Breath of Clarity

Environmental Policy Analysis Discussion #6: A

A key difference in policy between the Obama administration and Trump administration is the latter’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The Trump administration’s energy policy is revealed through how it conducted itself in regards to the agreement. Crucially, Trump made a campaign promise back in May of 2016 in North Dakota where he said he was going to cancel the Paris Agreement and all funding for global warming programs (Banks 2018). I do not agree with no longer supporting the Green Climate Fund, which was a key factor weighing into the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (Banks 2018) . However, I do agree with the Trump administration’s incorporation of a variety of viewpoints, including perspectives of overseas allies, into his energy policy (Banks 2018). The Trump administration claims, by not joining the Paris Agreement, its energy policy is addressing exposure to potential legal risk. The Trump administration asserted the agreed targets the U.S. commits to through the Paris Agreement could be used against the U.S. (Banks 2018). However, I disagree because there is no third party holding nations accountable to the Paris Agreement’s targets. In my opinion, the U.S. joining the Paris Agreement is more so about declaring itself as a clean energy leader rather than actually being obligated to achieve certain results. Some other problems the Trump administration aims to address with its Paris Agreement withdraw policy is the lack of feasibility in terms of requiring regulation across U.S. industry and U.S. manufacturing as well as the lack of responsibility put onto China (Banks 2018). Evidently, the Trump administration’s policy change is focused on assuring the U.S. has the upper hand over competitors. However, I disagree with the Trump administration’s perception of these problems. Since inevitable depletion of natural resources means all nations are inevitably, eventually going to transition to renewable energy, the U.S. is setting itself up to lose in the future. While in the past, China was not a threat to U.S. dominance of the clean energy sector, now is a different story. In 2007, China produced 148,446 Mega Watts (MW) and the U.S. produced 107,917 MW. In 2016, those figures respectively grew to 545,206 MW and 214,766 (Science Direct 2017). That being said, electing to withdraw from the Paris Accord equates to the U.S. losing the competition for power.

Conversely, Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) focused on lowering green house gas emissions and strengthening the economy through the adoption of new, efficient technology. The falling price of renewable energy is a key characteristic driving my alignment with the Obama administration’s support of the policy (Banks 2018). Further, I agree renewable energy plants tend to have fixed costs and no marginal costs, and natural gas prices, already low, have decreased during the pandemic, making it difficult for coal to compete (Headwater Economics 2020). The Obama administration’s energy policy is aligned with joining the Paris Agreement. While I agree with the Obama administration’s general theory supporting clean energy technology and moving forward with innovation, it does not address a potential problem of the Paris Agreement being there is no way for Congress to have checks and balance over the executive branch’s power in terms of determining the exact targets (Banks 2018). Key focuses of the policy include developing state and national carbon targets; creating a system for EPA to regulate a state, and encouraging cap and trade between states (Rosenbaum 2020).

Moreover, I am convinced of Obama’s approach because a nationwide survey recently found broad support exists across the political spectrum for a future powered mostly by renewable energy sources (Miniard et al. 2020). Insofar as U.S. political polarization can diminish through a general support of a shift towards renewable energy, it can help the nation find common ground in regards to a variety of other political issues. A transition to renewable energy brings me hope.

Figure 1 is a chart detailing the consensus (Miniard et al. 2020).


Banks, George David. 2018. “U.S. Climate Policy Under the Trump Administration.” Columbia Energy Exchange. Accessed October 19 2020.

Headwater Economics. April 22, 2020. “The Evolution of U.S. Electricity Generation Capacity.” Accessed October 19 2020.

Miniard, Deidra; Kantenbacher, Joe; Attari, Shahzeen. 2020. “Both conservatives and liberals want a green energy future, but for different reasons.” The Conversation. Accessed October 19 2020.

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th ed. Los Angeles, California: Sage.

Science Direct. 2017. “U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement: Reasons, impacts, and China’s response”. Advances in Climate Change Research. Volume 8, Issue 4, Pages 220-225.

