Presidential Candidates’ Views on Energy Policy

by Jim Hopf

As we head into the final months of primary voting, I have briefly summarized the positions of the remaining presidential candidates on energy issues, and their potential impacts on nuclear power. More details of the candidates’ positions are given here and here.

Democratic Party Candidates

Hillary Clinton

The main thrusts of Clinton’s campaign statements are that she is a very strong supporter of renewable energy, and that she would increase restrictions and requirements on the fossil fuel industry. Although she has not explicitly voiced support for natural gas fracking, she has referred to positive impacts of the US gas production boom. Of all the candidates, she has been the most open about how her policies would lead to a reduction in coal use, and that they would have a negative impact on the coal industry. She has stated that “rapidly shutting down our nation’s nuclear power fleet puts ideology ahead of science and would make it harder and more costly to build a clean energy future.” Specific positions include:

  • Says she would keep Yucca Mountain “off the table.”
  • Strong renewable energy goals
  • Set ambitious emissions reduction goals
  • Streamline federal permitting process for “clean” energy projects
  • $30 billion program to help coal communities transition from coal toward clean energy industries
  • Ban offshore oil drilling and set methane (leakage) reduction standards for gas drilling operations
  • Has consistently voted for extensions of solar and wind tax credits and has proposed making them permanent
  • Supports the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan
  • Has not called for the closure of the Indian Point plant (as Sanders has)

Bernie Sanders

Of the four candidates, Sanders is the most opposed to nuclear power, and is the one candidate that has specifically stated his opposition to it. He has also stated that a 100-percent clean energy system will be possible and affordable. He is the favorite candidate for many mainstream “environmental” groups (that are largely opposed to nuclear power). He is opposed to all fossil fuels, as well as nuclear power. Specific positions include:

  • Halt all license renewals for US nuclear power plants
  • Opposes Yucca Mountain
  • Has recently called for the Indian Point plant to be shut down (while campaigning in New York)
  • Invest in, and expand access to, solar, wind, and geothermal energy
  • Ban (gas and oil) fracking throughout the United States
  • Ban offshore and arctic oil and gas drilling, as well as mountaintop removal coal mining
  • Ban exports of US oil and natural gas
  • Greatly reduce fossil fuel subsidies
  • Supports emissions reduction requirements, and supported a (2013) bill that would tax carbon polluters
  • Supports the EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Republican Party Candidates

Ted Cruz

Cruz denies the existence of man-made climate change, and opposes any policies to address the problem. More generally, he opposes federal (vs. state) regulations or other involvement in energy/climate issues. He supports domestic (fossil) energy development. He hasn’t made many statements about nuclear energy, although in the past he has taken positions in favor of Yucca Mountain. Specific positions include:

  • Increase energy exploration, including offshore drilling and fracking
  • Allow states to control energy resources on federal land
  • Eliminate federal policies and regulations concerning energy (leave them to the states)
  • Abolish the Department of Energy
  • Voted against extending the production tax credit for wind energy
  • Block the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (as well as any federal regulations or policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions)

Donald Trump

Given the lack of past government experience (and voting record, etc.), Trump’s views on energy issues are the least clear. He has stated that he’s “very strongly in favor of nuclear energy”, and that “the permitting process for nuclear power needs to be reformed.” However, he also stated that nuclear “does have issues” and that he favors natural gas development over nuclear. He stated that he is “going to bring the coal industry back 100 percent.” He has also called for expanded domestic oil and gas drilling, including fracking. He has stated that climate change is not a serious problem, and doubts that humans are contributing to it. He has made disparaging remarks about wind and solar power. Specific positions/statements include:

  • Remove the Obama administration’s “Cap-and-Trade tax” (could be referring to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan)
  • Lift permitting restrictions on oil drilling
  • Increase US gas and oil drilling, including fracking, and build up US gas and oil supplies (to limit OPEC influence)
  • Has taken legal action to block wind farms in the past. Has stated that wind farms are ugly and may even be bad for people’s health, and that solar is “unproven technology”
  • Has stated that the EPA is a “disgrace” and that he would significantly cut the agency back.

John Kasich

Kasich acknowledges that climate change is real and that humans are a contributing factor, but he has also expressed wariness of “over-regulating” coal (as Ohio is a coal-dependent state). He has stated that the United States will clean up coal but continue to use it. He has taken stances opposed to gas fracking. He has strongly supported renewable energy mandates in his state. He has said little about nuclear power. In summary, he appears to support coal and renewables (à la Germany). Specific positions include:

  • Opposes the EPA’s Clean Power Plan
  • Supports Ohio’s 25-percent Renewable Energy Mandate
  • Sought to increase taxes on gas fracking in Ohio
  • Withdrew his support of fracking in state parks

Things to keep in mind

I have included many of the candidates’ positions on other (i.e., fossil and renewable) energy sources, in addition to any positions or statements on nuclear energy. The reason for this is that nuclear is in economic (and political) competition with fossil and renewable sources. Thus, policies that affect fossil or renewable sources’ costs (or increase/decrease their market share by other means) will have an effect on nuclear’s future prospects. These fossil and renewables policies will have more impact on nuclear’s future success than many if not most policies that directly relate to nuclear.

Policies that restrict or place economic burdens on fossil sources (e.g., more stringent pollution control policies or global warming policies that tax or limit fossil fuels) will act to increase nuclear’s competitiveness. Conversely, policies that reduce regulatory burdens on fossil fuel burning or extraction, or open up more lands to fossil fuel extraction, will harm nuclear’s competitiveness. Allowing fossil fuel exports, on the other hand, may actually help nuclear, as they may result in higher domestic fossil fuel prices (although they may in turn harm nuclear abroad). Support of technology-neutral policies to address global warming (perhaps including the Clean Power Plan) will help nuclear, whereas support of subsidies and/or mandates for renewable energy only will clearly harm nuclear’s prospects.

Jim Hopf

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

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