As oil prices soar, so does the importance of energy as an issue in the presidential campaign.
Sep. 29As oil prices soar, so does the importance of energy as an issue in the presidential campaign.
The nation's growing reliance on overseas sources of energy has foreign policy implications for President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, but it is a local issue for voters as close as the nearest gasoline pump.
The candidates hold similar positions on most energy questions favoring a mix of conservation and technology but they disagree on key points, such as oil drilling in the Alaskan wilderness, with Bush pushing for more production of oil and other fuels and Kerry leaning toward alternative energy sources.
The similarity "tells you the policies are crafted toward the vote in November," said Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "For the most part, the policies are the same because they are both looking for the same swing voters."
Both candidates support nuclear power, although Bush is the more enthusiastic.
Both favor producing more energy from renewable resources, although Kerry's proposal is more ambitious.
Kerry and Bush favor building a pipeline to deliver natural gas from Alaska to the lower 48 states. They want to foster new technology to use coal that produces fewer pollutants for generating electricity. Both support tax breaks for people who buy high-efficiency hybrid vehicles, and both support ethanol as a supplement for gasoline.
"You can barely tell the difference," said Lynne Kiesling, a senior lecturer in economics at Northwestern University. "They are very hard to distinguish from each other."
Taylor noted that clean coal technology is popular in coal-producing states. Support for ethanol is a big draw in Corn Belt states such as Illinois and Iowa.
"The big differences are, of course, the president's support for Alaska drilling and the senator's opposition to it," said John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute.
Bush wants to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, which Kerry opposes. The Bush campaign estimates the Alaskan refuge would yield 1 million barrels of petroleum a day, less than 5 percent of the country's daily consumption of oil.
Bush also promises to offer incentives for oil companies to expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. "Bush is still determined to develop the energy resources within our national boundaries and Kerry is not," said Jay Lehr, science director for the conservative Heartland Institute.
Bush's campaign platform, however, specifically excludes drilling in the waters off Florida. Many residents of that key state, where the president's brother is governor, oppose exploration for oil and natural gas, fearing it would damage the coastline. Kerry agrees with the president on this issue.
For his part, Kerry would emphasize renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power.
"Kerry and Edwards support a national goal of producing 20 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020," the Democratic campaign's energy position paper says.
"That is of critical importance," said Daniel Kammen, a professor who studies energy and resources at the University of California at Berkeley. "There is no renewable [energy] standard in the Bush proposal."
Bush doesn't ignore renewable energy, however.
"President Bush will continue to extend the tax credit for production of electricity from renewable resources including wind, solar and biomass," the GOP campaign's energy position reads.
The Bush administration already has taken a run at energy policy. Early in his administration, the president created a White House task force to craft an energy policy, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. The group's secretive proceedings prompted several lawsuits, with critics charging that the administration was favoring business over consumers.
The administration's sprawling energy bill, proposing billions of dollars in subsidies, was killed in Congress by a Democratic-led filibuster, although it is expected to be revived next year if Bush is re-elected.
As their positions suggest, the differences between Kerry and Bush are often ones of degree and detail.
Kerry, for example, backs the idea of tax credits for advanced-technology vehicles and talks of helping automakers retool their plants to produce hybrid gasoline-electric cars and trucks. Bush, on the other hand, promises a $4,000 tax credit for anyone buying a hybrid vehicle.
It is unclear why a tax credit is needed to stimulate sales of hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, because they are already extremely popular with consumers. Of course, subsidies for hybrid vehicles might be popular in Missouri, another swing state, where Ford Motor Co. is building a hybrid sport-utility vehicle.
Improving mileage of conventional gasoline-powered vehicles is the most important step a president could take to conserve energy, said Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.
"The president has implemented a 1.5-mile per-gallon increase over several years," Clapp said. "That is an absolutely minuscule and completely meaningless improvement."
He noted that Kerry used to call for sharp increases in vehicle mileage, but doesn't use any numbers when campaigning. "That is not a good sign," he said.
Bush's policy emphasizes lessening the nation's "energy dependence," while Kerry's speaks of "a plan to make the U.S. independent of Mideast oil."
Energy analysts say that lessening dependence is a feasible goal for either candidate, but total independence is not.
When it comes to electricity, the U.S. already is independent. The nation derives the bulk of its electricity from domestic resources, most often coal, along with some power from Canada.