Comment by Ashley Staat:


Excellent post and summary of the key differences between Obama and Trump administration’s approach to energy policy. It seems like Trump’s guided by campaign promises of restoring the coal industry and less guided by research and current market conditions. I think you bring up a valid point that China is now surpassing the U.S. in the clean energy sector. I think it is a poor excuse that the U.S. wants to back out of the Paris Agreement because China isn’t held to the same standards as developed countries like the U.S.. Although, I think that China should be held to higher standards in the agreement, the President of China is moving faster on carbon neutrality than the U.S. is currently. President Xi Jinping pledged to adopt stronger climate targets and is aimed for carbon neutrality before 2060. Jingping said in a recent speech “Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature and go down the beaten path of extracting resources without investing in conservation, pursuing development at the expense of protection, and exploiting resources without restoration (Sengupta 2020). ” In contrast, Trump blames China for the world’s problems and refuses to admit anthropogenic climate change is happening, I believe he recently was quoted saying “I don’t think science knows, actually” when discussing the wildfires burning in the West (Brewster 2020). America, is 4.5% of the world population and consumes 25% of the world’s energy (Rosenbaum 2020, 231), therefore we should be doing more to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. We should be the leader in climate policy, yet we are falling behind the rest of the world.

Brewster, Jack. 2020. “‘I Don’t Think Science Knows, Actually’: Trump Dismisses Climate Science in California Wildfire Discussion.” Forbes, September 14. to an external site..

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th ed. Los Angeles, California: Sage.

Sengupta, Somini. 2020. “China, in Pointed Message to U.S., Tightens its Climate Targets.” New York Times, September 22. 2020/09/22/climate/china-emissions.html

My Response:

Hi Ashley,

Thanks for the insightful comment. I found another article discussing how Trump is having difficulty satisfying all his campaign promises. While he proposed new subsidies for coal and nuclear plants, his plan set off sharp criticism from other sectors he also vowed to help, such as natural gas and utilities (Gardener 2018). Policies that help one of those sectors often harm another (Gardener 2018). Without the harmony amongst non-renewable business, it is difficult for any of them to thrive to their potential. Utilities, for instance, have shown little interest in buying more coal-fired power despite the regulatory rollbacks in Trump’s pro-coal push (Gardener 2018). The Trump administration’s inability to satisfy all is also evident in his biofuels policy. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency initially entertained a plan from oil refiners to upend regulations requiring them to blend ethanol into their gasoline – then rejected it after a backlash from the ethanol industry, rooted in Midwest corn-growing states that supported Trump’s election (Gardener 2018). It is interesting to see his priorities revealed within the non-renewable sector. Conversely, the Obama administration does not need to deal with as many conflicting supporters of his energy policy.

I agree with your words about the relationship between China and the U.S. in the energy sector. The Trump administration’s goal of competing with China is not aligned with its energy policy. If the U.S. focused on its own carbon neutrality targets, then it would actually be more successful at competing with China. The U.S. is focused on China’s responsibility being insufficient, even though it seems China is setting a high standard for itself while the U.S. is afraid to commit. Crucially, it does not make sense the U.S. is blaming China for problems considering the former is 4.5 of the world population consuming 25% of the world’s energy.


Gardener, Timothy. 2018. “Can’t please everyone: Trump energy policy riles competing sectors”. Reuters. Accessed October 21.

Response by Ashley Staat:


Yes, Trump’s policy approaches and campaign promises on coal production were very misguided. Nicolas Akins of American Electric Power Co. says “you can’t really fight the laws of economics and the laws of risk, and the issues of development around new technology (Natter and Wade 2020).” Coal production was already on a steady decline since 2008 due to natural gas fracking technologies allowing for natural gas to outcompete coal. Despite all of Trump’s efforts, dozens of plants are closing across the country due to economic principles alone. Vistra, a Texas based company who ones 9 coal plants in Illinois announced they would be closing all of them by the end of the decade. Vistra is instead investing in solar installations and battery storage because they recognize coal is just not profitable (Hawthorne 2020). No matter what policies Trump removed or leverage he has tried to give to coal plants, it seems it has all failed due to economic conditions.

