FAQ: The McCain Energy Plan

With the presumptive Republican nominee stumping at a wind turbine facility on climate change policy, we think it’s time to better acquaint ourselves with Sen. John McCain’s energy plan. McCain is trying to use a stance of “slightly to the right of center in the environmental debate” as a way to snag independent voters and distance himself from President Bush’s policies.

But exactly how far to the right is he? And where is this center? McCain started running a new ad in anticipated battleground states like Oregon this week. The ad, embedded below, paints two extremes — climate change denialists on one end, and overzealous regulators on the other. McCain appears to place himself in a vague middle ground. So here’s what you have to know about the Republican’s presidential hopeful when it comes to energy:

Cap-and-Trade on Carbon: McCain got strong marks when he co-authored the first proposed legislation in the Senate for mandatory greenhouse gas reductions, the McCain-Lieberman Environmental Stewardship Act, in 2003. However, critics point out that McCain might be allowing too many polluters to buy their way out via carbon credits. Additionally, McCain has not said he would support a full auction of the credits; he said yesterday that “over time, an increasing fraction of permits for emissions could be supplied by auction.” So in the meantime, the U.S. taxpayer would foot the emitters’ carbon bills.

McCain offers a graduated and gradual time line for emissions reductions. He would seek to reduce emissions to 2005 levels by 2012, to 1990 levels by 2020 and then to 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Internationally, McCain has recently been stepping up his rhetoric about involving China and India in global emission controls talks. McCain wants the developing world to operate under the same restrictions as the developed world and plans to work with the European Union to address nations that refuse to adhere to an international carbon scheme. However, McCain yesterday added: “If the efforts to negotiate an international solution that includes China and India do not succeed, we still have an obligation to act.”

Nuclear: The most talked-about source of “alternative” energy that McCain trumpets is nuclear, believing that nuclear will have to play a large role in our energy future if we are to practically and sustainable reduce our emissions. To this effect, McCain has introduced and voted for legislation that gives the nuclear industry billions in subsidies and federal loan guarantees. McCain often cites the nuclear successes of Europe and Japan: “The French are able to generate 80 percent of their electricity with nuclear power. There’s no reason why America shouldn’t,” he said earlier this month.

Biofuels: McCain says while he is in favor of “cleaner-burning fuels,” he is not a fan of subsidized biofuels. Many connect McCain’s landslide defeat in Iowa’s Republican primary with his strong rhetoric against corn subsidies. McCain has blamed biofuel subsidies for raising the cost of gasoline and food.

However McCain does see a place for alcohol fuels made from corn, sugar, switch grass and waste products as “viable alternatives to oil.” Furthering his free trade stance, McCain proposes to abolish the 54-cent tariff on ethanol imports in the hopes of lowering gasoline prices and spurring domestic innovation.

Plug-In Hybrids: McCain has said he will work with utilities and auto makers to make plug-in hybrids a reality. He proposes to use money taken from subsidized mature industries (though he notably has not named what those “mature industries” are) to fund research in car battery technology in the hopes that battery-power cars can cut our need for foreign oil in half.

Clean-Coal Technology: McCain supports federal research and pilot programs in coal gasification technology and carbon capture and sequestration programs. He also wants to share technology with China to develop clean coal power plants.

Stewardship: Far more than either Democratic candidate, McCain touts his environmental stewardship, often quoting his personal hero, President Teddy Roosevelt. He has voted against opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration.