Archive for Sunday, July 13, 2008

McCain, Obama differ on energy strategy

July 13, 2008


— John McCain and Barack Obama are offering voters very different views of America's energy future.

Obama envisions the federal government funding alternative energy development and mandating lower fuel consumption. McCain sees a less direct federal role, relying on government incentives and market forces to boost energy supplies and promote efficiency.

Both candidates are similar in one respect: They pledge a comprehensive overhaul of energy policy. But they offer sharply divergent paths that analysts often find confounding and impractical.

"They both have ambitious goals, but less than ambitious means," said Bruce Bullock, the director of Southern Methodist University's Maguire Energy Institute.

Richard Kearney, the director of the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University, put it more starkly: "They're just throwing stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks."

"I'm not sure McCain has a good grasp of cap and trade" - a system that provides economic incentives to polluters to reduce emissions - "or renewables' complexities," Kearney said, "and Obama is throwing a lot of stuff out there but hasn't really set any priorities."

Experts agreed that neither candidate's plan is likely to lower energy prices anytime soon.

"There's no silver bullet that will bring prices down," Bullock said.

Voters will have a particularly tough task sorting out all the ideas.

"If I were a voter and didn't know much about energy, I would think that nothing the candidates are saying, at first glance, sounds wrong," said Robert Kaufmann, the director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University.

In addition, voters should understand "there is no singular answer. Markets are too complex and our energy needs are too great," added Philip Sharp, the president of Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research group.

To sort out the energy plans, experts said, voters need to consider these questions:

¢ Will either plan help the United States reduce its dependence on oil?

The United States consumes about 20.6 million barrels of oil a day. About 60 percent is imported. That's well above the 35.8 percent that was imported in 1975, when President Ford, and later President Carter, put their political weight behind comprehensive energy legislation.

Obama aims to reduce oil consumption by at least 35 percent by 2030; among his ideas to curb demand is to increase the fleet average for cars and trucks to 49 miles per gallon in 18 years and increase it by 4 percent each year thereafter. McCain doesn't set specific goals for consumption or auto standards.

Auto fleet-average mileage standards are scheduled under current law to increase from today's 27.5 miles per gallon to 35 mpg by 2020.

McCain focuses on increasing oil supplies, emphasizing that his plan to end the 27-year-old moratorium on drilling off most U.S. coastal waters will free up "enormous energy reserves."

The Interior Department estimated in 2006 that the Outer Continental Shelf could hold 115.4 billion barrels, though it also estimated that recoverable reserves off areas where production now is barred probably hold only 19 billion barrels, enough to provide about 2.5 years of U.S. consumption.

¢ Can the government set energy policy on a radically different course?

McCain and Obama say that's their goal.

McCain would use the cap and trade system as a way to promote alternative fuels. Funds would help develop cleaner energy technologies, including nuclear power.

The Arizona senator also would provide what he calls an "evenhanded system of tax credits" to encourage renewable-energy development "that will remain in place until the market transforms sufficiently to the point where renewable energy no longer merits the taxpayers' dollars."

Obama, who also supports a form of cap and trade, would spend $150 billion over 10 years to help develop biofuels, "commercial-scale renewable energy," plug-in hybrids, low-emission coal plants and other exotic sources.

The Illinois senator also pledges to double federal research funding for clean energy projects, notably biomass, solar and wind.

McCain's Plan B would be new oil production and electricity from what he hopes will be 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030. Obama doesn't oppose nuclear power, but makes no specific commitment to support new plants.

North Carolina State's Kearney noted one key flaw in Obama's approach: "He's opposed to dumping waste at Yucca Mountain," the Nevada site that's planned as the nation's repository for nuclear waste. Obama supports more federal research into whether the waste can be stored safely and then reused; McCain backs using Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste.

¢ Can the program be sold to the public?

The biggest energy-policy problem the new president will have is likely to be political. Massive energy programs can be a tough sell, particularly to a public that wants price relief now, and with a strong array of special interests ready to pounce.

