THE ISSUE: Energy independence has been a goal of every president since Richard Nixon. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have very different ways to achieve it. How energy is produced and where it comes from affect jobs, the economy and the environment.
Where They Stand
Clinton pledges that under her leadership, the U.S. will be able to generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America within 10 years, with 500 million solar panels installed by the end of her first term. She also vows to reduce U.S. oil consumption by one-third through cleaner fuels such as biodiesel and natural gas and more fuel-efficient cars, boilers, ships and trucks. Clinton generally supports oil and gas drilling on federal lands, but would bar drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
After running as a champion of coal in 2008, Clinton now calls for protecting health benefits for coal miners and their families and helping retrain them for new jobs. She offers cautious support for nuclear power.
Trump vows to “unleash American energy,” allowing unfettered production of oil, coal, natural gas and other sources to push the U.S. toward energy independence and create jobs. Trump would sharply increase oil and gas drilling on federal lands and vows to revive the struggling U.S coal industry. He also would open up offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and other areas where it is blocked.
Trump calls for rescinding the Clean Power Plan, a key element of President Barack Obama’s strategy to fight climate change, as well as a rule to protect small streams and wetlands from development. He also would cancel the 2015 Paris climate agreement and stop U.S. money going to U.N. global warming programs.
Why It Matters
Although energy independence remains elusive, increases in U.S. oil production have lowered reliance on imports. In 2015, the U.S. relied on net imports for about 24 percent of petroleum use, the lowest level since 1970.
Domestic production of all types of energy except coal has boomed in recent years, spurred by improved drilling techniques and discoveries of vast oil supplies in North Dakota and natural gas in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia. Production also is up in traditional energy states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Prices at the gasoline pump have declined sharply, to an average of $2.21 per gallon for regular unleaded in September, according to the AAA auto club. That’s down from $3.60 per gallon in 2012.
Natural gas, cleaner than coal, has been embraced by politicians from both parties, including Clinton and Trump. Still, critics worry that popular gas drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — and horizontal drilling could be harming air, water and health.
Clinton has said fracking should not take place where states and local communities oppose it, and she pledges to reduce methane emissions from all oil and gas production and protect local water supplies. On climate change, she vows to meet Obama’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent by 2025.
Trump says restrictions supported by Clinton would hurt energy-producing states such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia — battleground states in the election. While arguing that tax credits and other subsidies for wind and solar power “distort” the market, Trump says the U.S. should “encourage all facets of the energy industry.”
Wind and solar power have grown in recent years, thanks in part to support from Obama, but renewable energy sources accounted for just 10 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in 2015. Renewable energy is generally more expensive to produce and use than fossil fuels. Clouds impair solar energy and calm skies slow wind farms.