JUICE: Energy Platforms

By Published On: September 14, 2007

With the American electorate increasingly focused on global warming and escalating fuel prices, energy policy will be a key issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. While it’s still early in the campaign and some of the candidates have yet to articulate comprehensive energy plans, distinctive themes have emerged along party lines. Predictably, the Democratic candidates line up behind a green banner to support carbon cap-and-trade systems, investment in renewable energy, hybrid vehicles, energy efficiency, and conservation programs. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates have been doing a balancing act between supporting the Bush administration’s status quo energy policy and moving to address a growing national consensus for federal action on climate change and alternative energy. National security and energy independence remain buzzwords for Republican candidates, most of whom support increasing domestic oil supply, nuclear energy, and biofuels production to free the U.S. from reliance on foreign oil. Most GOP candidates support federal subsidies for domestic oil and gas production and lifting the moratoriums on drilling for offshore oil and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While these policies remain popular with the party’s conservative base—and sharply at odds with their Democratic competitors—a growing number of Republican stalwarts and the party’s corporate backers have become alarmed about the economic consequences of climate change, particularly after Hurricane Katrina. Most Republican candidates acknowledge that global warming is a pressing problem yet a few holdouts question whether fossil fuel consumption and other human activities are a leading cause. GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, for one, dismisses Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as a “work of fiction.” The GOP candidates for the most part are not opposed to taking action to address global warming and reduce carbon dioxide emissions if it doesn’t cause economic harm or raise taxes. However, most Republican candidates, including Tancredo, have spelled out few details of an energy policy, focusing instead on hot button issues like foreign policy, the war with Iraq, and illegal immigration. Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson perhaps may be excused since he just threw his hat into the race last week after months of speculation. But front runners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are clearly lagging behind the Democratic candidates and Republican maverick John McCain, the leading GOP candidate on energy and climate issues. Ironically, the field of Republican presidential hopefuls appears less unified on energy and environmental issues than their Democratic challengers, who are vying amongst themselves to emerge as the greenest candidate to capture younger environmental voters. Whether motivated by personal conviction or political expedience—and despite a predilection for rhetoric over details—the Democratic candidates view a greener energy policy as a linchpin in the 2008 campaign. Democratic front runners Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, along with perennial presidential campaigner Joe Biden, waited several months before endorsing Senators Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007. Boxer and Sanders’ Senate bill—the toughest climate control legislation in Congress—would require the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. To achieve these targets, the bill would establish a mandatory cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has embraced energy security as his top priority. He is advocating for a new post-Kyoto United Nations round of international climate negotiations. Biden calls for raising CAFE standards for automobiles to an average of 40 miles per gallon by 2017. He is a staunch supporter of biofuels. Biden also advocates increasing renewables to 20 percent of the U.S. electricity supply. However, he does not specify a target date. Likewise, Senator John McCain of Arizona vows to make global warming one of the three predominant issues in his presidency, if elected. McCain, one of the Senate’s earliest and most consistent champions of climate change action, has introduced legislation in the last three Congressional sessions to establish a cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions 65 percent by 2050. The current version is the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act. It would set less stringent goals than the competing Boxer/Sanders bill. McCain also supports modest increases in vehicle fuel efficiency standards and has been a vocal opponent of federal subsidies to domestic oil companies and ethanol producers. He argues that ethanol has done nothing to make the country more energy independent; federal subsidies for ethanol actually increase gasoline prices at the pump; and ethanol provides less energy than the fossil fuels consumed to produce it. However, with ethanol production and sales booming in the pivotal presidential caucus state of Iowa (which grows the most corn in the nation), McCain has tempered his anti-ethanol stance in the current campaign. GOP challenger Senator Sam Brownback, who hails from Kansas, is a staunch supporter of corn-based ethanol. Brownback typically opposes increasing fuel economy standards and opposes capping carbon dioxide emissions, believing it would harm the economy. The Democratic candidates differ over how to achieve their common energy and climate control goals. They map out divergent stances over more controversial issues, such as liquefied “clean coal,” nuclear energy, subsidies for ethanol and other biofuels, and a carbon tax. For the most part, the more innovative programs and policies have been put forward by lesser candidates, while the frontrunners have staked out more cautious political