Renewable Energy and Climate Change: How do the 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidates Measure Up?
“The science of climate change is unforgiving, no matter what the deniers may say. Sea levels are rising; ice caps are melting; storms, droughts and wildfires are wreaking havoc…If we act decisively now we can still head off the most catastrophic consequences.” [source]
The former first lady has a full understanding the science of climate change, and is a firm supporter of the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which will regulate carbon emissions from power plants. During her time in office as Senator of New York, she supported legislation to protect public lands, promote clean energy tax credits, provide low-income energy assistance, and set fuel efficiency standards.
However, she is also a supporter of hydraulic fracturing, and shares President Obama’s belief that natural gas is needed as a transition fuel to a clean energy future. As the Secretary of State, her State Department spread fracking around the world, urging countries to sign away their environmental protections, in contracts with large American fossil fuel companies.
Also, the Clinton Foundation has received millions from large fossil fuel conglomerates like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. She is also a proponent of offshore oil drilling, much like Obama, and voted in favor of opening up the Gulf Coast to increased exploration in 2006. Even more telling, she refuses to express her opinion on Keystone XL, although she likely supports it considering her view on fracking.
While she acknowledges that climate change is a major issue, she still supports expanding fossil fuels, and has ties to the industry that could be worrisome for many environmentalists.
“A tax on carbon; a massive investment in solar, wind, geothermal; it would be making sure that every home and building in this country is properly winterized; it would be putting substantial money into rail, both passenger and cargo, so we can move towards breaking our dependency on automobiles. And it would be leading other countries around the world.” [source]
There is no doubt that Bernie Sanders is serious about mitigating the worst effects of climate change and promoting the expansion of renewable energy in the US. The new Super PAC, Climate Hawks Vote, rated Sanders as the number one climate leader in the 113th Congress that recently ended.
Indeed, Sanders has introduced and co-sponsored many green bills into Congress, despite their rejection by members of the GOP and less progressive Democrats. These include:
The Climate Protection Act: This bill would have instituted a tax on carbon and methane emissions, which would have been invested in energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate resiliency, after three-fifths was rebated back to citizens.
End Polluter Welfare Act: The bill would have ended special tax deductions and credits for coal, oil, and gas producers.
10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act: This very literally-named bill would have provided rebates to cover up to half the costs of new utility-scale and community solar systems.
Green Jobs Act: Funding for clean energy and energy efficiency research as well as job training. This bill actually passed as part of a larger 2007 energy bill.
Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program: This bill helps state and local governments pay for efficiency and clean energy program. Not only did this bill pass with the larger 2007 energy bill, but received increased funding from the 2009 stimulus package.
It is very clear that Sanders is among the most vocal leaders in climate policy in the U.S., as both his record and messaging actively promotes the switch from fossil fuels to renewables, retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, protecting the climate, eliminating fossil fuels, and instituting a carbon tax.
“What I would say is someone is an ignoramus who would say, ‘Oh yeah, three hurricanes this year, this proves that somehow the climate is warming’ The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and so, you are going to say we had four hurricanes and so that proves a theory? No.” [source]
Rand Paul is a vehement climate change denier, which isn’t surprising, since his views are shared by a majority of the Republicans in Congress. For years, he has claimed that environmentalists were extremists, hysterically scaring the public for their own gain.
A National Review article suggests that Paul has recently “started to build a record suggesting that he supports action to cut air pollution and believes that man-made greenhouse-gas emissions are contributing to climate change.” This analysis is based on literally one vote, where Paul acknowledged that climate change is real and effected by human activity.
In fact, Paul is actually an active opponent to green policy in the US. In 2011, he promoted a resolution that would bar the EPA from enforcing court-ordered clean air rules. In addition, his record demonstrates that he supports the Keystone XL Pipeline, and has voted against all climate change safeguards, including clean water protection, clean energy tax credits, and reducing air pollution.
