Super Tuesday is upon us, and this primary season the words “energy and the environment” are more heavily loaded than they’ve ever been. Gone are the days of simple, if not myopic, “environmentalism;” energy policy now dovetails with security policy. Each candidate has to pick and chose which forms of energy they prefer, how they plan to fund them, and what they plan to do with those pesky CO2 emissions that the rest of the world seems so concerned about.
With the economy this election’s most crucial issue, the Democratic candidates have tweaked their energy and climate policies to stress the job creation associated with investing in a greener economy; Clinton and Obama both promise a windfall of economic growth through “green-collar jobs.” The Republicans, on the other hand, have marshaled an environmental tag line that involves bundling energy policy with national security.
The winning candidates will have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future of clean technology innovation and industry in America. As you head to the polls you’re going to be wondering which candidates support a cap-and-trade system on carbon, which one will put the most money behind renewable energy, and which candidates stand where on clean coal. So check out our primer below — organized by issue — and go out and vote.
Global Climate Change: When it comes to global warming, Clinton and Obama have the strongest position — both want to reduce America’s emissions by 80 percent by 2050. McCain has called climate change one of his three main issues and lashed out against the Bush Administration’s lack of action, but his Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 offered weaker reduction targets — capping 2012 emissions at 2004 levels and then reducing them 30 percent by 2050.
His fellow Republicans aren’t so enlightened. Huckabee doesn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change but has said we should take steps to reduce our emissions due to his faith-based morals. Romney has spoken very vaguely on what he thinks is causing global warming but doesn’t want to put forward legislation that would hurt our economic growth.
Cap-and-Trade Carbon Market: If you want a cap-and-trade system to be put in place, you have a lot of choices — Clinton, Obama, McCain and Huckabee are all calling for one. Romney, meanwhile, won’t come out in favor of cap-and-trade as he isn’t sure how much our emissions are actually hurting the globe. Staunch small-government proponent Paul doesn’t want to regulate emissions but he does want the government to stop subsidizing pollution in the form of oil and coal tax breaks.
Biofuels: Both sides of the aisle support the notion of biofuels, but the Democrats have been much better at providing hard numbers. Offering a graduated plan, Obama wants to see 36 billion gallons of biofuels used each year by 2022 and 60 billion gallons of biofuels a year by 2030. Clinton has called simply for 60 billion gallons of biofuels for vehicles by 2030.
The Republicans support the entire biofuels gamut — corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel — but none have offered targets or plans to promote it; McCain, for one, says he doesn’t want to subsidize “mature” industries. Republican outsider Paul has called all forms of subsidies unconstitutional, but supports biofuels as the marketplace would allow, saying that even legalizing hemp might be the best way to grow biofuels in America.
Nuclear Energy: All of the Republican candidates support expanding nuclear energy, but McCain is the only one who has offered plans as to how; he would use money from the carbon credit auction to provide loan guarantees to nuclear power plants. At the CNN*YouTube debate Obama said he wants to “explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix.” Clinton has famously said she’s “agnostic” on nuclear power; she has also made note of the risk nuclear power plants pose as terrorist targets.
Clean Energy Subsidies: A nebulous mix of energy options, each candidate’s definition of “clean energy” varies. Clinton wants an “Apollo-like project” for clean energy and wants to fund solar, wind, plug-in hybrid, and biofuels with $50 billion in tax breaks cut from the coal and oil sectors. This would help meet her goal for 25 percent of the electric grid to be powered by renewables by 2030 (Obama wants the same, but by 2025). Obama wants to put $150 billion into clean energy over the next decade and develop a Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund.
As for the Republicans, they have largely given lip service to “renewables,” using in theoretical, non-binding terms, and they have also notably pushed clean coal and nuclear energy more heavily than, say, solar and wind.
Clean Coal: While the current administration cut funding for FutureGen, a planned facility using clean coal technology, most of the candidates support some kind of federal funding for clean coal technology, they just seem confused on the detriments of coal-to-liquid projects. No one candidate leads on this issue.
Clinton’s Strategic Energy Fund would invest part of its money into “clean coal,” and she supports coal-to-liquid fuels if they emit 20 percent less carbon than the standard. Obama got a lot of flack for cosponsoring the “Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007,” which would broaden tax incentives for coal-to-liquid projects, and later added he would only support technology that was also 20 percent better than current fossil fuels.
Huckabee, through support of a 15-percent renewable energy standard, backs clean coal technology, and Romney has given the technology a nod. In a speech last year McCain referred to the U.S.’s coal reserves as “more abundant than Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves,” and thinks we can find a way to use our coal without emitting so much carbon.