What will energy policy look like under President Clinton or Trump?
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Beyond the focus on polling and politics, it can be easy to forget the policy positions separating the leading presidential candidates.

Nowhere is that gap wider than for climate and energy.

Those differences could have lasting implications for energy and the environment long after the final votes are tallied and allegations regarding emails, tax avoidance and sexual assaults are resolved.


As with many policy matters, comparisons are complicated by the fact that Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights MORE's campaign has issued detailed position statements, while Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE's positions must be gleaned from his speeches and tweets.

The candidates were asked only a single question about climate and energy, posed by voter Kenneth Bone, across the presidential debates.

Since presidents do not govern by fiat, neither position papers nor speeches ensure that intended outcomes will be achieved. In previous columns, I have discussed the challenges that a Clinton administration would face in meeting the U.S. pledge for carbon emission reductions under the Paris Climate Agreement, and in achieving her goal of 140 gigawatts of solar by 2020.

I have also explained why Trump would be unable to revive the heyday of coal employment in Appalachia, and his fallacy in pointing to China to rationalize renegotiating the Paris agreement.

For the electric sector, a recent report by S&P Global Platts sought to predict how electricity would be generated under Clinton or Trump policies. Platts projects vastly different futures for renewables and coal under those policies, with far narrower differences for natural gas and nuclear.

To make its projections, Platts assumes that Clinton would achieve her target of 500 million solar panels installed during her first term, and that subsequent administrations would adhere to her goal of renewables supplying 33 percent of electricity generation by 2027.

The report also assumes that Trump would allow subsidies for renewable energy to continue their scheduled scale down through 2020, and enact no new policies to support wind or solar.

Trump has said he is "fine with" existing wind energy tax credits, despite disparaging wind and not specifying his desired policies for renewable electricity. He has vowed to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which aims to curb climate-warming emissions from power plants.

Even without the Clean Power Plan or new federal policies, wind and solar would continue to gain market share, propelled by falling prices, existing tax credits and state policies supporting renewable energy. Platts projects renewables would reach 21 percent by 2027, not quite halfway from today's levels to Clinton's loftier target.

Assuming that the courts allow the Clean Power Plan to proceed under a Clinton administration and beyond, Platts projects utilities would retire 58 gigawatts of coal capacity from 2020 to 2027.

About a third of those retirements would occur even without the Clean Power Plan, as coal struggles to compete with natural gas and renewables. Despite Trump's vow to bring back coal jobs, it is unclear how he would avert closures of uncompetitive coal plants, most of which are over 40 years old.

Implications of Clinton and Trump policies would extend beyond the U.S. power sector. The transportation sector would be affected by how vigorously the next administration pursues enhanced fuel economy standards and research for advanced biofuels and vehicle technologies.

Trump recently vowed to slash funding for clean energy research. He would also roll back ozone smog standards, negating their role in spurring tighter controls on air pollutant emissions from transportation and industrial sources.

On a global level, U.S. adherence to its commitments under the Paris agreement would bolster international efforts seeking to limit climate change to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Climate negotiators convening in Morocco aim to flesh out details of how Paris agreement commitments will be achieved. Those talks began Monday, and could be rattled by Trump's vow to renegotiate the Paris agreement and his claims that climate change is a "hoax."

Separate talks in Kigali, Rwanda, last month led to a landmark agreement to slash emissions of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants. Controlling these exceptionally potent greenhouse gases could curb warming by nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Though a Republican-led Senate could block the Kigali agreement, such a move would face resistance from not only environmentalists, but also corporations that stand to profit from replacement refrigerants.

This presidential election comes at a pivotal time for both national and global efforts to address climate change. The decisions of the next administration will reverberate across energy and climate policies both nationally and globally long after either president leaves office.

Voters who prioritize energy and climate issues would be wise to look beyond the political horserace and personal scandals to consider how each candidate's viewpoints align with their own.

Cohan is associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.