Policy News Update

October 21, 2008

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]



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   

Reducing Emissions

Stimulating Innovation

Obama’s plan includes a variety of incentives to spur innovation in the following areas:

Improving Energy Efficiency and Reducing Fossil Fuel Demands

Obama’s plan sets a number of concrete goals regarding energy efficiency:

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:

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:

How to handle offshore drilling and domestic production:

John McCain: The Lexington Project

Reducing Emissions

Stimulating Innovation

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:

Improving Energy Efficiency and Reducing Fossil Fuel Demands

Improving International Collaboration

On the Energy Debate

How to relieve pain at the pump:

How to handle offshore drilling and domestic production:


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

The McCain Campaign


Both candidates agree that the U.S. must make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education a priority.

Barack Obama

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.

John McCain

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.


Barack Obama


Obama has identified several areas of focus on which to concentrate ocean health efforts, and has outlined a few key goals in each:

Climate Change

International and Interregional Collaboration

Ocean Legislation


John McCain


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.


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

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.

John McCain

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.


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:

Strong chance of Democratic upset:

Races to watch:

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ScienceDebate2008, Politico, Rasmussen Reports, BarackObama.com, JohnMcCain.com, CNN

Send questions or comments to Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs, Nadine@esa.org; Piper Corp, Policy Analyst, Piper@esa.org

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