Saturday, March 8, 2008

US Presidential Candidates on Global Warming

Here we offer a comparison of the views of the three major contenders for US President with respect to global warming.

Senator John McCain

Senator McCain has co-sponsored, with Senator Lieberman, legislation that would establish cap-and-trade measures for dealing with greenhouse-gas emissions. He tends to favor technological solutions over behavioral changes. In line with that view he supports federal support for nuclear energy.

Of the three candidates, he may have the most realistic views. At a time when millions of people are driving motor homes, yachts, and private aircraft around for recreation, buying houses bigger than they can afford, and treating flying vacations as a divinely-ordained right, perhaps it's too idealistic to suppose the greatest number would give up such indulgences.

As advocates of nuclear energy, we applaud his support for that technology. On the other hand, the view here is that what the country needs are coherent energy and environmental policies. If fossil fuels weren't subsidized with tax credits and if air-quality standards were reasonable, utilities would pursue nuclear and renewable energy without any federal support. Besides, nukes can't do the whole job, not even with cap-and-trade. The country needs some serious leadership on conservation as well.

Senator Hillary Clinton

Senator Clinton offers what looks more like a wish list than a plan. Cap-and-trade, R&D and subsidies for renewable energy, higher efficiency standards, and something called "home-grown biofuels." In the past she has said nuclear energy has to be kept on the table, but such sentiments don't appear on her website.

From here it looks as though she (or whatever staffer writes her energy positions) doesn't grasp the magnitude of the challenge or the urgency. Perhaps she knows better but doesn't want to offend the bicycling-and-winetasting crowd. We can sympathize, but it's not a point in her favor.

Senator Barack Obama

Senator Obama's positions are so close to Senator Clinton's it's hard to tell them apart. Possibly, the main difference is that he sets out his policies in more detail, so they come together as a plan. He understands the importance of setting stricter clean-air standards. He understands the value and the limitations of renewable energy sources, including biofuels.

He recognizes the importance of nuclear energy, but sets out four issues that must be addressed: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation. Then he proceeds to describe the measures he will take to address these same four issues. As advocates of nuclear energy, we are convinced that these issues have been addressed successfully and that any administration that looks at them clearly will work hard to develop nuclear energy.


Senator Obama seems to have the most comprehensive plan for dealing with global warming. Senator Clinton's might be as comprehensive, or possibly could be identical, but she doesn't spell it out and she doesn't mention nuclear energy; that's a major omission. Senator McCain is pro-nuclear; that's good but it's not enough.

It's appropriate to point out here the main problems with cap-and-trade, since it's the most important feature in all three candidates' positions. First, there's the ethical problem of letting polluters decide the price of pollution rights. Surely the victims ought to be setting the price. Second there's this political problem: call it what you like, cap-and-trade is a tax. Republicans won't allow it. Democratic politicians facing tough challenges won't vote for it. That means we have to weigh the different plans discounting the cap-and-trade part or any part that depends on it.

If we weigh the plans this way, Sen. McCain has only support for nuclear energy and Sen. Clinton has good intentions. Sen. Obama still has a plan.


Tom said...

Personnaly, I so root for Obama, his stance on Global Warming is sounder I think.

On a related note, here is a video of the Canadian point of view on Global Warming...hilarious:

The Carbon Monitor said...

As I understand it, McCain didn't actually support cap-and-trade. The Lieberman-McCain legislation was superseded by the Lieberman-Warner bill because McCain wouldn't sign on to a cap-and-trade provision, although he did years ago. This story seemed to describe it pretty well, if a bit densely:

I'm not sure the polluters will necessarily set the price of an emissions credit under a cap-and-trade system. The Lieberman-Warner bill establishes an auction for allowances. It will be set by demand or it could be set by the EPA.

The Lieberman-Warner bill has gotten to the Senate floor and may even come for a vote precisely because it's not a tax, at least in name. It increases costs, as all regulation does, but it's not a direct tax.

Al Gore and Michael Bloomberg have made their pitch for a direct carbon tax. They will probably help provide a boogey man to motivate support for cap-and-trade. The U.S. already has at successful cap-and-trade systems, such as the sulfur dioxide scheme that helped cut acid rain.

I haven't looked closely at the candidates positions, and appreciate your work. I have to say, I'm a bit surprised to find Clinton is thinner on details than Obama, who never gives the impression of being as thoughtful.

Red Craig said...

Tom, thanks for the link.

Carbon Monitor, you make a good case that pinning Sen. McCain down is a chancy endeavor. Thanks for the info that the EPA will be able to set the floor on pollution rights. Otherwise, I'd be afraid of casual understandings that hold down the prices. Now, of course, it wouldn't matter but with a new president one can hope for improvements in the EPA.

I believe the anti-tax crowd will see it as money going into the treasury and to them it's a tax. In truth, I don't see why it isn't a tax. I have the idea that SO2 cap-and-trade didn't involve an auction so it didn't draw fire from the anti-taxers. Please correct me if that's wrong.

Anonymous said...

Smart work about global warming. I have also a blog which give information about cause of global warming.

Red Craig said...

For anyone interested, here's a sample of the discourse on the blog poonam sethi linked:

"If you think that “global warming” is one of the most important issues facing us as Americans…..then you are just a moron."


Obama, uh!!