Hawthorne, Michael. 2020. “Texas Company to Close All of its Illinois Coal-Fired Plants, Another Sign the Global Transition to Clean Energy is Accelerating.” Chicago Tribune, September 30, 2020. to an external site..

Natter, Ari and Will Wade. 2020. “Trump Made a Promise to Save Coal in 2016. He Couldn’t Keep It.” Bloomberg, September 3, 2020.

Comment by Erin Cleere:

Hi Mary,

I appreciated the points you brought up in your post. It feels like it is this often illogical struggle to focus solely on short-sighted benefits versus seeing and assessing the negative impacts we are already bearing the painful brunt of if we don’t shift our energy platform. And with the Trump administration’s “America First” focus, that puts us at odds with not only other countries, but the ability to address our shared impacts from emissions. It would be flabbergasting if it weren’t so terrifyingly detrimental.

I have seen some claims that renewable energy isn’t “green” because the materials and processes involved in creating things like solar panels (negative wildlife impacts from wind turbines, etc.) harm the Earth. I don’t discount that there are impacts from pretty much anything we engage in – especially on larger scales – but don’t know that the claim holds much weight. I have it on my list to look into research that compares environmental impact of, for example, mountaintop removal with mining for the components needed for solar panels. I hope that point you raised about innovation – that was called out by the Obama administration – is something that also looks to further reduce any negative impacts from “clean energy” sources.

Comment #2:

Original Post by Erin Cleere:

The main difference between the Obama and Trump administrations’ energy policies is that the former focused on a multi-pronged approach with clean energy at its center, and the latter focused on deregulation. To be a bit more specific, the Obama administration provided substantial support for clean energy (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass), and new jobs created because of it, but still allowed drilling and did not stand in the way of fracking (Shogren 2017). Both want(ed) to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, but the Obama administration came to accept climate change as not just a threat, but a reality, and put in place measures to reduce emissions, toxic waste, restrict drilling from at least some sensitive areas, and temporarily suspend new leases for surface mining to study its impacts (Rosenbaum 2020, 244). In short, the Obama administration wanted to build a substantial clean energy industry (Shogren 2017).

The Trump administration has focused on revoking or suspending much of what President Obama put in place, such as: a) doing away with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) that would have regulated emissions from coal-fired power plants, b) reducing staff and research funding for many environmental agencies (e.g. EPA, Department of the Interior (DOI), etc.), and c) reversing the moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands (Rosenbaum 2020, 239). They also a) ordered federal agencies to review rules that impeded energy production & rolled back many, b) authorized oil & gas leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain, and c) reduced miles-per-gallon standards for new vehicles from up to 54 mpg by 2025 to 40 mpg (Chang et al. 2020). The Trump administration not only removed (or is trying to remove) pollution and conservation regulations, but worker safety rules as well (Chang et al. 2020) – all to reduce the burden to industry as much as possible.

While the Obama administration policy focus had its own shortcomings, I believe it was a better long-term strategy for a healthier environment, meeting emission reduction targets, and providing jobs to those needing to shift out of the fossil fuel industry (to the extent possible). I think the Trump administration deregulation stance is short-sighted and damaging – and not only to the environment. Just the roll back of vehicle emission standards is estimated to cause a loss of jobs in the auto industry and more expensive gasoline for drivers (Chang et al. 2020). The deregulation mostly bolsters company profits at the expense of communities, their health and the environment. It reminds me of touring a French logging company. They had taken over after a Chinese logging company had left the area after being there for several years. We talked to several of the employees who’d worked for both, and – without prompting – they told us how previous company had been focused on getting as much as possible cut down and processed with few to no worker safety measures put in place. The French company had established something several targeted plans (25-year, 50-year, etc.) for logging, had built worker housing that had electricity powered by timber scraps, carefully trained all employees in safe practices, and put in place wildlife conservation measures that actually improved biodiversity within the time they’d been there. So deregulation can be great for big, short-term profits, but who does it help in the long-run? And who is held responsible for clean up if it’s needed?