“America’s environmental debates, likewise, can be too coldly economical, too sterile of life. Christians see in nature and all God’s creatures designs grander than any of man’s own devising, the endless glorious work of the Lord of Life. Men and women of your generation are striving to be protectors of Creation, instead of just users. Good shepherds, instead of just hirelings. And that moral vision can make all the difference.” [source]
As can be expected, George Bush’s brother is not a proponent of environmental regulations, stating in 2009 that he was a skeptic, not a scientist, and frequently attacking politicians on the left for their pro-science views. This video from Climate Desk, is a good example of Jeb Bush’s stance on climate change and green policy:
Despite this, Bush has actually promoted environmental conservation during his time as the Governor of Florida, including a billion dollar public land acquisition program, and the restoration of the Everglades. Recently, Bush also acknowledged that the climate is changing and that he’s concerned, but followed with a statement that relying on natural gas will help reduce carbon emissions.
While he might not be the most anti-environment politician in the Republican Party, he is still a climate denier and a supporter of dirty fossil fuels.
“Governor [Jim] Doyle has put his trust in international politicians, bureaucrats, celebrities and discredited scientists to replace the real manufacturing jobs Wisconsin is losing every day.” [source]
The governor of Wisconsin is a favorite of the Koch Brothers, mega-rich fossil fuel magnates, which makes it no surprise that he has a horrible record when it comes to mitigating climate change and environmental protections. Mother Jones considers him the worst Presidential candidate for the environment.
For instance, he is working with the Attorney General of Wisconsin to file a lawsuit against the EPA due to their Clean Power Plan, because Wisconsin gets a majority of their power from coal. He also wrote a letter to the EPA in January, highlighting that jobs would be lost and citing a Wisconsin Public Service Commission estimate that a rate hike would be needed due to increased electricity costs.
Of course, this analysis doesn’t consider that Wisconsin could invest in renewables to off-set this cost. In fact, Walker’s latest budget proposal drains $8.1 million from a renewable energy research center, and $4 million in state subsidies for municipal recycling programs, while investing $250,000 in studying the potential health impacts of wind turbines. Additionally, he has supported a rate restructuring of utilities in the state, nearly doubling fixed charges which significantly handicaps the spread of rooftop solar.
But wait, that’s not all, he is also open to open-pit mining, and even passed a bill to weaken state regulations to promote the spread of this very hazardous type of oil extraction. Wisconsin also has large supply of “frac sand”, which is used in the fracking process, and sand mines have grown more then tenfold since 2010, in large part due to Walker gutting safety regulations.
There is no question about Walker, he is vehemently against environmental conservation, renewable energy, and other green policies.
“I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow, there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate.” [source]
The senator from Florida actually accepted the science of climate change back in 2007, making him an anomaly among the anti-science Republican party. He even supported emission caps as the Florida House Speaker and had faith that Florida could become the “Silicon Valley” of green energy.
However, he has recently joined the rest of his right-wing peers, suggesting that surface temperatures have stabilized, and that there was no consensus that climate change was directly attributable to carbon emissions. He was unable to provide any evidence for his claims, obviously, since they have no intellectual basis.
This video by Climate Desk, shows how his opinion about the climate has shifted drastically over the years:
His record suggests that he is a supporter of the Keystone XL Pipeline and is against many environmental policies, including clean energy tax credits, clean water protections, carbon pricing, air pollution regulation, cap-and-trade, and other climate change safeguards.
The trend among these candidates is indicative of the political atmosphere surrounding climate change policy in the United States. Republicans deny that climate change is man-made and serious, despite the scientific consensus, and will block any legislation that would hurt the profits of major fossil fuel companies. They support an all-of-the-above energy mix, and are advocates for fracking and other dangerous extraction techniques. Democrats acknowledge that the effects of climate change are a serious threat to our environment as well as our economic security, and support conservation and capping emissions from power plants. However, many members of the left-wing also support fracking, and believe that natural gas is the key to a clean energy transition.
With the polar ice caps melting at unprecedented rates, the jet steam weakening, causing temperatures to become more extreme, and massive, frequent earthquakes destroying many communities, green, pro-environment policies need to be front-and-center during this upcoming election season. As the 2016 Presidential Election season continues, we will likely hear much more about the candidates’ views on climate change and renewable energy.