My Bottom Line is Green: McCain v. Obama on Renewable Energy

Before we get into the heart of this everyone needs to keep in mind that both candidates undoubtedly place energy policy high on their list of priorities, which is a good thing. How each prioritizes the co-joined issues of energy independence and greening our energy mix, not to mention the best way to go about doing each, vary considerably.

photo: Chris Dunn

John McCain on Renewable Energy

The first thing about the McCain renewable energy policy in the official campaign literature is that any reference to it occurs after mentioning expanding domestic oil and natural gas production, after expanding nuclear power, and after mention of clean coal—all of which will be tackled in future posts—and when he does get around to talking about renewable energy it is in fairly general terms:

“Even-handed” System of Tax Credits to Promote Renewables

According to the Department of Energy, wind could provide as much as one-fifth of electricity by 2030. The U.S. solar energy industry continued its double-digit annual growth rate in 2006. To develop these and other sources of renewable energy will require that we rationalize the current patchwork of temporary tax credits that provide commercial feasibility. John McCain believes in an even-handed system of tax credits that will remain in place until the market transforms sufficiently to the point where renewable energy no longer merits the taxpayers' dollars. (McCain-Palin 2008)

Biofuels Show Promise
On biofuels, McCain’s official position is similarly succinct:
...Alcohol-based fuels hold great promise as an alternative to gasoline and as a means of expanding consumer choices. Some choices such as ethanol are on the market right now. The second generation of alcohol-based fuels like cellulosic ethanol, which won’t compete with food crops, are showing great potential.(McCain-Palin 2008)

No Federal Renewable Portfolio Standard
In regards to any mandatory federal Renewable Portfolio Standard, McCain has indicated that he would prefer the market to decide the best solution and states to set standards as they deem appropriate:
As a strong supporter of a greenhouse gas cap and trade system, I believe that such an approach is a better way to diversify and cleanup up the nation’s energy mix by harnessing the power of market forces. I believe that government’s role is to set appropriate standards to protect the environment and allow the market to determine the best means of achieving them. To the extent that state and local policymakers identify useful ways to augment this architecture, I believe that governors, mayors, county supervisors, public utility commission and other authorities can better tailor such policies to local conditions and resources. ('08 On The Record)

When asked recently by Science Debate 2008 how government should support renewable energy he said:

Government must be an ally but not an arbiter. [...] I’ve voted against the current patchwork of tax credits for renewable power because they were temporary, and often the result of who had the best lobbyist instead of who had the best ideas. But the objective itself was right and urgent. [...] We will reform the effort so that it is fair, rational and permanent, letting the market decide which ideas can move us toward clean and renewable energy.

In a broader perspective , The League of Conservation Voters has given John McCain’s lifetime environmental voting record a score of 24 out of 100, adding that he has repeated “rejected even the weakest renewable energy programs.”

Sarah Palin’s Position on Renewable Energy
There’s no doubt that Sarah Palin speaks out far more about expanding production of fossil fuels than on the benefits of renewable energy and her now oft-cited quote,“alternative energy solutions are far from imminent and would require more than 10 years to develop” (The Post & Courier), does little to promote any other viewpoint.

That said, last year she did add her name to a letter to the Senate Committee on Agriculture which isn’t so hostile towards, and frankly ignorant about, renewable energy:

If the nation is to pursue energy independence, we must look beyond traditional biofuels production. [...] Local production of renewable biomass energy benefits the national economy, promotes national and regional energy security and stimulates the rural economy through the creation of high quality jobs. Encouraging such production will require increased federal investment in programs that support cellulosic biofuels research, increased biodiesel production and use, increases in wind and solar energy and energy from animal wastes, improvements in energy efficiency, bio-based product development, effective carbon storage, and other renewable technologies. (On The Issues 2008)

Obama on renewable energy:

Tags: 2008 Elections | Biofuels | Energy | Ethanol | Geothermal Power | Renewable Energy | Solar Power | Wind Power