Candidates weigh in on energy alternatives

June 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The pain at the gas pump is driving energy policy to the top of the political agenda.

President Bush on Wednesday urged Congress to lift a 17-year-old moratorium on offshore oil drilling, to help improve oil supplies and drive down gas prices.

But governor Schwarzenegger said he would do everything in his power to prevent it from happening in California.

The drilling policy is just one of the energy issues dividing john McCain and Barack Obama.

John McCain grabbed headlines on Tuesday with his proposal to lift the federal ban on off shore oil drilling, but his energy plan goes far beyond the headlines.

Barack Obama is proposing billions of tax dollars for investment in alternative energy. But his plan shares some of McCain's proposals.

John McCain believes that gasoline prices are high enough. He's willing to reverse his previous support for a federal ban on off shore drilling.

"It's safe enough these days that not even hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from the battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston," said GOP presumptive nominee John McCain.

Democrats in Washington are blasting McCain for that idea.

Senator Barbara Boxer heads the select Committee on the Environment.

"I'm stunned at Senator McCain's flip flop on this, and I think he's jeopardizing his future," said Sen. Boxer.

Lifting the off shore ban is a big difference between the energy plans of McCain and Obama. But McCain also supports $2 billion a year for promoting clean coal technologies, which Obama supports.

McCain wants 45 new nuclear power plants and calls for more investment in renewable energy without mentioning how much.

He says Americans must conserve energy, a sharp departure from Vice President Dick Cheney, who dismissed conservation as a personal virtue.

McCain's former California communications director, Jill Buck, works as a green tech consultant to Bay Area businesses.

"And for folks to focus in myopically simply on off shore drilling fails to really recognize just how comprehensive and panoramic his energy independence plan truly is," said Buck.

Barack Obama's energy plan is much more focused on investing in alternatives.

He wants to invest $150 billion over ten years to develop bio fuels, plug-in hybrids, renewable energy like wind and solar and like McCain low emission coal.

Unlike McCain, Obama has proposed $50 billion to fund clean technologies and increase fuel efficiency standards. Both Obama and McCain support a cap and trade system for reducing carbon emissions.

Severin Borenstein is the director of U.C. Berkeley's Energy Institute.

"Obama certainly is going to be more aggressive in funding research and development of alternative energy sources. McCain is more interested in leaning on more nuclear power," said Borenstein.

Borenstein believes the real gains to be made are not in off shore drilling or clamping down on oil speculators.

He says the biggest impact over the next 10 years will be in raising fuel standards and conservation.

"If you're driving an SUV that gets 12 miles per gallon and you switch to a sedan a good size sedan that gets 24 miles to the gallon, you just cut the price of gasoline in half," said Borenstein.

While the presidential candidates talk energy, Congress has moved on.

A Democratic bill to levy taxes on oil companies was defeated by Republicans. A Republican bill to open up Alaska to oil drilling was also defeated.

The senate is now working on a bipartisan housing bill.


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