The Energy-Election Nexus

By Marita Noon, Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great, Inc
(Image credit: Trump Cedar Rapids by Max Golberg (2016)  https://www.flickr.com/photos/48542161@N04/28631716595/)

The energy environment under the Obama administration offers little to cheer about. More than fifty coal companies have gone bankrupt in the past five years and, largely due to rules and regulations, the industry has suffered job losses of nearly fifty percent since 2011. On the oil front, prices are a fraction of what they were in the most recent boom times and hundreds of thousands of jobs have also been lost in that side of the energy industry.

There is, however, reason for hope regarding President Obama’s executive overreach.

Yes, even in the much-maligned coal industry, there is some good news; some pushback against the excessive regulation that has nearly “put coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

While detrimental regulations have been chipping away at coal-fueled power generation for the past seven years, the Clean Power Plan (CPP) would all but finish it off. The CPP is the cornerstone of Obama’s climate change legacy and is essential to the U.S. meeting its Paris Climate Agreement commitment for carbondioxide emission reductions.

As they’ve done with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the courts have smacked down this huge Obama administration overreach. On February 9, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic stay on the CPP that halts implementation until the legal challenges are settled—though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Gina McCarthy, announced plans to keep moving it forward.

Here the election’s outcome is essential. It is expected that the CPP will ultimately end up in front of the Justices. Had the case been decided just a few weeks later, after the death of Justice Scalia, the decision likely would have been 180 degrees from what was handed down in the 5-4 case. Had the court split 4-4, as it has done with nearly every important case since Scalia’s death, the lower court’s decision would have held: the D.C. Circuit refused to stay the CPP. A President Clinton would likely appoint a Justice who would side with the CPP—in her convention speech, she addressed the importance of Supreme Court Justices. A President Trump—who favors states’ rights and has already said he’d rescind the Climate Action Plan—has said he would appoint a Justice who is as close to Scalia as possible. It is believed that if Clinton wins, and the CPP is upheld, she’ll fully embrace, and probably expand, the emission cutting requirements. The CPP’s fate under a Trump presidency would almost certainly be death. As he opposes it, attorneys under a Trump appointed EPA Administrator would likely take a very different approach in arguing the government’s side of the case before the Justices that, along with a Scalia-like ninth justice, would result in a decision that favors the energy industry.