In This Issue
Both Barack Obama and John McCain agree that climate change is real, immediate, and, perhaps most significantly, that it is the result of human activity. Furthermore, each understands the important connection between climate, the energy debate, and the economic crisis, a connection that may keep environmental issues afloat when a new administration prioritizes countless pressing concerns.
The candidates’ plans reflect similar goals, both in their mission and in their construction. Although their approaches do differ significantly at times, particularly regarding the issues responsible for stalling Congress’s energy debate, both plans include four salient initiatives: reducing emissions, stimulating innovation, improving energy efficiency/reducing fossil fuel demands, and improving international collaboration.
Here are the goals each candidate outlines in his plan:
Barack Obama: The New Energy for America Plan
- Reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050
- Implement a market-based cap-and-trade system that requires all pollution credits to be auctioned and includes strong annual reduction targets
- Establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard that would require a 10 percent reduction of carbon in America’s fuel by 2020.
Obama’s plan includes a variety of incentives to spur innovation in the following areas:
- Clean Coal: Department of Energy wouldenter into public private partnerships to develop five “first-of-a-kind” commercial-scale coal-fired plants with clean carbon capture and sequestration technology.
- Plug-In Hybrid Cars: Put 1 million domestically manufactured plug-in hybrid cars, which can get up to 150 miles per gallon, on the road by 2015. Offer $7,000 tax credit for purchasing advanced vehicles.
- The Grid: Work with utility companies to introduce a digital smart grid that will make effective use of renewable energy and energy storage.
- Clean Energy R and D: Invest $150 billion over the next decade in private clean energy research, development, and deployment. Funded activities will include basic and applied research related to alternative fuels and technologies that:
- Reduce oil consumption
- Make buildings and equipment more energy efficient
- Allow coal plants to capture and sequester the greenhouse gases they produce
- Address cost, safety, waste disposal, and proliferation risks associated with nuclear energy
Improving Energy Efficiency and Reducing Fossil Fuel Demands
Obama’s plan sets a number of concrete goals regarding energy efficiency:
- Building Efficiency: Increase efficiency by 50 percent in new buildings and 25 percent in existing buildings over the next decade.
- Energy Intensity: Reduce the U.S. economy’s energy intensity by 50 percent by 2030.
- Fuel Economy Standards: Increase by 4 percent each year (this will be facilitated in part by investing $4 billion annually in the American auto industry, so manufacturers can retool their facilities to produce new fuel-efficient cars domestically.)
- Electricity Demand: Reduce demand 15 percent from projected levels by 2020.
- Home Weatherization: Weatherize one million low-income homes annually.
- In addition, the plan sets goals for phasing in alternate fuels:
- 10 percent of the country’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2012, 25 percent by 2025.
- 60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels will be phased into the country’s fuel supply by 2030.
Improving International Collaboration
Obama asserts that the U.S. must take a leadership role in the global climate change effort. To achieve this he plans to:
- Re-engage with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the main international forum dedicated to addressing the climate change problem.
- Create a Global Energy Forum of the world’s largest energy consuming nations: all G-8 members plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.
- Create a Technology Transfer Program dedicated to exporting climate-friendly technologies, including green buildings, clean coal, and advanced automobiles, to developing countries to help them combat climate change.
On the Energy Debate
Here is where Obama stands on some of the high-profile issues in Congress’s ongoing energy debate:
How to relieve pain at the pump:
- Provide short term relief through a heavy-to-light swap from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
- Crack down on energy speculation.
How to handle offshore drilling and domestic production:
- Take a “use it or lose it” approach to existing oil and gas leases: require oil companies to develop the 68 million acres of land they already have leased but are not drilling on.
- Promote the responsible domestic production of oil and natural gas.
- Work with stakeholders to facilitate construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline
John McCain: The Lexington Project
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2005 levels by 2012, 1990 levels by 2020, and 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
- Build 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030.
McCain stresses the importance of providing incentives for technological innovation that encourage emission reductions without burdening the public with new costs he says would result from additional taxes and restrictions on energy companies. These incentives include:
- Renewable Energy Tax Credits: Reform the current system to make it fair, permanent, and market-driven
- Research and Development Tax Credit: Encourage environmental entrepreneurism by establishing a permanent tax credit equal to 10 percent of wages spent on R and D.
- Clean Coal: $2 billion annually for the next 15 years in clean coal technologies
- Clean Car Challenge: Encourage automakers to develop zero-emission vehicles by offering every consumer who buys one of these vehicles a tax credit of up to $5,000
- Hybrid Battery Prize: Offer a $300 million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost, and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.
Improving Energy Efficiency and Reducing Fossil Fuel Demands
- Increase the penalties for violating CAFE standards (mileage requirements that automobile manufacturers must meet) to make certain they are effectively enforced, and that manufacturers do not elect to produce low-mileage vehicles and simply increase the price of cars to compensate for the resulting fine.
- Greening the federal government: the US federal government is the largest energy consumer on Earth and occupies 3.3 billion square feet of space worldwide. The plan would apply a higher efficiency standard to new and existing buildings.
- Call on automakers to make a more rapid and complete switch to Flex Fuel Vehicles (presently, the auto industry has pledged to make 50 percent of their cars flex fuel vehicles by 2012)
- Facilitate investment in upgrading the national grid to meet new demands (e.g. including a capacity to charge electric cars)
Improving International Collaboration
- Continue to support the US Global Change Research Program and ensure that the program’s activities support the country’s needs for climate-related information to help it prepare for the future.
On the Energy Debate
How to relieve pain at the pump:
- Expand domestic oil and natural gas exploration and production
- Seek a better understanding of the role that speculation has played in soaring energy prices and reform the laws and regulations governing the oil futures market to make them as clear and effective as the rules applied to stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments.
How to handle offshore drilling and domestic production:
- Cooperate with the states and Department of Defense in the decisions to develop domestic oil sources.
Interestingly, a comparison of the candidates’ advisors suggests a much starker contrast than their plans alone would otherwise indicate. Barack Obama has amassed a team of over 500 energy and environmental advisors, who range from academics to Clinton administration veterans to Chicago-based environmentalists. In contrast, John McCain has only a handful of public advisers on energy and environmental issues, although the campaign says it consults with others outside that circle. Most of McCain’s advisors have strong policy backgrounds and reflect his market-based approach.
The following are some of each campaign’s key players:
The Obama Campaign
- Jason Grumet is Obama’s lead on energy and president/co-founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center. Previously the executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, a clean energy coalition, he has spent most of his career building compromises on energy between industry representatives and environmental groups.
- Heather Zichal, who directed environmental policy for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, directs Obama’s energy, environment, and agriculture policy team from the campaign’s Chicago headquarters.
- Elgie Holstein, a senior energy adviser to the campaign, is a veteran of the Clinton Administration, where he was a senior adviser to Commerce Secretary William Daley, chief of staff to Energy SecretaryFederico Peña, the associate environmental director at the Office of Management and Budget, and a special White House assistant for economic policy on the National Economic Council.
- Julie Anderson, a colleague of Grumet’s, is vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Previously, Anderson managed the climate change campaign at the Union of Concerned Scientists, served in the Clinton White House as special assistant for legislative affairs on energy and environmental issues, and was acting associate administrator for congressional and legislative affairs at the U.S. EPA.
- Howard Learner is presently executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a top Midwestern environmental legal advocacy group that has been instrumental in setting up the region’s cap-and-trade program. He has also handled other contentious air pollution issues, including the Bush administration’s mercury rule for power plants and Clinton-era enforcement cases against coal-fired electric utilities.
- Frank Loy advises Obama on foreign policy and global warming issues. He represented the United States in United Nations climate negotiations in 2000, and was undersecretary of state for global affairs from 1998 until 2001. He also held State Department posts in both the Carter and the Johnson administrations, and has served on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Environmental Defense Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Resources for the Future.
- Eric Washburn, another colleague of Grumet’s, is legislative counsel at the Bipartisan Policy Center. From 2001 to 2003, Washburn served as senior policy adviser to former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), playing a role in the Senate’s passage of the Energy Policy Act. He also served as staff director of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee under Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and as a consultant to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.
- Denis McDonough, one of Obama’s closest foreign policy advisers, previously worked as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, as a legislative director for Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO), and as foreign policy adviser to Daschle.
- Dan Kammen, a senior energy and environmental aide to the campaign, is an energy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and co-director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment. He was coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore last year.
- Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists since 2003, is also on the board of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Previously, he was legislative director to former Sen. Tim Wirth (D-CO) and legislative assistant and press secretary for the late Rep. Ted Weiss (D-NY).
- Dan Esty, is an environmental law and policy professor at Yale University, who previously held several positions at EPA, worked on the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, and helped negotiate several international treaties, including the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and environmental provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
- Todd Atkinson, Obama’s environmental legislative adviser in the Senate, has worked in the Senate for 18 years, most recently with Obama during a two-year stint on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
- David Sandalow, senior fellow and energy and environment scholar at the Brookings Institution, served as a senior director of the White House National Security Council during the Clinton administration, and as assistant secretary of the State Department for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. Sandalow is also a former EPA attorney and former executive vice president of the World Wildlife Fund, as well as the author of Freedom from Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States’ Oil Addiction.
The McCain Campaign
- Doug Holtz-Eakin handles domestic policy for the McCain campaign and is therefore responsible for all energy and environmental policy as well. Holtz-Eakin has held several positions in the Bush administration, including chief economist in the White House Council of Economic Advisers (2001-2002) and director of the Congressional Budget Office(2003- 2005.)
- James Woolsey, a conservative Democrat and a former CIA director, has been advising McCain on environmental and energy issues since the primary campaign. Woolsey’s interest in energy centers primarily on national security. This interest, he says, was sparked during the 1973 national energy crisis.” Woolsey, who has served under both Democratic and Republican Presidents and is a co-author of the National Commission on Energy Policy report, drives a plug-in hybrid car and lives in an Annapolis farmhouse, powered in part by solar and geothermal energy.
- Floyd DesChamps, a longtime McCain aide for energy, environmental, technology, and space issues, is a design engineer by training. He started his career working on nuclear submarines, and would later work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy before accepting a job on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. DesChamps helped write the global warming cap-and-trade bill McCain introduced with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in 2001. He updated the bill in 2005 and 2007.
- Tucker Eskew is a veteran of the Bush White House’s public relations team, and joined McCain’s campaign to advise running mate Governor Sarah Palin on a variety of issues, including energy and the environment. Before taking the campaign job, Eskew was a partner at ViaNovo, a Washington public relations firm launched in 2005 with other Bush administration alumni. Eskew worked earlier this year as a consultant to Environmental Defense.
Both candidates agree that the U.S. must make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education a priority.
Recruit and Develop High-Quality Math and Science Teachers
Fund scholarship programs to recruit STEM teachers, as well as professional development programs for both new and existing educators.
Enhanced Science Instruction
Work with governors to ensure that all children have access to strong science curriculum at all grade levels. Support state efforts to prioritize science education at the pre-K and elementary school levels.
Improve and Prioritize Science Assessments
Work with governors and educators to ensure that state assessments test not only facts and concepts, but higher order thinking skills pertaining to scientific inquiry. One such assessment, which has already been adopted by several high-performing states, calls for students to design and conduct investigations, analyze and present data, write up and defend results.
Improve Coordination of STEM Education Efforts
Obama recently introduced the “Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Act of 2008,” which would establish a STEM Education Committee within the Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate the efforts of federal agencies engaged in STEM education, consolidate the STEM education initiatives that exist within the Department of Education under the direction of an Office of STEM Education, and create a State Consortium for STEM Education.
Increase focus on STEM starting in elementary school: Move aggressively to provide opportunities, from elementary school on, for students to explore the sciences through laboratory experimentation, science fairs and competitions. Continue to support STEM education programs at NSF, DOE, NASA, and NOAA.
Involve private corporations: Bring private corporations more directly into the process, leveraging their creativity, and experience to maximize the potential of students interested in math and science.
Fund teacher development: Strengthen skills of existing science and math teachers by funding professional development programs, specifically those that enhance the ability of teachers to perform in today’s technology-driven environment.
OCEAN HEALTH AND WATER RESOURCES: CANDIDATES CALL FOR CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH AND IMPROVED COLLABORATION
Obama has identified several areas of focus on which to concentrate ocean health efforts, and has outlined a few key goals in each:
- Protect oceans from the effects of climate change through a rigorous reduction of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)
- Gain a better understanding of how climate change affects oceans and how acidification affects marine life through expanded research programs at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
International and Interregional Collaboration
- Establish U.S. as a leader in marine stewardship and climate change research.
- Increase collaboration both internationally and across U.S. scientific agencies, particularly in the areas of basic research and mitigation strategies.
- Strengthen regional and bilateral research and preservation efforts with other Gulf Coast nations.
- Ratify the Law of the Sea Convention, an agreement supported by more than 150 countries that will protect U.S. economic and security interests while enhancing international collaboration.
- Update and reauthorize the Coastal Zone Management Act to strengthen collaboration between federal agencies and state and local organizations.
- Strengthen and reauthorize the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and the Oceans and Human Health Act, which provide essential protection for ocean resources and support research needed to implement a comprehensive ocean policy.
- Improve collaboration between federal, state, and local governments and the people and businesses affected.
