Breaking Down Clinton’s Climate Approach
Hillary Clinton’s climate platform includes a carbon emissions reduction goal more ambitious than President Obama’s. (Photo: Lorie Shaull, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)
Living on Earth Host Steve Curwood checks in with Harvard Kennedy School Professor and former Obama administration climate and energy adviser Joe Aldy for analysis of Clinton’s plans. They discuss how she could get her ambitious climate agenda done, including how she might be able to persuade Congress to fund it. Prof. Aldy also considers her position on fracking, and her $30 billion plan to revitalize Appalachian coal country communities.
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. We’ve just heard from Secretary Clinton about her energy, environment and climate plans. So for more insight into both her priorities and how she would try to get things done, we turn to economist Joseph Aldy, a veteran of the Obama White House. He now teaches Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Welcome back to Living On Earth, Joe.
ALDY: Steve, it's a pleasure to be here.
CURWOOD: So, what are the key elements of Secretary Clinton's climate and energy platform?
ALDY: Well, I think the first thing is that she recognizes climate change as a serious threat, that it's important that we bring resources to deal with the risk posed by climate change -- to make our economy more resilient to the threats posed by climate change, to make investments in clean energy that will both create jobs and create manufacturing. But also deliver the power, the fuels that allow our economy to continue to run but have less adverse impact on the global climate.
CURWOOD: So, can you briefly describe her 10-year clean energy challenge and how she gets this done without Congress helping her?
ALDY: Well, I think what she's trying to do is to say we've learned in a variety of policy contexts in the past that the states can be really powerful laboratories, that there is a kind of ingenuity at the state and local level, and by creating this opportunity to fund resources to the states we can sort of leverage that ingenuity and that learning to figure out what policies and what programs are most effective at promoting investment in clean energy, at promoting investment let's say in transmission that will enable an even greater increase in a renewable power generating capacity to try to break some of the deadlocks that keep us from really pushing the energy system forward.
I think a challenge for her though in doing this is that to say you want to produce 60 billion dollars for the states … you have to work with Congress because they hold the purse strings. They will have to make the appropriations, and so I think what she will need to do if she is inaugurated and enters into office is to figure the most effective way to engage with Congress to deliver those monies and maybe even part of a larger infrastructure investment program.
CURWOOD: Now, there's a saying that if you want to get something done as president you’d better do it in the first 100 days and the rest is sort of a mop-up operation. So if you were advising her on her plans: What should she do right away, should she win the White House?
ALDY: Well, I think the key thing is first to establish very clearly as president what her goals are, and she's already laid those out in the campaign, she's laid those out in terms of wanting to reduce our greenhouse gases emissions by up to 30 percent by 2025, an even more ambitious goal than President Obama. I think she needs to lay out then what she can do under existing statutory authorities to deliver on that goal. She's indicated that she will continue to defend the Clean Power Plan that President Obama has advanced to deal with carbon pollution in the power sector. There will be the opportunity to review fuel economy standards in the first year of the administration. I think she should lay out clearly what she expects to deal with fuel company standards to 2025 and even beyond. So I think part of it is to lay out your executive authorities and what you expect to achieve for those, but also I think she needs to figure out what she wants to do and needs to do through work with Congress.
Some of that will be on appropriations, whether it's for the clean energy challenge for the states, whether supporting more innovation through ARPA-E, maybe making investments make our infrastructure more resilient. There is also going to be a question of whether or not there is a potential play for more longer-term comprehensive climate legislation, that would help deliver on the long-term goal she's established such as lowering our emissions more than 80 percent by year 2050.
CURWOOD: So how does she do this, Joe?
ALDY: Carefully. I think part of this is a question about where Congress will be. There's a lot of uncertainty about the composition of Congress as we approach the election. I think there's a question of what's the right policy tool and how one navigates the politics for that, and I think that there is this opportunity because there's an interest in tax reform on both sides the aisle that you might be able to incorporate some kind of climate policy and tax reform. Now, I'm an economist, these are the kind of things that economists dream about, but I think that there's this potential that you could look at say putting a price on carbon through tax reform as a way to finance meaningful reductions in the tax rates that individuals pay. You could engage some Republicans by saying we'll also cut some of the tax rates on corporate income. So, it could be part of a grand tax reform that could benefit both sides, both sides of the aisle get to claim victory and you might be able to do something meaningful on climate change as a part of that.
CURWOOD: So, we're unlikely to hear the word “tax” from Secretary Clinton's lips during the campaign, but I think what you're telling me is if she really wants to get something done over the long term just going to have to use that word “tax” once she's in office.
