Wednesday at the Ford School of Public Policy, Public Policy Prof. Daniel Raimi moderated a discussion about the two major presidential nominees’ energy and climate policy plans and addressed whether automated vehicles will have a negative or positive impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The panel, which was sponsored by the University of Michigan Energy Institute and University of Michigan Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, was titled “Energy, Climate Change, and the 2016 Elections.”
Panelist Mark Barteau, the director of the Energy Institute and professor of chemical engineering, described the vastly different proposals outlined by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. He characterized Clinton’s proposals as drawing on the pragmatism and progressivism that has marked Obama’s presidency and raised concerns about Trump’s policy proposals because of their emphasis on increasing fracking, eliminating energy research and development and selling federal lands.
Barteau noted that, however, though policies have been outlined, what happens once a candidate takes office could be different.
“You would expect (Trump) to disassemble the Obama legacy but he likes to be unpredictable, so you don’t know where he might head,” Barteau said.
Rackham student Nathan Wood said after the panel that he is not convinced that the political will exists in the United States to push through major environmental legislation.
“There are other countries that propose bold policies and even they have difficulties in trying to trickle them down to the state and local level,” Wood said. “It is a matter of actually implementing changes even though people have grown up, very much so, doing something else.”
Panelist Barry Rabe, professor of public policy and environmental policy, said in the last 25 years, nearly every combination of different political party control of the executive and legislative branch has existed, but no major legislation pertaining to the environment has been passed. He said not only have politics on a national level become increasingly gridlocked, but state politics have become increasingly polarized as state legislatures drift toward higher concentrations of one party or another.
“(There is) a tendency to either make states red or blue rather than purple and greater and greater difficulty in states being able to find ways to work across partisan and even regional boundaries,” Rabe said.
To illustrate his point, Rabe cited the state of Washington, which in the 1980s and 1990s pushed forward numerous pieces of progressive environmental legislation but over the course of the last decade has struggled to pass any sort of bill. Currently, on the Washington ballot this year is a proposal known as Initiative 732 that would place a tax on carbon and while the idea of a carbon tax has been adopted in countries like Canada, Rabe said he thinks the ballot proposal will be defeated.
“That will be defeated as we are at a point where there is almost an even split amongst the electorate,” Rabe said. “When you get this far into a campaign, the ‘no’ vote begins to take over. It is the first explicit test of whether or not that policy is credible in a larger system.”
Panelist Lisa Wozniak, the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan political organization dedicated to safeguarding the state’s land, air and water, highlighted the current state of policy in Michigan. Wozniak said since 2008, a significant amount of environmental legislation has been proposed in the state legislature but there has been a failure at the executive level to lead on the issue.
“We, at one point, thought that the governor was really going to lead on this, but there have been a myriad of factors, not that the least of which has been the Flint drinking water crisis, that has actually pulled away a lot of attention of this issue and onto others,” Wozniak said. “The governor has not been leading on this.”
Public Policy junior Connor Priest, an attendee, said not only do issues related to energy and the environment need to be tackled on a state level, but also on an even more local and individual level just as urgently.
“I just think it is going to be huge for us to get into the mindset of shared consumption and I think that can also change the way we consume goods,” Priest said. “The problem that I am seeing is that we are approaching the point where climate scientists are predicting that global warming will just go up.”