is not currently worth the risks because of low prices and the U.S. has seen large growth onshore. He also argued that the royalty structure for natural gas and oil production on public lands should be revamped, as the federal government is not bringing in as much revenue as it could, since national rates are below those in oil-producing states.
Cramer, meanwhile, hyped Trump’s more aggressive plan when it comes to domestic drilling, saying that the U.S. has some $50 trillion in wealth creation with its energy resources. By opening up more public lands for activity, the Trump campaign argues, the government can use revenue from drilling activity to help pay down the national debt, which is current around $20 trillion.
Houser pointed out how CAFE has cut oil consumption for each mile traveled and in turn reduced nitrous oxide emissions, further defending the environmental accomplishments over the past four decades.
Fuel efficiency and reducing dependence on oil did not factor too heavily in the debate on Tuesday, but comments from Houser were encouraging. CAFE standards, which are up for mid-term review in 2017, should be kept in place because of their benefits for consumers, national security, and the environment. Houser pointed out how CAFE has cut oil consumption for each mile traveled and in turn reduced nitrous oxide emissions, further defending the environmental accomplishments over the past four decades. Houser also highlighted the role of technology in saving consumers money and reducing both oil demand and environmental damage at the same time, by pointing out that Chevy is rolling out a mass electric vehicle with its Bolt.
Energy to play a big role in the next administration
Besides the topics discussed above, the two surrogates also went in-depth about nuclear energy, revamping the transmission grid, and the importance of renewables. While the debate will not likely sway any votes to one side or the other, it was refreshing to see a substantive discussion on fundamental issues that are important to voters, the U.S. economy, and the country’s international relations.