Where Do the Candidates Stand on the Environment? Hillary Clinton
This week's issue of US Weekly's "Fashion Police" section features Hillary Clinton's own comments on some of her worst outfits of the past several decades (and, unsurprisingly, Obama wasn't mentioned by the "Fashion Police."). In one photo of Clinton wearing a flowered rug-like floor-length coat, Clinton's caption says, "I'm a big believer in recycling -- even carpets!"
Sadly, US Weekly's reference to recycling probably makes up a sizable percentage of the mainstream media coverage that environmental policy has received this election season. According to the League of Conservation Voters, only six questions out of 3061 asked of the candidates at all the major debates and on major talk shows addressed the issue of global warming. A grand total of 24 questions addressed related issues, such as oil subsidies and fuel efficiency. Although the candidates have environmental plans on their websites, the environment has largely been eclipsed by other issues and campaign news like immigration, Hillary's New Hampshire tear-up, and erroneous polls. In this series, I'll take a look at where the candidates stand on environmental issues, especially those policies that affect the current and aspiring middle class.
Although Clinton certainly hasn't given environmental issues even close to as much stump speech time as signature issues like health care or the economy, her website does have a detailed plan on her proposed environmental policies.
Clinton -- and Obama, for that matter -- supports a cap-and-trade system to cut U.S. emissions. Her system aims to cut emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, the amount that scientists say is necessary to avoid dangerous impacts of global warming. In a cap-and-trade systems, a government or other central authority determines a set limit on the amount of a certain pollutant that can be produced. Companies are issued a certain allowance of pollution credits, and can buy or sell credits to other companies that want to pollute more or less. Under Clinton's plan, 100% of the permits would be auctioned instead of given away for free. According to Clinton's website, "The proceeds from the sale of allowances would be used to provide tax benefits for working and middle-class families and energy intensive industries, as well as incentives for energy efficiency and renewable technologies." Auctioning permits is important -- not only will big polluters have an incentive to change, but the auction process generates substantial revenue that can be used for environmental programs.
Cap-and-trade systems have worked well in the past, and would likely be an effective solution for the future. In the '90s, for example, a cap-and-trade system was successfully used to reduce acid rain and reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 7 million tons.
Clinton also supports raising fuel economy standards for automobiles. According to her campaign website, she supports raising standards to 40 mpg by 2020 and 55 mpg by 2030, a significant increase from the current level of 25 mpg. Clinton's campaign estimates this would save consumers more than $180 billion each year and significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Clinton's plan also offers "Green Vehicle Bonds" to help domestic automakers renovate plants to meet efficiency targets and funding for the development of "plug-in" hybrid cars.
Noting that cities are responsible for 75% of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions, despite the fact that they cover just 2% of the planet's land, Clinton has included measures in her plan that specifically target urban development. She plans to create a "Green Building Fund," which would help finance the creation of energy efficient public buildings and, as a bonus, create about 10,000 "green collar jobs." A "green collar job training program" would "target at-risk youth, veterans, displaced workers, and would teach them skills to install and maintain energy efficiency and renewable energy technology." Clinton also includes proposals to improve energy efficiency in 20 million low-income homes. Her energy plan reads,
"On average, energy bills account for about 14% of a low-income family’s gross income, and for many they account for 20% or more. Economists estimate that more than 80% of energy expenses leave low-income communities, and thus do not generate additional economic activity inside those communities."
One not so environmentally-savvy stance that Clinton has taken revolves around the issue of "clean coal". Despite the green-sounding name, "clean coal" is nowhere near as clean as it sounds. "Clean coal" is chemically washed andsometimes gasified. Instead of getting rid of wastes and emissions,"clean coal", according to Greenpeace, just "moves pollutants from one waste stream to another."
“'Clean coal' technologies are expensive and do nothing to mitigate the environmental effects of coal mining or the devastating effects of global warming. Furthermore, clean coal research risks diverting investment away from renewable energy, which is available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now."
Clinton's plan allots money for 10 projects using clean coal technology, instead of just giving money to "research" like other candidates.
Clinton also calls for increased biofuel production, raising the "national renewable fuels goal" from its current goal of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012 to "36 billion gallons per year by 2022 and to 60 billion gallons by 2030." However, according to a two recent studies published in the journal Science, biofuels may actually do more harm than good. As the Times reports, "Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account." The studies examine the huge amounts of natural land that are cleared and replaced with cropland intended for biofuels. Clinton would be wise to look at the global environmental impact of biofuels, and not just the support of corn farmers in Iowa and subsidy-receiving agribusiness who benefit from the fuels' production.
Also on the negative side of things, Clinton's plan largely neglects public transportation, only allotting $1.5 billion, a number Grist blogger David Roberts calls "anemic."
However, despite the negatives, Clinton's plan would certainly be a huge step in the right direction for environmental policy for both the US and the planet. Although not perfect -- her policies on "clean coal" and biofuels leave a lot to be desired -- Clinton's plan takes solid steps to reduce global warming, create green jobs, and -- perhaps least importantly -- goes far beyond recycling ugly carpet-like coats.