John McCain and Barrack Obama’s energy policy advisers squared off today, offering attendees and live Web cast viewers their respective presidential candidates’ views on national renewable energy and climate change policy, and how the next president and Congress can best address the current economic and energy crises while also paving a longer term path towards a more sustainable, economically and environmentally viable future.
The candidates’ energy policy advisers took up the issue of national energy and climate change strategy at the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Global Forum in New York City, during which the CDP released its Flagship Global and S&P 500 2008 surveys of carbon emissions disclosure and management policies among the world’s largest corporations
While both advisors acknowledged sharing much common ground when it comes to the government playing a central role in the development of a “portfolio” of clean, renewable energy resources, promoting energy conservation and adoption of clean technology, they also drew attention to significant differences in their approaches and overarching strategies.
The government’s role in the energy economy
Invoking a climate of worry and fear in light of the stunning collapse of Lehman Bros., the $85 billion federal bailout of AIG, the even larger bailout and “nationalization” of Fannie and Freddie Mac, $700 billion more for a banking sector bailout being negotiated and multi-billion dollar requests for taxpayer funded bailouts from private sector corporations – notably the Big Three auto manufacturers – all coming on top of emergency spending for disaster relief for Hurricane Ike victims– the forum mediator repeatedly zoomed in on the question of whether or not the federal government should, or was even capable of, taking on as ambitious a task as re-orienting national energy policy and tackling climate change, which he deemed the most sweeping attempt at federal regulation since the failed wage and price freeze program in the late 1970s.
Both candidates’ reps stated that U.S. dependence on imported oil and gas amounts to a national security threat, and that each of their candidates believes that the nation needs to aggressively address the risks and threats associated with climate change sooner rather than later.
Repeating a politically acceptable mantra, both have also stated that the government should avoid “picking winners” when it comes to diversifying the nation’s energy resource base. Yet both seem to be advocating just that, though with different policy slants, the forum mediator noted.
Both advisers said that their candidates were in favor of “leveling out the playing field” when it comes to energy resource development and use, though neither pointed out the multi-billion dollar subsidies the oil and gas industry has benefited from for decades. If a level playing field is to be established then these should either be eliminated completely or equal, if not greater, preferential incentives should be granted across the board to renewable energy resource developers.
Moreover, if the national government is to lead and guide the nation when it comes to critical issues such as energy resource development and use how can they not be expected to favor certain alternatives over others? The government is obligated to play a central role and fostered development in key economic sectors – and that shouldn’t change. They just need to do a better job of it.
The root question seems to be which resources and technologies should be promoted and favored over others, and this is where the differences between each candidate’s stated national energy policies diverge. Key to this will be the need to recognize and overcome longstanding and viciously defended political party biases and the need for presidents and Congressional representatives to look beyond narrower self-interests and short-term perspectives in favor of doing what’s right for the nation as a whole over the longer term.
The candidates: Agree & disagree
Both candidates emphasized the central role a national cap-and-trade emissions trading system would play in diversifying the nation’s energy base and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but each has their own, conflicting approaches when it comes to how such a system should be structured and administered.
While Obama favors auctioning of carbon emission reduction credits, thereby creating a disincentive to pollute, McCain prefers allocating emissions reduction allowances to electric utilities in order to help ease the transition to alternative fuels and generating methods by reducing the costs associated with doing so.
Other notable differences between the candidates’ positions on energy have to do with the role nuclear power and oil and gas exploration and resource development should figure into the U.S. energy future.
McCain sees nuclear power as our best “short-term” alternative renewable form of energy and would like to see 45 new nuclear plants built over the next decade or so. Obama’s advisor said that while the Democratic candidate sees nuclear as having a role to play in the process of diversifying and re-orienting U.S. energy resource development and use, it should not be favored so heavily.
Similarly, McCain’s emerging energy policy stance appears to be more in favor of promoting more domestic on- and offshore oil, and even moreso, natural gas drilling than Obama’s policy, which appears to be slanted more in favor of newer, cleaner renewables, such as solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels.