The 2016 US Presidential Elections: A Primer on Clinton’s and Trump’s Energy Policies

The 2016 US Presidential Elections: A Primer on Clinton’s and Trump’s Energy Policies

The two leading contenders in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, and Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, offer starkly different energy policies.  Clinton asserts she will build on President’s Obama climate focused energy strategy, particularly his emphasis on promoting renewable sources of energy.   Trump promises to roll back those policies so as to better leverage America’s oil and gas sectors as key drivers of economic growth.

Clinton’s Offer of Continuity Plus

The former Secretary of State defines “climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”  Key objectives of her energy policy, articulated in several campaign policy papers, are to shift America’s consumption of energy away from oil and gas and to reduce carbon emissions both at home and abroad.

Clinton promises, if elected President of the United States, to establish as national goals:

  • Generating enough renewable energy to power every home in America
  • Reducing US oil consumption by one third
  • Cutting national methane emissions by 40-45%
  • Reducing global greenhouse emissions to 30% below what their levels were in 2005 by 2025 and to 80% below that level by 2050[1]

Clinton overtly leverages the energy policies of President Obama as the foundation for her energy strategy. She asserts she will “defend, implement, and extend”[2] Obama administration laws and regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan, to drive up energy efficiency and reduce energy pollution.

And, Clinton is prepared to continue Obama’s practice of bypassing Congress in this realm.  She likes to tell her audiences that she is more than prepared to bypass “climate deniers in Congress”[3] by using executive authorities as opposed to passing legislation.

To implement her energy strategy, Clinton will rely upon three multi-billion dollar initiatives.  She proposed a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge through which the federal government would partner with states and localities to cut carbon emissions and expand the use of renewables.[4]

To help transition America’s coal mining communities toward new businesses and economic opportunity, she announced a $30 billion plan that would finance the training, education, health, and infrastructure requirements necessary to generate new jobs and ensure these communities greater economic security.[5]

Third, Clinton’s energy strategy is integrated into her national infrastructure plan, an element of which would invest in modern energy infrastructure, including new electric grids and pipelines, to enhance energy efficiency and reduce pollution.

Clinton’s energy policies reflect her shift to the left as she transitioned from serving as Obama’s Secretary of State to a presidential candidate.  In her former capacity, she served in an Administration that championed oil and gas fracking internationally.   As a candidate, she has delivered blistering critiques of fracking technologies and their environmental risks.  During a debate last March, she warned, “by the time we get through all my conditions [that would govern fracking operations], I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”[6]

Clinton has also said she will tighten the regulations governing the leasing of public lands for the use of energy production and reduce tax subsidies that benefit oil and gas companies.

Internationally, Clinton not only stands prepared to build on the Paris Accords, she wishes to create a “North American Climate Compact” with Canada and Mexico intended to accelerate the use of renewables, cut carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency.[7]

Donald Trump’s America First Energy Agenda

In contrast to the volumes of policy positions published by the Clinton campaign, Donald Trump’s policy articulations remain limited to tweets and two speeches, one on national security and the second on energy.  The energy speech was delivered in May in Bismark, North Dakota[8], a hub of America’s fracking revolution.

In that speech, Trump dismissed – as he has done repeatedly - assertions that climate change is caused by human activity. “We are going to deal with real environmental challenges,” he asserted, “not the phony ones we have been hearing about.”

If Clinton is about renewables, Trump is all about fossil fuels and de-regulation.   He views America’s fossil fuel wealth as an under-tapped driver of American prosperity and security, one that has been curbed and restrained by President Obama’s policies.  He warns, “every dollar of energy we don’t explore here [in the United States], is a dollar of energy that makes someone rich over there.”

The Bismark speech, through which Trump introduced his America First energy plan, was a broadside against the regulations President Obama imposed on U.S. energy industry.  He described them as a regulatory onslaught causing “death by a thousand cuts.”[9]

Trump asserts that his first actions as president would include rescinding key Obama era energy initiatives and regulations, including the administration’s Climate Action Plan.  A key campaign pledge is to rejuvenate America’s coal industry, and toward that end Trump promises to remove regulations that unnecessarily burden the country’s coal-fired power plants.  He promises to reanimate the U.S.-Canada Keystone Pipeline canceled by President Obama, lift moratoriums on energy production in federal lands, and revoke policies and regulations that “impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies.”[10]

All this and more to “accomplish complete American energy independence.”

A key provision of Trump’s America First energy policy is his commitment to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN Global warming programs.”[11]  This is more than a rhetorical possibility.  If the Paris accord has not been ratified by January 20th, 2017, the next President will still have the authority to withdraw from it.[12]

Environmentalism vs Economic Nationalism

The U.S. presidential election is not likely to be determined by the candidate’s positions on energy policy. But energy policy has emerged as a clear reflection of the differences defining Clinton and Trump. They present a stark choice between environmental priorities and the opportunities presented by America’s plentiful oil and gas resources.  Clinton’s policies present cautious, if not politically driven, continuity with the climate change priorities of Obama’s domestic and international priorities.  Trump’s America First strategy, as its name suggests, is a populist attempt to leverage nationalist impulses, economic insecurity and the economic power associated the nation’s fracking revolution.

[1] Climate Change: Making America the world’s clean energy superpower and meeting the climate challenge.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Hillary Clinton’s Vision for Renewable Power,

[5] Hillary Clinton’s Plan for Revitalizing Coal Communities,

[6] Johnson, Keith, Clinton Tries to Stake Out New Turf on Energy Policy,, March 23, 2106.


[7] Climate Change: Making America the world’s clean energy superpower and meeting the climate challenge.

[8] Trump, Donald, An America First Energy Plan, 26 May 2016.




[12] Parker, Ashley and Davenport, Coral. Donald Trump’s Energy Plan: More Fossil Fuels and Fewer Rules, New York Times, 16 May 2016

Ian Brzezinski leads the Brzezinski Group, LLC, a strategic advisory services firm, and serves as a Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council