Environmental Positions of the 2016 Presidential Candidates

Fort Madison, Iowa. The League of Conservation Voters endorsed Hillary Clinton.
Fort Madison, Iowa. The League of Conservation Voters endorsed Hillary Clinton. Mark Hirsch/WireImage/Getty Images

Conservation sits high among many people's values. Yet, environmental issues are rarely discussed in political debate. As we observed the 2016 Presidential Primaries, we had little opportunity to hear about the Republican and Democratic candidates’ positions on environmental issues. Below are summaries of the positions held by the main Republican and Democratic candidates:

Republican Party Ticket: Ted Cruz

Environmental issues were not officially on Ted Cruz’s campaign platform. Nevertheless, his position on the environment was clear and could be described as actively hostile. In his Five for Freedom Plan where he detailed his course of action if elected President, Cruz stated that We should shrink the size and power of the federal government by every and any means possible. What does that mean? That means eliminating unnecessary or unconstitutional agencies.” As part of that plan he proposed abolishing the Department of Energy, which drives research, innovation, development, and implementation of renewable energies. He also specifically expressed his wish to cut funding to the following groups and programs, which all have significant environmental objectives:

  • Climate Ready Water Utilities Initiative
  • Climate research funding for the Office of Research and Development
  • Global Methane Initiative
  • Green Infrastructure Program
  • Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program
  • Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund
  • Regulation of CO2 emissions from power plants and all sources
  • Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles
  • Renewable fuel standard federal mandates
  • UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

As a U.S. Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz positioned himself against the Clean Power Plan and in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline. He also does not believe that global climate change is real.

In its 2016 Scorecard, the League of Conservation Voters gave a lifetime score for Mr. Cruz of 5%.

Republican Party Ticket: Marco Rubio

Despite living in Miami only a few feet about sea level, Marco Rubio is also a climate denier. He has positioned himself against the Clean Power Plan, and supports the Keystone XL pipeline, the use of coal, and hydraulic fracturing. In his campaign literature he vowed to reduce environmental regulations ostensibly as a cost-reduction measure to benefit businesses and farmers.

The League of Conservation Voters gave Marco Rubio a lifetime score of 6%.

Republican Party Ticket: Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s campaign website did not list his position on significant issues; instead it contained a series of very short videos starring him pronouncing simple statements. In addition, since he has not held an elected position before his presidential campaign, Trump leaves no voting record that can be examined for clues about his environmental stance.

One could look at his real estate development practices, but it is difficult to establish a clear picture from dozens of large scale projects. He claims his various projects, including several golf courses, have been developed with respect for the environment - but we know that by nature golf courses are rarely green. Otherwise, his perceptions on environmental issues can be gleaned from informal sources like published Twitter messages. He appears to believe that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese” and his statements about some cold snaps suggest he is confused about the difference between weather and climate. Trump stated that he would approve the Keystone XL project and believes that it would have no effects on the environment.

Donald Trump’s position on the environment is perhaps best represented by a statement he made during an interview on Fox News Sunday, where he expressed his interest in doing away with the Environmental Protection Agency. “We’ll be fine with the environment”, he told the host, “we can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”

Democratic Party Ticket: Hillary Clinton

Climate change and energy issues were explicitly addressed on Hillary Clinton’s campaign web site. Promoting renewable energy was central to her environmental position, along with reducing energy waste, and moving away from oil.

Under the general issue of rural communities, Clinton proposed assistance for family farms, local food markets, and regional food systems.

Her U.S. Senate voting record shows her supporting climate stewardship, protected areas, and energy sustainability. She declines to comment on the Keystone XL pipeline. The League of Conservation Voters endorsed Hillary Clinton in November 2015. The organization had given her a 82% lifetime score when she was in the Senate.

Democratic Party Ticket: Bernie Sanders

On his campaign website, Bernie Sanders’ positions on environmental issues were centered on global climate change. He proposed offering climate leadership on the international scene, accelerating a transition from fossil fuels, and developing renewable energies. A volunteer-based organization promoting Sanders, feelthebern.org, detailed more of his positions on the environment: he promoted family-owned sustainable farming, voted in support of the Endangered Species Act, and has been active supporting numerous animal welfare initiatives.

His voting record shows he has shown support for land conservation, clean air and clean water, and public lands. The conservation group Defenders of Wildlife gave Senator Sanders a 100% voting score. Sanders earned a lifetime score of 95% from the League of Conservation Voters.

Getting the Environmental Vote Out

One organization, the Environmental Voter Project, is very active in encouraging turnout for folks concerned about nature but who typically do not vote. The organization extensively uses social media and mobilization tools in order to register voters and encourage them to actually go out and vote. The group's philosophy is that increased environmentalist participation will bring the environment back at the forefront of politicians’ concerns.