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Energy Policy Touched on Briefly During Contentious Second Presidential Debate

After nearly 90 minutes of acrimony punctuated by personal attacks on each other, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump briefly discussed energy policy during the Second Presidential Debate on Sunday. But the candidates essentially repeated comments they made earlier on the campaign trail.

Energy policy became the penultimate topic of discussion at the debate. The candidates were asked what steps they would take to meet the nation's energy needs, while ensuring that their policies struck a difficult balance -- by preserving both the environment and the jobs at power plants that use fossil fuels.

"Energy is under siege by the Obama administration. Under absolute siege," said Trump, the Republican nominee for president. "The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] is killing these energy companies. And foreign companies are now coming in…buying so many of our different plants and then re-jiggering the plant so that they can take care of their oil…

"I'm all for alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar, etc. But we need much more than wind and solar."

He later added that EPA regulations are "so restrictive that they are putting our energy companies out of business. All you have to do is go to a great place like West Virginia or places like Ohio, which is phenomenal, or places like Pennsylvania and you see what they're doing to the people, miners and others in the energy business. It's a disgrace."

Trump accused Clinton, the Democratic nominee, of wanting to put coal miners out of business. But while adding "there is a thing called clean coal…coal will last for 1,000 years in this country," he did not expound on the fact that clean coal technology is still being developed and is considered controversial in some quarters, or that cheap natural gas and coal-to-gas switching is playing a larger role in coal's demise than EPA regulation (see Daily GPIOct. 4Sept. 26).

Still, coal provided a nice segue for Trump to talk about natural gas.

"We have natural gas and so many other things because of technology," he said. "Over the last seven years, we have found tremendous wealth right under our feet. [It's] so good, especially when you have $20 trillion in debt.”

Clinton responded by claiming, albeit incorrectly, that the United States has achieved energy independence for the first time in its history. She also embraced natural gas.

"We are not dependent upon the Middle East, but the Middle East still controls a lot of the prices," she said. "The price of oil has been way down, and that has had a damaging effect on a lot of the oil companies. We are, however, producing a lot of natural gas, which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels, and I think that's an important transition.

"We've got to remain energy independent. It gives us much more power and freedom than to be worried about what goes on in the Middle East. We have enough worries over there without having to worry about that."

Last week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that U.S. gross crude oil imports increased by 528,000 b/d during the first half of 2016, a 7% increase compared to the first half of 2015. The EIA also reported that for the week ending Sept. 30, the U.S. imported 7.71 million b/d of crude oil, excluding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Clinton added that climate change is "a serious problem" that is included in her energy policy.

"I support moving toward more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can, because I think we can be the 21st century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses," Clinton said. "But I also want to be sure that we don't leave people behind. That's why I'm the only candidate from the very beginning of this campaign who had a plan to help us revitalize coal country.

"Those coal miners and their fathers and their grandfathers dug that coal out. A lot of them lost their lives. They were injured, but they turned the lights on and they powered their factories. I don't want to walk away from them. We've got to do something for them. But the price of coal is down worldwide, so we have to look at this comprehensively."

In a note to clients Monday, ClearView Energy Partners LLC said the debate did little to change its expectations that energy sector regulations from the Obama administration would be strengthened under a Clinton presidency, while a Trump presidency would delay or rescind them.

“Trump’s high hopes for energy-driven economic benefits were not inconsistent with our view that he could potentially preside over tax reforms that put energy companies at disadvantage,” said Christi Tezak, managing director for ClearView. “Likewise, Clinton’s positioning of natural gas as a ‘bridge’ to renewable energy was not inconsistent with our expectation for environmental rules that result in flat-to-down gas demand on the electric grid.”

Last month, Trump told attendees of the Marcellus Shale Coalition's Shale Insight conference that he would support the oil and gas industry by removing trade barriers and regulatory restrictions enacted by the Obama administration (see Daily GPISept. 23). His opinions on energy issues are similar to those held by Continental Resources Inc. CEO Harold Hamm, who also serves as Trump's energy adviser.

Meanwhile, Clinton has taken a more pragmatic position on energy issues than her former rival for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT). Sanders had called for a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing and co-sponsored legislation that would have, among other things, prohibited new oil and gas lease sales in the offshore Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico (see Daily GPIApril 15).

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