Chang, Alvin, Emily Holden, Oliver MIlman, and Noah Yachot. 2020. “75 Ways Trump Made the Planet Dirtier and Warmer”. The Guardian, October 20. Accessed October 20, 2020. to an external site.

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy. 11th ed. Washington D.C.: CQ Press – A Division of SAGE.

Shogren, Elizabeth. 2017. “How Obama Transformed Clean Energy in the West.” Grist, January 6. Accessed October 21, 2020.

My Comment:

Hi Erin,

Great point in summarizing the Trump administration’s energy policy as focused on deregulation. I found an article updated seven days ago outlining the environmental rules he has reversed. Below is a table showing the distribution of rules separated by various environmental issues (Popovich et al. 2020):

Still, the various categories of environmental policy are interrelated in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That said, they are all related to the goal of energy sector policies. For example, the administration’s Interior Department has worked to open up more land for oil and gas leasing by limiting wildlife protections and weakening environmental requirements for projects (Popovich et al. 2020). However, the potential for rules to be returned to their pre-Trump administration status is likely. Hillary Aidun, who tracks deregulation at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said many of the Trump-era rules have not been adequately justified, leaving them vulnerable to litigation (Popovich et al. 2020). After the list of deregulations, check out the list highlighting the originally rolled back ones that have been reinstated. It brings a sense of hope.


Popovich, Nadja, Livia Albeck-Ripka, and Kendra Pierre-Louis. 2020. “The Trump Administration Is Reversing Nearly 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List.” New York Times. Accessed October 22.

Response by Erin Cleere:

Hi Mary,

Thanks for your comments and sharing that article! When I was reading the one from the Guardian on 75 ways Trump has made the planet dirtier and warmer, I was struggling to get through it; although we know there have been a lot of rollbacks (& he just keeps pushing through more), it’s a bit overwhelming to see it all laid out. I appreciate your pointing out that Aidun noted many of the Trump administration’s rules haven’t been adequately justified.

While I realize we have a system that neither conservatives, nor liberals, nor progressives (independents, etc.) is happy with right now, it would at least help to keep the necessary rules in place and fix the system rather than try to destroy the system (and our environment and many species with it). There is a chart in The Guardian article that references a notable increase in soot levels – PM2.5 – since Trump took office (after he rejected recommendations from scientist to strengthen pollution standards for soot, which have been shown to lead to increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease). The next administration will certainly have their work cut out for them!


Chang, Alvin, Emily Holden, Oliver MIlman, and Noah Yachot. 2020. “75 Ways Trump Made the Planet Dirtier and Warmer”. The Guardian, October 20. Accessed October 20, 2020.

Comment #3:

Original Post by Neisa McMillan:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) (2009) was President Obama’s big contribution to the clean energy industry. The Act, designed to advance wind and solar exploration also entailed huge financial investments on expensive, risky green technologies. The Trump administration was not as supportive in the move towards clean energies as illustrated in President Trump’s budget proposals for cutbacks to federal funding of renewables. However, Congress, backed by growing corporate interests blocked Trump’s proposals; the renewable energy sector has exhibited steady increase (Rosenbaum 2020).

ARRA focused on clean energy, energy efficiency, transportation, and the electric grid. Investments, grants, loan guarantees, tax credits, and rebates were distributed to renewables industries, state and local governments, and other various technologies and as a result, the Act is believed to be responsible for the steady to rapid growth in renewables (Aldy 2019). However, by the end of Obama’s second term, defaulted loans on some controversial ARRA projects left American taxpayers in arrears with over $2.2 billion in costs (Dinan 2015).

