Energy and the D Presidential Candidates

Time for an Energy Conversation …

An Energy Conversation about the Democratic Party presidential candidates and their approaches to energy and, closely related, global warming.

For too long, I’ve owed it to myself to seek to write a discussion of the Democratic field and their energy policies.  The rather absurd challenge: that 100 pages of notes, quotes, and otherwise look more appropriate for a monograph (or a Steve Gilliard-like series, even if it would be a shadow of his work) rather than a single posting.  My note-taking and contemplating has inhibited, rather than facilitated, contrasting the candidates thus, instead, this diary seeks to provoke and promote a conversation rather than reach some definitive statement.

A note on sources

In addition to the candidate’s web pages, speeches, and articles, the follwoing two are good comparative sites:

Also, while somewhat dated, APSmith’s Edwards, Obama, Richardson and Clinton on Energy is quite good.

If you want a blow-by-blow lay-down of the candidate’s positions, I recommend that you head to these discussions as this diary won’t do an issue-by-issue comparison.

A note on the field

To start with, let us be clear, every single Democratic Party candidate (okay, I didn’t look at Gravel) has energy and global warming policy concepts that are light-years ahead of current US government policy.  None provide single point solution paths.  Each has something that sets them apart from the others and, it seems, have ideas that the next President should look to for a stronger energy/global warming protfolio.  From calls for more renewable power, to commitments for carbon reductions in the coming decades (every candidate committed to at least 80% CO2 reductions by 2050), to advocacy of green jobs, the candidates’ policy statements all would, if enacted, lead to significant change in US government policy and the US path into the future.  

While all strongly improving the situation, they all share some common weaknesses.  For example, perhaps this is the Iowa-effect, all of the candidates have too strong a focus on biofuels, which remain a high-risk venture due to systems-of-systems impacts such as water supplies, fertilizers (and pollution), land limitations, and food prices.  (A far stronger bet on Plug-In Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and EVs, with a smaller, more distributed push for flex-fuel for PHEVs makes much more sense to me …)

In addition, the candidates are supporting of ‘bans on new coal power plants’ unless they’re compatible with carbon-capture and storage technology, which is a bet that this technological gamble will pay off. (CCS has not yet been proven to work on large scale.)

And, also to be clear, as aggressive as they are, it is unclear that they are aggressive enough to deal not just with political realities (which will be a tough battle), but the realities of just how bad the situation might be in terms of peak oil and Global Warming.  Do they do enough is a question to ask every candidate.

Joseph Biden

Biden links energy quite strong with foeign policy.  He also makes a call for an “Apollo Project for Energy and Climate Change” paid for via a windfall profits tax on oil companies and auctioning of carbon credits.

Hillary Clinton

In many ways, we should say that Hillary Does Energy and gets a lot right (with some of the most detailed discussion of any candidate). In terms of her stated vision, what captures me is in this paragraph

In my campaign, I have defined the four big goals for our country: restore our leadership in the world, rebuild a strong and prosperous middle class, reform our government and reclaim the future for our children. Meeting the energy and climate change challenge is essential to reaching every one of those. I do not want to be part of the first generation to leave America and the world in worse shape than when we found them. It will not happen on my watch.

Thus, energy/Global Warming is not one issue to be dealt with, but a core underpinning to everything else she hopes to achieve.  This resonates.

Hillary’s plan is detailed, with many quite sensible elements (such as the creation of a White House energy office).  What is especially good is the call on all levels of society to act, to be engaged.

Now, the key concern is impressionistic.  Hillary’s plan calls for 100% percent auction of Cap and Trade pollution permits but Senator Clinton voted for Lieberman-Warner in the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee even though this bill gives away 40% of permits to serial polluters. (Yes, she did introduce a defeated amendment to make it 100% auctioned.)  The impressionistic question that arises: how much compromise will come in energy areas and how hard will the fight be to achieve the energy vision?

Chris Dodd

Across the board, Dodd has an attractive plan, with a 20% renewables by 2020 target, 50 mpg CAFE standards by 2017, etc.  Where Dodd has truly set himself apart with a call for a corporate carbon tax (sadly, tax rather than fee), with the $50 billion/year headed toward renewables and energy efficient technologies.  

John Edwards

Edwards set the standard for energy policy in this campaign, laying out a strong policy that others then followed. Global Warming and Energy issues are core to his discussion of a “New Energy Economy”. And, in many ways, the campaign is living this message (such as the amount of energy and environmental related activities by Edwards volunteers as part of the campaign.  

“Our generation must be the one that says, ‘we must halt global warming.’ Our generation must be the one that says ‘yes’ to renewable fuels and ends forever our dependence on foreign oil. And our generation must be the one that builds the new energy economy. It won’t be easy, but it is time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war.”

