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Published July 2, 2008 09:28 AM

McCain and Obama's Plans to Combat Climate Change

Regardless of who is elected next November, both candidates agree that climate change is a fact and not a theory.

“I know that climate change is real,” said John McCain. “We can have a debate about how serious it is, but the debate about climate change is over.”

John McCain and Barack Obama however vary widely in their response to this issue, leaving the American people with a choice of approaches when choosing the next president. McCain’s primary tools include implementing a cap and trade system for emissions and utilizing greater amounts of nuclear power and “clean” coal.

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McCain

Cap and Trade

Cap and trade is being implemented in Europe and they have stumbled and they’ve had problems but it is still the right thing to do,” said John McCain. “It is what we did in relation to acid rain.”

McCain is calling for a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. One of the reasons McCain supports this approach is because it encourages the market to respond with the lowest cost approach. He believes the market will correct itself with the use of cleaner technologies without the need for intervention, such as a tax credit or major investment from the government.

One challenge with this plan is that we don’t operate in a truly free market, which is needed for the market to correct the problem. Large subsidies exist for all sources of energy, although renewable energy has had less consistent ones. Many of the hidden costs of pollution are not accounted for, even under a cap and trade system. For example, who is paying for the hospital visits when a child has an asthma attack from air pollution?

Nuclear Power
“Nuclear power has got to be part of any real meaningful effort that we are going to make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said McCain. “It has got to be part of the equation.”

McCain encourages development of nuclear power. Despite his view that the market should correct itself, in May of 2005 and January of 2007, McCain and Lieberman introduced climate change bills that would give billions in subsidies to the nuclear industry. McCain proposes the construction of 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030.

Renewable Energy
Although McCain says that he supports renewable energy, he has not set specific targets. John McCain’s website (JohnMcCain.com) makes no mention of solar, wind, renewable energy, or even public transportation under the section on climate change and has no section on energy.
The Senate was one vote shy of passing an economic stimulus package earlier this year that contained an incentive for solar energy. McCain didn’t show up to vote. He also does support the subsidies for ethanol that are currently in place.

“Coal fired power plants,” said McCain “are being proposed to be built all over this country”¦If you can generate that power and set up a station that is powered by solar, by God I would love it, but you know we don’t have that technology.” Despite the advancement of renewable energy in recent years, McCain doesn’t support incentives similar to what he has proposed for nuclear power and “clean” coal.

Fossil Fuels
McCain has expressed support for “clean” coal and concern about the construction of additional conventional coal powered plants. He recently told a Missouri State University audience that he will pledge $2 billion to make “clean” coal a reality.

McCain had supported a moratorium on offshore oil drilling until recently. He now is showing increasing support for opening up offshore areas to drilling.

"I believe it is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions and to put our own reserves to use," McCain said in June. "As a matter of fairness to the American people and a matter of duty for our government, we must deal with the here and now, and assure affordable fuel for America by increasing domestic production."

Obama

Barack Obama also supports a cap and trade system, but with higher emission reduction goals that McCain. Obama has also shown support for nuclear energy, but hasn’t shown the same level of support demonstrated by McCain. His energy plan has more diversity in the solutions presented. There is detailed information is described on his website (BarackObama.com).

Cap and Trade
Obama supports a cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. His plan involves the auction of all pollution credits, with some of the revenue being used for clean energy and energy efficiency.

Fuel Economy Standards
“We are going to raise fuel efficiency standards on cars because that is the only way that we can actually lower gas prices over the long-term and I know you need that,” said Obama.

Doubling fuel economy standards within the next 18 years is a priority to Obama. Research in engines and advanced lightweight materials will help meet this goal. He also wants to assist auto makers in increasing fuel economy standards through loan guarantees and tax credits for domestic auto manufacturers.

Next Generation Biofuels

“The only way we are going to seriously reduce the price of gas is if we actually start investing in alternative fuels and we raise fuel standards on cars,” said Obama.

Obama’s goal is to have two billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol in use by 2013. This is fuel made from non-food sources, such as switch grass and municipal waste. He plans to use tax incentives, government contracts and cash prizes to help this industry mature and specifically wants to encourage farmer-owned refineries. He would like renewable fuel standards to increase, such that 60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels are in the fuel supply by 2030.

A National Low Carbon Fuel Standard is a mechanism that Obama plans to use that requires fuel suppliers to decrease carbon emissions from fuels by 10% by 2020 and he specifically wants to encourage non-petroleum fuels to reach this target.

Renewable Energy
“For the sake of our security, our economy, our jobs and our planet, the age of oil must end in our time,” said Obama.

By 2025, Obama would like 25% of U.S. electricity to be generated from clean, renewable sources including wind, solar and geothermal with a Renewable Portfolio Standard. Obama calls for $150 billion to be invested over 10 years in clean energy, infrastructure to support it, and possibly nuclear energy. Investment in a national digital electric grid would allow greater amounts of renewable energy to be utilized and make plug-in hybrids more environmentally sound.

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