positions. Front runners Clinton and Obama both embrace coal-to-liquids technology and ethanol production as alternatives to fossil fuels. Critics say while liquid coal and ethanol would lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil they would do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After getting fallout and flack from environmental groups for cosponsoring the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act, Obama has since tempered his stance and says he now supports liquefied coal only if it emits 20 percent less carbon than conventional fossil fuels. The Illinois senator supports raising fuel economy standards for automobiles to 40 miles per gallon by 2020. He also introduced the Health Care for Hybrids Act, which would direct the federal government to pay part of the health-care costs for retired U.S. autoworkers if automakers invest at least 50 percent of the savings into production of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Clinton’s chief energy proposal is creating a $50 billion “Strategic Energy Fund” for research and development of clean coal technology, ethanol and other biofuels, renewable energy, and energy efficiency technologies. The fund would be financed by royalties from oil and gas drilling on public lands and by repealing tax credits to oil companies. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson wants to be the “energy president.” He is boldly calling for a revolution in U.S. energy and climate policies to break the nation’s addiction to fossil fuels. “On energy and climate, we must change fast, or sink slowly,” he says. Richardson, who served as Secretary of Energy under President Bill Clinton, advocates reducing U.S. oil consumption 50 percent by 2020; generating 30 percent of the nation’s energy from renewables by 2020 and 50 percent by 2040; capping CO2 emissions to achieve a 20 percent reduction from 2006 levels by 2020 and 90 percent by 2040. He also advocates increasing plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles to five percent of annual automobile and light duty truck sales by 2013 and to 50 percent by 2020. He further urges raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles to 50 miles per gallon by 2020. He’s authored a book outlining his energy policy, Leading by Example: How We Can Inspire an Energy and Security Revolution. It is set to be released in October. Richardson argues that the U.S. must take comprehensive action to prevent catastrophic climate change. He adds that investing in a new energy economy will create ten times the value in the economy. In Richardson’s view, the U.S. must become a leader in working with allies and developing nations to adopt mandatory global limits on greenhouse gases. He proposes a North American Energy Council with Mexico and Canada that would supply 20 percent of U.S. oil. Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich proposes creating a Works Green Administration modeled after the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration to employ thousands of young people in retrofitting buildings for solar and wind power and boosting their energy efficiency. The furthest left amongst all the presidential candidates, Kucinich also wants to create a Global Green Deal to share U.S. renewable energy technology with developing countries. Kucinich supports boosting public investment in renewables and advocates requiring utilities to procure 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy projects by 2020. Kucinich has been a longtime advocate of restructuring the electric power industry, but his efforts at passing federal legislation have failed in Congress. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut is the sole presidential candidate to have endorsed a highly controversial corporate carbon tax. Dodd maintains that a tax on pollution is critical to breaking the fossil fuel stranglehold on the U.S. economy and seriously addressing global warming. That position could be tantamount to political suicide and likely will cost him campaign contributions from business. Dodd estimates the carbon tax would generate about $50 billion a year, which would fund investment in renewables and energy-efficient technologies. Dodd also advocates raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles to 50 miles per gallon by 2017—a higher target than any of his Democratic competitors. Dodd proudly broadcast the first-ever presidential campaign ad on global warming and has made his campaign “carbon neutral.” He boldly calls for eliminating dependency on Mideast oil by 2015. Unlike frontrunners Clinton and Obama, Dodd opposes investment in coal-to-liquids technology and advocates banning new coal power plants it they don’t capture or sequester carbon emissions, a position he shares with John Edwards. He supports nuclear power as an option to help reduce global warming but wants more research to find a safe way to dispose of nuclear waste. Dodd advocates federal support for cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels with the goal of 8.5 billion gallons of biofuels in U.S. cars and homes by 2008 and 36 billion gallons by 2022. Dodd cosponsored the Clean Air Planning Act of 2007, which would implement a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury from utility-owned power plants. Dodd’s energy plan calls for a freeze in U.S. electricity consumption by 2010 through increased conservation and energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances. He advocates making the Production Tax Credit permanent for clean and renewable sources of energy and supports a goal of renewables comprising 20 percent of the U.S. electricity supply by 2020. Dodd advocates increasing federal support for the nation’s mass-transit systems; providing incentives and tax rebates for Americans who purchase highly efficient automobiles; requiring all new federal government vehicles to be hybrid or electric, and run on biofuels, or other