The irony for Texas — a state that hasn’t had a Democratic governor or senator since 1995 and that has made a competitive sport out of suing President Barack Obama — is that Hillary Clinton’s energy platform is better for the Lone Star state than Donald Trump’s.
Why? Because her policies, as flawed as they are, show greater respect for free-market principles and the future of natural gas. Trump, in contrast, wants to push the country back with policies protecting coal. His approach would be bad for the future of jobs, investments and fortunes in Texas.
Energy is vital to the Texas economy. Trillions of investment dollars will be in play during the next two decades, creating jobs and sustaining companies in oil and gas production, decarbonization, infrastructure upkeep, integration of renewable energy, and electricity grid upgrades. Perhaps more than any other state, Texans should pay attention to the candidates’ energy policy positions.
Thus far, the campaigns of both candidates have focused mainly on a single energy issue: coal, and whether it should be allowed to continue its inevitable decline (Clinton’s stance) or protected from market competition (Trump’s stance). But coal is just one piece of the larger energy picture. There is so much more to consider.
Clinton’s energy policy positions are articulated in reasonable detail on her website where, to her discredit, she buries them as part of her stances on climate change and manufacturing. Although it’s fair to acknowledge energy is intertwined with these issues, energy policy warrants its own designation. It’s a bad sign that Clinton considers energy a subordinate issue.
Trump has at least separated out his energy policies, but they are less coherent and reflect a desire to move backward in time to a dirtier energy system. There are two defining aspects of Trump’s campaign positions that matter for Texans: 1) his protectionism, and 2) his isolationism. His calls for less regulation may sound appealing to some, but his isolationism and protectionism will hurt the Texas economy.
His primary energy idea is to meddle with the markets to protect coal from competition with natural gas. It’s unclear exactly how he would do that and whether he would use subsidies or mandates for coal. Either way, it’s bad for natural gas producers, which is bad for Texas.
Another issue is Trump’s signature campaign call for a wall along the border, which sends a signal he wants to isolate the U.S. from the world stage. The Texas energy sector needs the opposite: free trade and more engagement with the world as a way to gain access to more markets. In particular, the energy sector benefits from more connections with Mexico.
The Eagle Ford Shale in southeastern Texas, for instance, was a major contributor to our recent oil and gas boom. But the shale doesn’t stop at the border; it continues into northern Mexico where it’s known as the Burgos Basin. Because Mexico’s constitutional energy reforms are opening up their markets, Texas companies will benefit as partnerships form. An economic boom in Mexico will mean more trade and more energy connections — pipelines for gas and oil and wires or poles for an interconnected grid.
Economic prosperity from a Texas-enabled energy boom in Mexico means less crime and less immigration, reducing pressure on Texas’ border communities.
And, our environment in Texas will benefit from a shale boom in Mexico. If Mexicans had access to abundant, affordable natural gas, Mexico could shut down its two dirty coal plants near the border, which pump air pollution into the state.
This might surprise some Texans, but Clinton’s energy policies are much more market-oriented and favorable for our state. Rather than stepping in to save coal from the realities of competition, her policies are focused on job training for coal miners.
Although she clearly favors renewables such as wind and solar, her support for decarbonization of the power sector relies heavily on increased use of natural gas to displace coal and seeks the use of market forces and a price on carbon to get us there. In essence, her platform promotes wind, solar and natural gas, all of which Texas has in abundance.
It’s true her calls to more closely scrutinize air, land and water impacts of oil and gas productions will raise eyebrows in the oil patch, but her stance is a far cry from Bernie Sanders’ call for an outright ban.
And Clinton seems poised to continue the Obama administration’s opening of export markets — which was a high priority for domestic energy producers.
Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses with their energy stances, and many Texans in the energy industry will cringe when it’s time to vote.
But, if we can see past historical partisan fault lines and focus on what’s best for the energy sector in Texas, then Clinton’s platform — flawed though it might be — is the better option.
Michael E. Webber is the deputy director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin and author of “Thirst for Power: Energy, Water, and Human Survival” published by Yale University Press.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Austin American Statesman, Rio Grande Guardian, Corpus Christi Caller Times and the McAllen Monitor.
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