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SEA Change: Comparing the candidates’ environmental stance

Published: October 31, 2008
Section: Opinions


On November 4, this country will elect the occupant of the most powerful position in the nation and perhaps the world — the Presidency of the United States. While there are many factors that go into making an informed vote, we at Students for Environmental Action believe that climate change is potentially the most crucial issue for the long-term good of humanity, and as such, we recommend that it be among the strongest elements you consider when voting next Tuesday. And while SEA does not endorse specific candidates, we want to devote this column to looking at each candidate’s position and policies on enivronmental issues to help focus attention on them.

Obama’s comprehensive energy and environment plan is titled New Energy for America and can be found in full at http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy. Obama’s focus is on expanding renewable energy in a way that stimulates the economy. In the short term, he wants to provide temporary relief for high gas prices by establishing a windfall profit tax on oil companies that will be used to fund a $1,000 emergency energy rebate for families. He will target the practice of oil speculation and release some oil from the strategic petroleum reserve. The focus of his long term goals is to ensure that 10% of America’s electricity use comes from renewable sources by 2012 and 25% by 2025. He will also pursue energy efficiency by weatherizing one million homes every year, a move which he believes will reduce electricity usage by 15% from its projected levels by 2020. Obama supports the development of clean coal technology and will focus on contructing the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline.

To fight climate change, Obama will demand that fuel economy standards increase by 4% annually and will provide $4 billion to domestic automakers to retool their plants. He will create a new $7,000 tax credit specifically for purchasing hybrid cars with the goal of putting one million of these vehicles on the roads by 2015. His National Low Carbon Fuel Standard will cut 10% of the carbon in fuel by 2020 and will put the country on a path to phasing in 60 billion gallons of biofuels by 2030. He will demand that all land leased to oil companies goes into immediate production but will take heed of environmental and infrastructure concerns on any new drilling on American land. Obama supports a cap-and-trade policy for limiting carbon emissions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in the next 42 years and will engage with the UN to a greater extent to solve climate change as a worldwide problem.

Republican John McCain’s energy plan is The Lexington Project; it is online at http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/17671aa4-2fe8-4008-859f-0ef1468e96f4.htm. The Lexington Project is focused on ending the United States’ dependence on foreign oil by 2025. McCain supports both loosening restrictions on offshore drilling to expand both the oil and natural gas production of America. He will offer a $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of automobiles with no carbon emissions and will strengthen the penalties for manufacturers that defy CAFE fuel efficiency standards. He also encourages the use of alternative sources of electricity, pledging to give $2 billion every year toward developing clean coal and building at least 45 new nuclear plants by 2030. McCain intends to promote energy efficiency by greening federal government buildings and updating the national electricity grid. He opposes a windfall profits tax on oil companies but supports increasing the penalties for oil speculation.

McCain’s climate change policy is at http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/da151a1c-733a-4dc1-9cd3-f9ca5caba1de.htm. It is centered around a cap-and-trade system that uses a series of progressively greater goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 66% by 2050. Emissions permits would be auctioned off, and a portion of the money earned would go to environmental research and development. McCain intends to build a green economy through allowing companies to “bank” their permits until it is most economically feasible to employ them and through creation of the Climate Change Credit Corporation, an agency that will adjust the number of allowed and auctioned permits as the economy allows. He wants to engage India and China in structuring environmental agreements to ensure their rapidly growing economies remain environmentally responsible.

Libertarian Bob Barr’s energy plan focuses on harnessing the free market to cut energy prices. Independant Ralph Nader would eliminate all government subsidization of oil, nuclear, electric, and coal mining companies to allow green start-up companies a chance to compete. Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party wants to concentrate the creation of new green jobs in underdeveloped communities to provide economic stimulation. Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin does not prioritize energy or environmental policy in his platform.

Regardless of who you vote for, make sure that the environment is at the forefront of your concerns. Hold candidates accountable for keeping their environmental promises, both on a presidential level and down the ticket. At this critical period for attacking the growing climate change crisis, we must ensure that the United States leads the way in the development of a sustainable global economy, and that process has to start on November 4.