Edwards’ plan is, quite honestly, quite appealing, hitting real passion areas of mine:

  • Electricity: Profit decoupling to make energy efficiency profitable for utilities; smart grid and smart meters; ever-tightening energy efficiency standards; distributed power generation incentives
  • Smart(er) Farming (my term) as a path for reducing carbon impacts, with Cap, Auction, and Trade providing a profit path for farmers to capture carbon.
  • Support to smart growth

In one arena, my thoughts are absolutely unacceptable to the strongly polarized community.  John Edwards has spoken out against nuclear power (and linked, in almost the same breadth, this to   He is the only major candidate to have done so. This will be a reason for many to support him.  This will be a reason for others to vehemently oppose him.  But, we face critical challenges in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, I do not see as viable policy taking off the table any low (very low) carbon/GHG-implications power source.  Thus this stance on nuclear power (greatly?) troubles me.

Dennis Kucinich

While attractive in some ways, there are elements of Kucinich’s energy concepts that make one wonder how ‘real’ they are. For example, the call for a “renewable energy portfolio of at least 20% by 2010” simply seems at odds with the possible.  He calls for a phaseout of nuclear power and of coal power. Okay. And, how are we keeping the lights on? Among other things, we must give Dennis credit for living the talk (vegan, small home, etc).

Barack Obama

In some ways, Barack Obama represents the base position on Global Warming and energy issues in the Democratic Party pack with an 80% target for CO2 reductions by 2050, 40 mpg cars (32 mpg trucks) by 2020; 25% of electricity from renewables by 2025; with a major push for biofuels.  

“Well, I don’t believe that climate change is just an issue that’s convenient to bring up during a campaign. I believe it’s one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation. That’s why I’ve fought successfully in the Senate to increase our investment in renewable fuels. That’s why I reached across the aisle to come up with a plan to raise our fuel standards… And I didn’t just give a speech about it in front of some environmental audience in California. I went to Detroit, I stood in front of a group of automakers, and I told them that when I am president, there will be no more excuses — we will help them retool their factories, but they will have to make cars that use less oil.”

His plan embraces Architecture 2030’s goals for carbon netural buildings by 2030 with calls for interim improvements to make it a reality.  

Obama has stated that he supports nuclear power (export) with using one of my favorite lines: There are no silver bullets.

There are several things that concern me about Obama on Energy.  First relates to coal, where he is behind the pack when it comes to coal, still casually using the term “Clean Coal” (which really should be called “somewhat less dirty coal”).  Second is more of a sense of the gut issue: does Obama get it? Does he understand the urgency that we (citizens, the nation, the Globe) face?  He tends to talk to downplay today’s situation in light of past, serious crises. This path of discussion, to me, seems to suggest that he may not.

Bill Richardson

Thomas Jefferson said something like “a little revolution every now and then isn’t a bad thing.” We have known about this country’s energy problems — its overdependence on oil in particular — since the first oil embargo in 1973-74. Yet since about 1985, our consumption has climbed, fuel efficiency has stagnated, and our crippling dependence on foreign oil is as big as ever. The time has come for a revolution in U.S. energy and climate policies. As Governor Richardson has stated, “On energy and climate, we must change fast, or sink slowly.”

While all the candidates have things others can look to, Richardson’s “New American Revolution” has some of the strongest targets out there:

  • 90% CO2 reductions by 2050
  • Cut total oil demand by 50% by 2020
  • 30% renewable electricity by 2020 and 50% by 2040

One of my favorite lines is the subtitle “Invite teh Oil companies to Become Energy Companies”

I know people love to hate the oil companies. They have been raking in huge profits. But I want to invite them to become energy companies, and invest in our thriving new energy economy. They are invited to the table, but they aren’t going to run the table the way they have for the last six years.

There are many details in the plan, such as its heavy focus on plug-in and electric vehicles, that are worthy of execution (and imitation by others).  This plan is, along with Hillary’s, among the most detailed available.  It remains, as I wrote when he first spoke publically about it, the gold standard even if it could be strengthened.

Angering All, Satisfying None

It seems likely that no candidate’s supporters will be satisfied with the above discussion.  

And, as one most concerned about energy and Global Warming issues, I can clearly state that none of these plans fully satisfies me nor does it seem certain that any fully meets the nation’s (the globes) requirements to tackle Global Warming, Peak Oil, Peak Water, etc …   Yet, if asked two years ago, it seems unlikely that I could have conceived that all of the candidates for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination would have had such strong plans that offer real promise for changing the nation’s (the globe’s) course for the better.

Now, I’ve had my say … I look forward to seeing yours in the comments.

NOTES:

TO be clear, I have not donated to and have not declared support for any Presidential candidate. I see strengths and weaknesses with each. We all have the problem of good (even great) choices in front of us (the US).  I will work to strengthen the climate and energy portfolio of the nominee while working to see a Democrat in the White House in January 2009.

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