clean fuels; imposing high energy-efficiency standards on all government-owned buildings; and increasing efficiency standards for appliances, light bulbs, and other consumer products. Former Democratic North Carolina Senator John Edwards offers the most comprehensive climate and energy plan among the three Democratic front runners—and the Republican candidates, for that matter. Edwards’ plan aims to achieve energy independence and stop global warming by creating a “new energy economy” and one million new jobs by investing in renewable energy and efficient technologies. Edwards calls for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. To achieve this he would set an economy-wide cap on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through a cap-and-trade system. Edwards would create a $13 billion-a-year New Energy Economy Fund to be financed through the auction of CO2 emission permits and by ending tax credits and subsidies for oil companies, including offshore drilling leases. The fund would invest in renewables and energy efficient technologies. He would raise fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2016, reducing oil demand by 4 million barrels per day. Under Edwards’ energy plan, by 2025 the U.S. would import 7.5 million fewer barrels of oil a day, produce 65 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels a year, generate 25 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewables, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 2 billion tons a year. Edwards would invest $1 billion a year on clean coal technology and underground carbon sequestration. Edwards insists on increasing energy efficiency rather than power production to meet the rising U.S. demand for electricity—which is projected to increase on average 1.5 percent a year over the next decade. He advocates managing peak power demand and modernizing the electric grid to achieve a 15 percent reduction in electricity demand by 2018. Edwards supports making energy efficiency more profitable for electric utilities and has called on states to decouple utilities’ energy profits from sales, as California and nine other states have done, and rewarding utilities for meeting renewable energy targets. He would expand the use of smart meters and other advanced technology to enable utilities to better monitor electricity demand and plan production more efficiently. At the same time, he would open the electricity grids to distributed generation and renewables from small-scale projects by requiring utilities to consider distributed generation rather than investments in centralized power plants and new transmission lines. He would provide tax credits for homes and small businesses that invest in onsite generation of renewable energy from solar, wind, geothermal, and other sources. He also would encourage net metering to enable families and small businesses to sell their excess power back to utilities for credits against their electricity bills. Edwards would repeal the Bush administration’s budget cuts to the Department of Energy’s home weatherization program and expand it by $500 million a year. He would also expand the Energy Star program for appliances, increase federal efficiency standards, and call on states to update their energy building codes. He advocates reducing the federal government’s energy use by 20 percent, expanding the use of renewable energy in government buildings, and making the White House “carbon neutral.” Edwards notes that the federal government is the nation’s single largest energy consumer, with a $15 billion energy bill in 2005. He would also create a GreenCorps within AmeriCorps to enlist young Americans to help combat climate change by conducting volunteer home energy audits, weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, and training neighborhood groups. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has devoted more campaign time than most of his Republican candidates to energy issues. Huckabee would increase funding for alternative energy, efficiency, nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, “clean coal,” biodiesel, and biomass. Former Texas Representative Ron Paul wants to end all government subsidies to energy companies and opposes federal government control over energy production. Massachusetts governor Republican Mitt Romney has hedged his bets by keeping silent on whether global warming is the result of human activities. He would consider a U.S. cap on carbon emissions only if all other countries, including China and India, cap their emissions. Romney supports increased domestic oil production, liquid coal, nuclear, and biofuels. As governor he pulled Massachusetts out of the in Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in December 2005 because of concerns about the financial costs. Former New York governor Rudy Giuliani believes in pursuing “every potential solution… from nuclear power to increased energy exploration to more aggressive investment in alternative energy sources,” such as ethanol, biodiesel, and liquid coal, to achieve energy independence from foreign oil. Indeed energy independence is a key feature of Giuliani’s “12 Commitments to the American People.” Giuliani supports increased development of renewables, including solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal power; commercializing clean coal technologies, including carbon sequestration; replacing diesel and gas-fired truck and bus fleets with natural gas; encouraging development of advanced hybrid cars and hydrogen fuel cells; expanding drilling in oil and natural gas reserves throughout North America, including Canada and Mexico; improving the security and reliability of the nation’s energy infrastructure to increase national security, including building new oil refineries, nuclear reactors, and transmission lines; removing regulatory red tape; and investing in a digital “smart grid.”

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