Despite President Trump’s supposed disapproval of renewable energies, the administration is poised to move forward with large-scale plans for renewable energy plans on federal lands. These plans include five large commercial wind and solar projects and 21,000 acres of southern California land for geothermal energy. Fossil fuel projects are also included in Trump’s energy campaign including the controversial oil drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Streater 2020).

In 2017, President Obama sought to place restrictions on fracking by proposing federal regulatory action for standards on federal lands. In 2019, President Trump repealed Obama’s proposal (Rosenbaum 2020). During the Obama Presidency, the U.S. experienced a 74 percent increase in oil production—the largest increase in 43 years. This was largely due to shale oil exploration (Egan 2016). President Obama was not entirely against fossil fuel exploration as he accredited the rise in clean energy to natural gas. According to Forbes (2019) under President Obama production of U.S. gas increased 35%, gas consumption increased 19%, and U.S. production of crude oil increased 80% (Clemente 2019).

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) (2015) was designed to set limits on carbon pollution in the U.S. The plan, issued by the EPA under the CAA, included flexible standards for states to address and combat air pollution and climate change. The CPP would save the U.S. billions of dollars in climate change related expenses by shifting to renewable energies (NRDC 2017). President Trump saw Obama’s plans as a “war on coal” and moved to remove and suspend parts of the CPP regulatory powers (Rosenbaum 2020).

This week’s reading on U.S. energy evolution illustrate how natural gas is replacing coal and fostering growth in renewables (Haggerty 2020) and the Columbia Energy Exchange interview with George David Banks provides a glimpse into the motives and mindset of President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement. I feel that if we are to take a bipartisan perspective on how environmental policy is shaped resultant to administrative concerns, we can begin to understand the basis an American president makes his decisions. Although policy efforts are conflicting, the move to incorporate green energy as a primary source of energy appears exhibit positive trends. I cannot say that I entirely disagree with President Trump’s policy decisions because he has the American worker in mind. Finding solutions that will satisfy both environmentalists and American energy sector workers is not an easy task.

Banks, George David. 2018. “U.S. Climate Policy Under the Trump Administration.” Columbia Energy Exchange. March 12.

Dinan, Steven. (2015). “Obama Clean Energy Loans Leave Taxpayers in $2.2 Billion Hole.” The Washington Times.” April 27, 2015.

Egan, Matt. 2016. “America’s Biggest Oil Boom Came Under Obama.” CNN Business, July 21, 2016.

Headwater Economics. April 22, 2020. “The Evolution of U.S. Electricity Generation Capacity.” Accessed June 23, 2020.

Joseph, Aldy. 2019. “Green New Deal Can Learn from Obama’s $90bn Clean Energy Plan of 2009.” Energy Post, February, 22, 2020.

NRDC. 2017. “What is the Clean Power Plan?” Natural resource defense Council, September 29, 2017.

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2019. Environmental Politics and Policy. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, a Division of Sage.

Streater, Scott. 2020. “Trump Admin Plans 2020 Approvals for Major Projects.” Energy and Environment Publishing, LLC, January 2, 2020.

My Comment:

Hi Neisa,

I appreciate you mentioned the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It reveals the difference between administrations in terms of their outlook on the role of science in policy. I was surprised to read, after research and development spending in the International Energy Agency doubled between 2000 and 2012, it has been largely stable (International Energy Agency 2020). Based on the class discussion’s analysis of the Obama administration’s energy policy, I would have predicted an increase in funding during his term. Still, after being a residential solar energy consultant in California, I witnessed tax credits have a significant, positive impact on homeowners’ decision to install a rooftop system. Also, thanks for bringing attention to the Trump administration’s five large commercial wind and solar projects and 21,000 acres of southern California land for geothermal energy. It shows conservatives can resonate with the economic logic of implementing renewable energy technology.


International Energy Agency. 2020. “Global status of clean energy innovation in 2020”. Accessed October 22 2020.