“Most of the Department of Energy is an impediment to producing energy. Not one barrel of oil is produced by the Department of Energy. But the Department of Energy stops a lot of oil from being produced.” – U.S. Senator Rand Paul (pictured below discussing energy policy in Houston)

With Senator Paul and others suspending their Presidential campaigns, the field has narrowed to a handful of Republicans and two Democrats. We’ve seen them debate several times now, but energy policy has been a footnote at best. This raises the question: Where do the candidates stand on energy?

Republican Primary

  • Donald Trump. Donald Trump has voiced his support for hydraulic fracturing, particularly with respect to increasing domestic production. He’s critical of clean energy subsidies, which he describes as a “massive government giveaway of billions and billions of taxpayers’ dollars to green energy companies.” Mr. Trump also has suggested that American military assistance be made contingent on access to other nation’s resources: “We will help you take out [your dictator], but in exchange you give us 50 percent of your oil for the next twenty-five years to pay for our military support.”
  • Ted Cruz. Senator Cruz’s energy plan focuses on reducing federal regulation of the energy sector. His detailed American Energy Renaissance Act includes provisions: (i) granting states the right to lease and regulate energy resources on federal lands within their borders, (ii) requiring that federal drilling permits be approved within 30 days, and (iii) using federal petroleum revenues to reduce the national debt.
  • Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio’s policy similarly seeks to ease federal regulation. His “Optimize America’s Resources” plan includes the following positions: (i) “Empower States and Tribes to Control Onshore Energy Development Within Their Borders,” (ii) “Rewrite the Obama Administration’s Flawed Five-Year Offshore Drilling Plan,” and (iii) “Expedite Approval of American Natural Gas Exports.”
  • John Kasich. Governor Kasich describes his energy policy as “all of the above,” including “alternatives and renewables, and anything else that we can find, and we’ll do it responsibly.” His support for renewable energy has generated controversy in Ohio, where he has refused to indefinitely extend a freeze on the state’s alternative fuels mandate. He also has proposed increasing the severance tax in Ohio “so that Ohioans can have lower income taxes and we all benefit from this whole industry.”

Democratic Primary  

  • Hillary Clinton. While all of the Republican candidates supported the Keystone XL Pipeline, Senator Clinton did not: “We shouldn’t be building a pipeline dedicated to moving North America’s dirtiest fuel through our communities.” This perspective is echoed in her support for the North American Climate Compact between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, which would seek further carbon reductions. Senator Clinton also has been critical of oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic.
  • Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders is notable for being the only candidate who wants to ban hydraulic fracturing: “I’m very proud that the state of Vermont banned fracking. I hope communities all over California, and all over America do the same.” His energy platform proclaims: “The United States must transform its energy system away from fossil fuels . . . and towards energy-efficient, sustainable, clean, and renewable energy solutions such as wind, solar, and geothermal.”

One takeaway is that energy positions are largely a product of the candidates’ philosophies. Senators Cruz and Rubio both want less federal regulation of energy. No surprise there. They want less federal regulation of everything. For the Democrats, it’s all about the environment, and particularly climate change. Of course they want alternative energy. Trump is a pragmatic, market-oriented tycoon who wants to “Make America Great Again.” You bet he wants fossil fuels being produced in America because, well, cheap energy equals economic growth.

This all makes sense when one considers the nature of energy. Fuel is not an end in and of itself. No one wants or needs fuel for itself. We can’t eat it, or wear it, and it isn’t much to look at. Rather, we need petroleum for its power to produce so many other things that people need – locomotion, manufacturing, and heating. Just as energy is a means to so many other ends in our daily lives, so is it to the philosophical goals of the nation’s Presidential candidates.

Rand Paul - Blog

About the Gaille Energy Blog. The Gaille Energy Blog discusses proposals in the field of energy law, with a new issue being posted each Friday at http://www.gaillelaw.com. Scott Gaille is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, an Adjunct Professor in Management at Rice University’s Graduate School of Business, and the author of two books on energy law (Shale Energy Development and International Energy Development).