- Set prices and policies to provide clear incentives for efficient water use. (e.g. regulations on the water usage of appliances, incentives to shift from irrigated lawns to “water smart” landscapes)
- Provide farms and businesses with training and, in some cases, economic assistance to facilitate the shift toward more efficient water practices. Evaluate existing programs (for example, many communities provide businesses and homeowners with kits that allow them to audit their water use and find ways to reduce) and extend the most successful of these to other regions.
- Establish a national plan to help high-growth regions manage their water supplies.
- Undertake a research and development program that focuses on technologies for reducing water use.
McCain has identified ocean health as one of the country’s most complex environmental issues, and an issue for which there are no easy answers. “Regional and ecosystem management concepts are easy to talk about,” says his ScienceDebate2008 statement, “but are complicated to implement effectively, and they depend of obtaining a commitment from various necessary stakeholders.”
To move forward, he calls for coordination between local, state, and federal government agencies to address issues like agricultural runoff, invasive aquatic species, and the management of fisheries, watersheds and coastal zones, and both point and non-point water pollution.
Furthermore, he stresses the need for an increased focus on ocean science and engineering, and for an improved understanding of ocean ecosystems, particularly in terms of climate change, the carbon cycle, the massive freshwater influx from melting polar ice (which could dramatically affect global weather patterns,) and the effects of warmer ocean waters on marine life and coastal storms.
In a distinction he has attributed to his Arizona roots, McCain’s take on water resources focuses primarily on water rights.
- Respect water rights by settling disputes not in courts, but through negotiations that build consensus and provide justly for regional interests and needs.
- Maintain state law and local prerogatives in the allocation of water resources, and ensure that all levels of government work together with stakeholders to ensure that the country’s water supply is managed in a just and sustainable manner.
- Support continuing cooperation among states and water consumers in a manner that abides with existing agreements and is mindful of potential technological developments that could reduce water demands.
Both candidates understand the importance of sound scientific research:
“Basic research serves as the foundation for many new discoveries and represents a critical investment for the future of the country and the innovations that drive our economy and protect our people. I have supported significant increases in basic research at the National Science Foundation.” –John McCain
“I believe that continued investment in [basic] research is essential for ensuring healthier lives, better sources of energy, superior military capacity, and high-wage jobs for our nation’s future.” –Barack Obama
Obama recognizes that the U.S. has for many years been under-investing in scientific and engineering research, while many other countries have been increasing funding. To maintain the country’s leadership role, he therefore plans to double basic research budgets over the next decade for physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering.
He has also committed to providing a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America’s citizens. To accomplish this, he plans to issue an Executive Order to establish clear guidelines for reviewing and releasing government publications. These guidelines will guarantee that results are released in a timely fashion and are not distorted by the ideological biases of political appointees. In addition, he will strengthen “whistle blower” protection for individuals who report abuses of these processes.
He also plans to maintain scientific integrity through a series of key appointments:
Chief Technology Officer: Establish the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer to ensure that the government and its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies, and services for the 21st Century. The Officer will lead an interagency effort to share the best practices, safeguard the nation’s networks, and employ the best-in-class technologies
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST): Strengthen the role of PCAST by appointing experts to provide independent advice on critical issues in science and technology.
Senior Management Appointees: Choose individuals with strong science and technology backgrounds and unquestioned reputations for integrity and objectivity.
McCain supports having a science and technology advisor within the White House staff and restoring the credibility and role of OSTP as an office within the White House structure.
- Fill position of Science Adviser and at least four assistant directors within OSTP early on.
- Maximize investments in basic research while minimizing bureaucratic requirements that deplete funds intended for scientists and science.
- Call on top scientists to develop a plan on how funding should be used, a plan that ensures research addresses the country’s needs, takes advantage of new areas of opportunity, and produces results that can that the results of this research can enter the marketplace. Allocate basic research money on the basis of quality and peer review, not politics and earmarks.
How certain is climate legislation in the next administration? For a while it seemed inevitable, given the recent prominence of the energy debate and the presidential nominations of John McCain and Barack Obama, both of whom support cap and trade legislation. The economic crisis, however, has forced the energy debate into the background, serving as a reminder of what presidential priorities will actually be. Although both candidates acknowledge that climate change is a major threat and a result of human activity, and have reiterated their original climate change goals since the economic crisis took center stage, whoever is elected will begin his term in the midst of two wars and a possible recession, while faced with education, immigration, and health care systems in urgent need of reform. Furthermore, he will need to address these issues with a depleted Treasury.
