A 2015 Gallup poll shows that the percentage of Americans who are very concerned about the environment is dropping, but environmental issues remain a key window into what a politician values as importantand the issues aren’t going away.
So, where do the two most likely presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton,stand on environmental issues?
In sizing up Clinton andTrump, it’s easy to see the two candidates’ positions as largely representative of their respective parties. Clinton is generally in favor of pushing an environmental agenda, although it hasn’t been at the forefront of her efforts in Washington. While Trump may differ from GOP orthodoxy in some areas, most notably free trade, his environmental positions are generally consistent with the anti-regulatory rhetoric the Republican Party has pushed for generations about environmental regulations hampering the ability of businesses earn profits, which takes precedent over protecting the natural environment.
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Trump on climate change
In an interviewwith the Washington Post editorial board earlier this year, Trump asserted that he’s “not a big believer in man-made climate change,” while admitting that there has been “a change in the weather.”
Instead, he said that focusing on climate change distracts from more important issues like nuclear proliferation.
“I think our biggest form of climate change we should worry about is nuclear weapons,” he said. “The biggest risk to the world, to meI know President Obama thought it was climate changeto me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That is climate change. That is a disaster, and we dont even know where the nuclear weapons are right now. We dont know who has them. We dont know whos trying to get them. The biggest risk for this world and this country is nuclear weapons, the power of nuclear weapons.”
OnTwitter, Trump has repeatedly labeled anthropogenicmeaning caused by human activityclimate change a hoax and used individual examples of cold weather as evidence that man-made climate change is a fraud.
Speaking before an assembled crowd at the Trump National Golf Course in Winchester, New York, in 2013, Trump said that year’s particularly frigid winter should haveinspired the revocation of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s Nobel Prize for promoting awareness of climate change.
While he later backed off the statement, calling it a joke, Trump tweeted in 2012 that he believed the concept of climate change is part of a conspiracy to destabilize the American economy.
Trump on the EPA and alternative energy
Trump is broadly against environmental regulations across the board, arguing that such rules largely serve to hamper the economy. In aninterviewwith Fox News host Chris Wallace last year, Trump said he would cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency. “What is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations. They’re making it impossible.”
“We’ll be fine with the environment,” Trump continued. “We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”
As far as Trump’s larger energy policy, there’s a reason former Alaska Gov.Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president on the “Drill Baby, Drill” platform, has been angling for the job ofEnergy Secretary in a Trump administrationeven though the Department of the Interior is actually far more involved in deciding where energy production occurs in the United States.
Trump has been a strong supporter of fossil fuel extraction, especially oil and natural gas deposits unlocked by recent advances in fracking technology.
He also also been critical of alternative energy sources, especially wind power.
The core of the billionaire’s antipathy to wind energy may be more personal than ideological. Last year, Trump lost a protracted legal battle to prevent the construction of a wind farm off the cost of Aberdeen, Scotland, that he argues wouldruin the ocean views from a luxury golf course he owns in the area.
This opposition doesn’t mean Trump has been, at the very least, open to wind energy when it benefits him. He holds an investment inNextEra Energy, one of the world’s largest producers of renewable power, and, when pressed on the issue by a voter in Iowa, Trump said he would be comfortableproviding government subsidies to wind energy firmsa major industry in the state.
Clinton on climate change
Clinton may not be the most stringent environmental crusader in Washington, but her record in government is decidedly greener than Trump’s rhetoric.
Whereas Trump denies climate change, the former secretary of state and New York senator called it “anurgent threat and a defining challenge of our time,” and she has pledged to build on Obama’s plan to bring U.S. carbon emissions 17 percent below their 2005 level by 2020. But environmentalism hasn’t been one of the hallmarks of her political campaigns or decades of public service.
During her tenure in the Senate, Clinton received an82 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters, which hasendorsed her presidential aspirations. She voted in favor of the Climate Security Act, which would have reduced pollution that contributes to climate change and incentivized clean energy development. She voted against an amendment to the National Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act that would have lifted the federal moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, she was also in favor of a bill ending the moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Where Clinton falters on the environment
Aposton Clinton’s campaign website outlines a series of environmental programs she would undertake if election president, including upping fuel efficiency standards on automobiles and appliances, launching a $60 billion “Clean Energy Challenge” to push cities to curb pollution, and pushing renewable energy development to decrease the need for drilling for fossil flues in certain environmentally sensitive areas.
Even so, many environmentalists remain skeptical of Clinton’s commitment to the cause. Prominent author and green activist Bill McKibben penned an open letter to the candidate last year entitled “5 Reasons Environmentalists Distrust Hillary Clinton.”
In the piece, which largely focuses on her time as secretary of state during the first term of theObamaadministration, McKibben praised Clinton’s rhetoric but slammed her enthusiasm for fracking (both at home andabroad). He also criticized her inability to provide effective leadership at the 2009 United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, which failed to produce a meaningful international agreement.
The biggest environmental issue Clinton faced while at the helm of the State Department was the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Running from the fracking hub in eastern Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf coast near Houston, the pipeline was a massive endeavor by the Calgary-based energy giant TransCanada that required the approval of the State Department because it crossed an international boundary.
In 2010, Clinton said she was “inclined” to give the green-light to the $8 billion project. This statement drew the ire of environmentalists, who worried that the construction of the pipeline would increase drilling in the Canadian tar sands, which would release an extremely large quantity of greenhouse gases. Clinton left office well before a decision was made and an inspector general report investigating conflicts of interest in the review process under her tenurefound no wrongdoing. Even so, she remained mum on whether or not she believed Keystone XL should be approved until finallycoming out against it last year,long after the issue became a major sticking point for green activists within the Democratic party. Obamaformally rejected the Keystone XL proposal a few months later.
“Had you known it would become a hornets nest, you would doubtless have proceeded more carefullyand in fairness it wasnt until the process was underway that climate scientists raised their most forceful concerns,” wrote McKibbon. “Still, ugh.”
America’s most pressing environmental issue
The 2015 Gallup poll asked respondents what environmental issues they were most concerned about. The single most pressing issue, the only one that cracked 50 percent of people saying they worried about the problem “a great deal,” was the pollution of drinking water. Those fears were brought to a head when news broke about the wholesale contamination of Flint, Michigan’s, drinking water supply.
The Clinton campaign has made a big issue of the situation in Flint, highlighting how cost-cutting by government officials led to a public health crisis in the predominantly African-American city, even going as far aspushing to hold a Democratic presidential debate there. She urged Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder toask for federal assistance safety restoring Flint’s water supply.
When asked about Flint during a campaign event in Iowa earlier this year, Trump said hedidn’t want to talk about it.