ALDY: Well, I think that the tools at the president's disposal now can make some meaningful reductions in our emissions over the next decade or so, but if we're really going to transform the energy foundation of the American economy, if we're really going to drive the kind of innovation that we need so that we have a breadth of low carbon and zero carbon technologies and equipment and capital that we can deploy to get to the very long term -- I mean, the scientists say that we eventually have to get to zero emissions, that if we're really going to be successful in combating climate change in United States and around the world we have to go to zero emissions. I think in order to that we need a long term policy signal, a long-term policy framework and the kind of patchwork that you can use through existing statutory authorities -- the Clean Air Act to go after power plants and vehicles or to do through Department of Energy to make appliance efficiency standards -- these all make a contribution but I don't think they're nearly as effective in reducing emissions or driving innovation as a long-term price signal.
CURWOOD: So, what do you anticipate a President Hillary Clinton would build upon that the Obama administration has done, and where does her platform diverge from Mr. Obama's approach?
ALDY: So, part of it is to recognize that Secretary Clinton was a partner with President Obama on international negotiations on climate, and when one looks at her goals, it's really taking the path that President Obama has laid, sort of the foundation and ramping up the ambition. So she's called for a more ambitious goal by 2025 for the U.S., she's talked about defending the Clean Power Plan that is still working its way to the courts. To be honest, one of the most important things she might be able to get a clean power plan is the nomination of the ninth Supreme Court justice.
CURWOOD: One of the knocks on Hillary Clinton by some advocates in the environmental community is that she seems to be very friendly to hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas, something that some see is a real problem. What's your take on her approach to fracking?
ALDY: I think she recognizes that if we prudently develop the resource, it can deliver important climate benefits as a displacement for coal in the power sector, really important public health benefits when we think about the effects of burning coal on premature mortality, on asthma, on chronic bronchitis, so that if we're able to address the concerns about how producing natural gas through hydraulic fracturing can impact local water supplies or maybe create so-called fugitive methane emissions that we want to capture. If we have the right regulatory framework to address those environmental concerns, on that natural gas is a winner both for the climate and for public health. So, the approach is not we're just cannot let them do whatever they want or we're just going to let the states regulate. Because some have said, ‘oh, Washington shouldn't even be in this game.’
I think that Secretary Clinton's approach is we should have the right regulatory frameworks, we should think of how we use the Clean Air Act to address concerns about methane emissions both in terms of the climate impacts as well as their impacts on local air pollution such as ozone. Think about ways we might use the Clean Water Act to address some of the water issues, but if we do that we can develop a resource that is substantially cleaner and substantially better for the environment than coal. And to be honest, for all the rhetoric out there about regulations taking on coal and the sort of war on coal through the regulatory apparatus, it's amazing to me, it's capitalism at work here, it's the market. It's that innovators have lowered the cost dramatically of bringing natural gas out of the ground and it is competing and beating coal. It's not because of regulation. It's because natural gas is cheap, natural gas can go to power plants are already built and as a result we the American people I think are benefiting from that.
CURWOOD: So, in the recent debate Secretary Clinton spoke about how she plans to bolster and support former coal communities and coal miners. What you think her plans are there?
ALDY: I think what's important is to recognize that there are these communities, especially in Appalachia, where the community for a century or more has been built around the coal mining industry, and given the reduction in coal production we've seen in the US, what is likely to continue as we take on the challenge of climate change. There's this risk of these communities suffering high unemployment and having workers who knew how to do one thing. So she has pledged to invest $30 billion to revitalize these communities, to think about making investments in broadband, when we think about opportunities through the internet to increase commerce, to make investments in training so that these workers can develop a richer set of skills that they can bring to new sources of employment.
I think it's something that's actually much more substantial then what we've done in the past which is to say we're about to do an important policy and whether it's true on trade or on the environment, we'll have a job retraining program and it ends up being pretty modest, it doesn't have much resources, it doesn't seem to have that much of an effect. I think what Secretary Clinton has proposed is much more ambitious in scale when we think about $30 billion dollars of investment in a region and in people that it really has the potential to transform Appalachia and enable them to transition. When we think about the clean energy transition, for them it's an employment transition and I think what she's proposed to do, if she can secure the kind of funding from Congress to make this happen could be one of those things that really changes Appalachia for the better.
CURWOOD: Joseph Aldy teaches public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School. Thanks, Joe.
ALDY: Thank you, Steve.
CURWOOD: There’s a longer version of this interview at our website LOE.org. There you’ll also find links to Secretary Clinton’s speech in Florida, and her campaign website with details of her environment and energy plans.
*The long version of this interview will be available on Monday, October 17th*
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