But the U.S. imports 60 percent of the more-than 20 million barrels of oil it consumes daily, mostly for transportation. Imports are likely to grow as the nation's oil fields are depleted.
"We will never become independent of foreign sources of oil," said Mark Baxter, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. "The best we can do is retard our growth of dependency."
Kerry and Bush do have differences on nuclear power. Bush has talked of building new nuclear plants using an advanced design.
Heather Zichal, energy adviser to Kerry, says the senator believes nuclear energy has a role to play, but he does not support construction of new plants. "We need to solve some fundamental questions about waste disposal," she said.
Coal is a more likely winner in the near term, however.
Bush offers $2 billion over a decade to research less-polluting ways of burning coal, while underwriting construction of the world's first zero-emissions coal-fueled power plant. Kerry's proposal is not radically different, just bigger; he proposes spending $10 billion over a decade.
The similarity of the two candidates' policies may show that the political view of energy is maturing, said one of Kerry's advisers.
"Twenty-five years ago, you either thought the solution was all from increasing production or all from conservation," said Elgie Holstein, chief of staff in the Energy Department during the Clinton presidency. "Since then, there has been agreement that we have to address both sides of the equation."
BUSH, KERRY ON ENERGY
President Bush and Sen. John Kerry agree on many energy issues but sharply differ on expansion of domestic oil exploration, especially in Alaska.
Earlier this year, average gasoline prices rose above $2 per gallon in the U.S. for the first time ever.
George W. Bush
Aims to lessen nation's energy dependence through aggressively working to increase domestic production.
Criticizes Congress for resisting his energy proposals, which he says would lessen dependence on foreign oil: "On the one hand, they decry the price at the pump, and on the other hand, they won't do anything about it."
Sets goal of making the U.S. independent of Middle East oil.
Says U.S. consumers are paying a "terror premium"a higher price for oil based on instability in the Mideast made worse by Bush's foreign policy.
Calls on Bush to pressure oil-producing countries to increase output.
U.S.-produced oil meets about 40 percent of nation's demand.
George W. Bush
Wants to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil drillinga move that he says could provide up to 1 million barrels of oil a day for nearly 20 years.
Supports expansion of oil and gas drilling, but not off the Florida coast. Critics say that's an attempt to curry favor with Florida voters, but Bush administration says it's a response to public sentiment in Florida.
Has resisted tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but authorized a limited loan to refineries in the Gulf Coast areas hit by Hurricane Ivan.
Opposes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because of environmental concerns.
Would allow new offshore oil drilling in the areas that already are open for such exploration. But does not want drilling expanded to new areas that are environmentally sensitive.
Has called for the nation to stop adding to the strategic oil reserve and let the oil go into the market to bring down soaring gasoline costs. The reserve, kept in salt caverns along the Gulf Coast, has about 670 million barrels, with 100,000 barrels added daily.
General agreement on need for new technology.
George W. Bush
Calls for increased use of ethanol as a supplement to gasoline.
Pledges to continue $1.7 billion, five-year effort to develop hydrogen technologies in which fuel cells could be used to power automobiles, homes and businesses.
Favors $4,000 tax credit for buyers of high-mileage hybrid vehicles.
Wants 20 percent of electricity to come from renewable sourcessuch as hydro, solar, and windby 2020.
Would create trust fund, using existing oil and gas royalties, to fund research into hydrogen and other energy technology.
Favors increased use of ethanol.
Proposes incentives for auto industry to develop new technology vehicles and tax breaks for buyers of such vehicles that get better gas mileage.
Efficiency and conservation:
U.S. energy consumption has risen 7 percent in 7 years.
George W. Bush
Supports mandatory reliability standards for the nation's electrical grid to avoid a repeat of last year's blackout, the worst in U.S. history.
Wants to spend $2 billion over a decade on new technology for more efficient burning of coal, which produces about half of the nation's electricity.
Wants fivefold increase, to $10 billion, in amount spent to develop cleaner and more efficient coal-fired electrical plants.
Calls for reduction in government consumption of energy by 20 percent.
Reactors provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity.
George W. Bush
Supports nuclear energy as "a viable and emissions free energy source."
Wants new nuclear plants built with improved design.
Signed bill designating Yucca Mountain in Nevada as site for nuclear waste facility.
Supports nuclear power but opposes building new nuclear plants until issues of waste disposal are settled.
Opposes Yucca Mountain storage facility and has promised to close the project if elected. (Chicago Tribune)
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