The two presidential candidates’ views on energy development look nothing alike, but the outcome on election day could have wide repercussions in the energy world. That is especially true for states like North Dakota dependent on the fossil fuel industry.
Donald Trump wants to get government out of industry.
“Any regulation that is outdated, unnecessary, bad for workers, or contrary to the national interest will be scrapped and scrapped completely,” he said in May during his first major energy policy speech in Bismarck.
And Hillary Clinton seeks to regulate fossil fuels while bolstering renewables.
“We’re going to combat climate change with more clean renewable energy jobs,” she said in March at a campaign rally in Seattle.
Either candidate’s energy platform could have real impact on the ground in North Dakota, where coal, oil and gas are kings.
Coal, for example, generates 75 percent of the state’s electricity. But one of the most pressing energy issues on the next president’s plate could change that.
The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and would force North Dakota to cut its carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030.
Jason Bohrer, president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council, said the Clean Power Plan could cripple North Dakota’s coal industry.
“Really the only way to reduce carbon dioxide from a coal fired power plant is to shut it down,” he said.
In North Dakota, most power plants are fed directly by lignite coal mines. Those mines don’t have any customers other than their plants next door. The power plant industry there supports 4,000 jobs.
“So the job loss is really compounded in North Dakota when a power plant shuts down,” Bohrer said.
North Dakota is one of two dozen states that have sued the federal government over the Clean Power Plan. That lawsuit will likely reach the Supreme Court.
Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota says the outcome may come down to the next president’s pick to fill the vacancy on the bench.
“The Supreme Court is critical to whether the Clean Power Plan is allowed to go through or not,” he said.
North Dakota’s oil fields also have much at stake in the Clean Power Plan. The state is trying to reduce the massive amount of natural gas that is flared — or wasted — when oil is drilled.
To reduce flaring, more pipelines and gas processing facilities are needed — and all those require power, said Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources.
“Our concern is the idling of those coal-fired power plants will make it literally impossible to provide the electric power that is needed for the new gas processing and gathering systems in western North Dakota,” he said.
But there’s also a possible upside if the Clean Power Plan is implemented. The plan would force more coal-powered power plants to convert to natural gas, increasing demand for the product from the Bakken and elsewhere.
“The retirement of coal would be a benefit to natural gas prices and production and consumption in the state,” Helms said.
The oil industry, however, is looking at the next president to change more than the Clean Power Plan. With crude prices low, companies have cut way back on drilling wells.
Some in the industry hope Trump could help get business booming again by removing Obama administration regulations targeting fracking and emissions.
“On the Trump side, I think you hope for smarter regulations, better business-friendly regulations that understand you have to move forward your business,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
But Don Morrison, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, said a Clinton presidency would better address the impacts of oil development on North Dakotans.
“Oil and gas would do just fine under a Clinton presidency. They have in the past, and they will in the future,” he said. “We’d hope for a much more balanced approach that the needs and concerns and livelihoods of people who live near fossil fuel extraction are considered a whole lot more than they have been in the last 10 years.”
But oil, gas and coal aren’t the only energy sources at stake in this election.
Wind has boomed in North Dakota in the past decade. Wind energy now makes up 18 percent of the state’s electricity mix. And the outcome of this presidential election could further push fossil fuel states like North Dakota toward renewables.
Clinton has already proposed investing more in renewable energy. Morrison said that could help with the state’s energy independence.
“Wind and solar could be really beneficial for people who live in rural areas,” he said. “And they could have their own sources of energy.”
Under Trump, existing subsidies for renewables would likely go away.
Cramer has been advising Trump on energy. He said those incentives would be replaced by a tax code that rewards energy made in the United States — whether that’s wind turbines manufactured here or coal burned at the country’s power plants.
“It’s not about picking the winners and losers,” Cramer said. “It’s about setting the table so all American energy can be successful if it is successful, and letting the markets determine that.”
But government is always picking the winners and losers — the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed its own subsidies for decades. That’s why the stakes in this election couldn’t be higher for the energy industry, and for the states that depend on it.
- Listen to a recap of how Trump and Clinton responded to Ken Bone’s energy question during a recent debate.
- See our coverage of Donald Trump’s visit to North Dakota, where he delivered his first major energy policy speech in May.
- Check out our interview with one of Hillary Clinton’s top energy advisers.