Yet President Carter did it in the late 1970s. It took all four years of his term, but he got about three-fourths of what he first proposed, and from the start he made it clear that his energy program was his top domestic priority.

At the moment, said Stuart Eizenstat, who was Carter's chief domestic-policy director and is now an Obama adviser, while "there is a broad consensus something needs to be done, what's lacking is a consensus to translate that into concrete action."

Jody Powell, press secretary to Carter, is optimistic.

"The next president can get something done if he keeps the package comprehensive and balanced," he said.


Stephen Roberts 9 years, 5 months ago

Average- A lot of things would be nice. It would be nice if we had a light rail between Topeka and Kansas City. Big question how to pay for it? How to get the approvals through the state and county governments? Would land owners want to sell some of their land for this project?I find it quite humorous that people have great plans but only want the government to pay to make those plans a reality- Good morning Merrill and your PLC buddies- I am talking about you guys. Maybe if you would pay more taxes- it would help.Obama's response- funding the alernative fuel? How? Show the government own patents for fuel? Great answer Obama.

davidsmom 9 years, 5 months ago

I understand the desire to force automakers to increase the mileage of vehicles, but what if they simply can't reach the desired goal on the vehicles that people want? My brother drives SUVs and says he doesn't care how much gasoline he has to use because, by golly, he isn't going to give up his SUVs and if they can't get good mileage, then so be it. What does the federal govt. do when the manufacturers improve the mileage but can't meet the goal and still give consumers the vehicles they want? It sounds as if the plan to set a specific mileage for vehicles is just a number drawn out of a hat. What is it based on? What evidence is there that the specific goal is attainable?

ASBESTOS 9 years, 5 months ago

Neither one of these pandering weak Presidential Party nominees has a very good answer, and both are really sickeningly pandering. It is so gross to hear these 2 "try to talk" about solutions. Neither one of these weak candidates has one ounce or iota of actual "problem solving skills". Obama has no experience, and McCain's "experience" is at being a career politicial.Yeah it is "change" to give a kid a Ferrari for their 16th birthday instead of a safe slower vehicle, but that kind of "Change" more often ends up with either the young driver or another bystander injured or dead. The point this election season is that the "Candidate for change" is not experienced and there is a large "party" electorate not owning up to that, and on the other side McCains just slipped through while the extremeists in the party battled, rendering McCains the "default" candidate, not the preferred.And even though that is the case with gas prices going up, the economy going south (yes it is a recession, the metrics of the "2 quarters of retraction" is a 1970s metric, and not in line with a globalized economy and the current wild a@@ed financial markets and interest), the Rep[ublicans have done a horrible job, and the republicans have eroded their base by being handed the Whiteouse, Senate, and House and did not control spending, did not fight the war correctly, tried to push through "Comp Immigration Reform", and did everything that the grassroots did not want, and still*this mental midget and wounded republican candidate is in a dead heat with Obama.This is exactly like 2000, Gore should have shellacked Bush, but was so terrible a candidate it was a tie. He did not deserve the Presidencey on the simple fact he blew a big lead.So herre we are agains holding our noses on both sides bulling the lever or crappy choices. An "old suit" and a "new suit" but both are empty!

Flap Doodle 9 years, 5 months ago

It's been a couple of hours since this was posted. What's Obama changed his policy to now?

Daytrader23 9 years, 5 months ago

Anonymous usersnap_pop_no_crackle (Anonymous) says:It's been a couple of hours since this was posted. What's Obama changed his policy to now? From all the talk, talk, talk, I believe it's wind mills in D.C, one next to every politicians desk, left and right wing. Also he wants to take all the B.S from Washington and use it for Bio fuels. These two measures would produce enough energy for the world.

average 9 years, 5 months ago

I will point out that one man had quite a bit of power over the last decade. Who scuttled every CAFE fuel-economy standard proposal over the last 15 years? The chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. John McCain.Alternatives would be nice, too. Amtrak is running at 100% capacity this summer. Too bad we can't add more trains. Who shot down every capital investment? Same committee as above. The average railcar in the fleet is over 25 years old, as a result.

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