Climate efforts therefore depend greatly on how quickly Washington’s response to the economic crisis works its way through all sectors of the economy. Market stabilization would help clear the way for a continuation of this year’s dialogue on energy, a dialogue that the next president will undoubtedly wish to resume with haste. Climate change will likely retain some degree of prominence and the next president will face pressure from the international community to speak up on climate change next year.
Both presidential candidates acknowledge climate change’s connection to energy, national security, and international relations. Although some Republicans will likely oppose mandatory curbs on emissions because of the tight U.S. economy, McCain has frequently, throughout both his campaign and his career in the Senate, underscored the importance of energy independence to national security (his plan for domestic energy production would include expanded offshore drilling, but still calls for a 60 percent decrease in fossil fuel consumption by 2050—Obama set this goal at 80 percent) Similarly, proponents of climate legislation say curbing greenhouse gas emissions will stimulate the economy by spurring the creation of companies and the development of new technologies.
Obama recently used his global warming platform as an example of something that would survive in the face of the country’s recent economic woes, saying it does not belong in the budget-busting category. “When it comes to energy, for example,” he said, “I’ve talked about the need to use a cap-and-trade system that would help generate money that would then be reinvested in clean and renewable energy. Again, that pays for itself.”
As public concern over the economy grows, polls show a strong movement towards Democratic congressional candidates in many states, as voters increasingly consider Republican incumbents guilty by association for the country’s current financial woes. If these shifts in public opinion are reflected on Election Day, they could have a significant impact on the next Senate, where Democrats could reach a 60-seat majority.
Sixty, the so-called “magic number,” is the number of votes required to move legislation through the Senate, to break filibusters, and to override presidential vetoes. The Senate is presently made up of 49 Republicans and 49 Democrats, plus two Independents, Joe Lieberman (CT) and Bernie Sanders (VT), who caucus with the Democrats. This even split resulted in several high-profile stalemates, most recently in the energy debate, where Democrats could not come up with the 60 votes required to invoke cloture. If Democrats do pick up the 9 seats needed to achieve a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, they stand to exert a tremendous amount of influence on issues punted to the 2009 Congress, ranging from appropriations, which had been deferred to March 2009 through a continuing resolution, to the energy debate, for which a newly-formed group of Democratic senators, the “Gang of 16,” is working on moderate, financially viable cap-and-trade legislation to introduce early in the coming year.
35 seats are on the line in this year’s election—of these, 23 belong to Republicans, 5 of whom are retiring. Polls indicate that Democrats stand to pick up ground in several races:
Republicans expect to lose:
- New Mexico: Former representative Tom Udall’s lead over former representative Steve Pearce (R) has grown to 20 points (57 percent to 37 percent)
- Virginia: Former governor Mark Warner (D) leads former governor Jim Gilmore (R) 61 percent to 36 percent
Strong chance of Democratic upset:
- Alaska: Ted Stevens is tied with his challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D). Many suspect that the outcome of this race will depend almost entirely on whether or not Stevens is found guilty in his corruption trial, which is presently underway.
- Colorado: Passing the 50 percent mark for the first time, Mark Udall (D) now leads Republican Bob Schaffer by seven points.
- North Carolina: Elizabeth Dole now trails challenger Kay Hagan (D) by 5 points (44 percent to 49 percent.) Although this is hardly among the most dramatic differences, many Republicans have evidently given up hope for Dole. “There’s no point in even counting the votes,” said a top McCain official.
- Oregon: Gordon Smith is tied with challenger Jeff Merkley (D). The incumbent was leading by 8 points as recently as August, and some Republican strategists fear he is slipping in the polls because of the economic downturn—in a state with a 100-percent mail-in voting system, Smith will have less time to address the economic concerns of his constituency.
Races to watch:
- Georgia: Some Republicans are concerned that Saxby Chambliss, who backed an economic bailout package unpopular among voters, may pay the price in November, although he still leads challenger Jim Martin (D) 50 percent to 44 percent.
- Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s lead over Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford has quickly declined over the past few weeks, although different polls still show his lead to be anywhere between 4 and 9 points.
- Minnesota: Comedian Al Franken has pulled ahead of Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in the past month, and now leads 43 percent to 37 percent.
- Mississippi: Ronnie Musgrove (D) has whittled away at the lead built up by incumbent Roger Wicker (R) over the summer. Wicker now leads 49 percent to 47 percent.
Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ScienceDebate2008, Politico, Rasmussen Reports, BarackObama.com, JohnMcCain.com, CNN