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.



That is an interesting plan but who will pay for the 300+ miles of wind farms that I’ll be driving by when I back home during breaks. I can’t imagine covering the entire midwest with them could be great for wildlife and the cost would be outrageous, even for Mr. Pickens. There’s a much brighter future in Nuclear energy (even though I believe wind should play a part) if people would give it a chance. The potential of this industry is the best of any alternative energy and we’re being left in the dust. Why is that the only people that seem to be fighting Nuclear power are those who know nothing about it except Chernobyl (even though the don’t even know the details behind that).

Hib Casselberry

Both my wife & I are for Wind Energy for electric use and natural gas for transportation. We approve the PickensPlan! Thank you.

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Fantastic! I just relate to the Democratic administrations killing funding on energy research,(Clinton, Carter) and programs tanking, some in the works for 20 years and in the hundreds of millions producing results. The Democrats even killed the nuclear waste programs to remove all spent fuels from power plants.

Nuclear workers are a small group of a few thousand in the US that do “hands on”. The history of feast or famine, the death of good programs, the 75,000 scientific workforce that Clinton laid off in 1995 were working on everything from biofuels and related technologies, alternative energies, to nuclear waste.

I admit I perceive Democrats as anti-nuclear. Politics was a dirty word at DOE facilities but we knew when a Democrat was elected, we would lose funding like clockwork.

I also get stero-typed as not being an environmentalist because I am not a left wing liberal. That could not be further from the truth. I agree that Republicans have typically not made the environment a high enough priority. But then, people generally are the ones that dump and litter and leave the trash aren’t they? People need to clean up their mess and care. These bigger messes we have made, take support from all as well. If we could have agreed sooner, it would have already been done. No offense intended to anyone.


Cele, I agree with everything that you said except the unilateral accusation that being a democrat makes me somehow ignorant as to the benefits of nuclear energy. There are those of us on the left side of the aisle that also realize that nuclear is the only sensible solution for the country’s energy problem, too!


The nuclear fears are so unwarranted. Chernobyl was a disaster because the plant operator doing a scheduled test took the reactor out of automated control mode and tried to operate the plant manually. No person can respond as fast as a computer. The Russian nuclear program runs their reactors at a higher level of K-effective than the US NRC programs promote. We run just under 1.0 K-effective. 1.0 is a value when the reactor can sustain itself in nuclear fission. The Soviets always ran their reactors above 1.0. So you see, expecting a human to manage a reactor’s fissioning in manual mode when already operating above 1.0 is so absolutely insane, yes the reactor went critical and caused a world wide impact. The US has so many safety features we will not ever do this.

Please do not bring up Three Mile Island. I worked on cleanup there. Again, an inexperienced operator doing a routine startup during training took the system from automative controls into manual controls and shut down the cooling system on the core. Yes, it melted the core, made a huge mess. But the reactor building never lost integrity and no nuclear materials was ever exposed the public or left the facilities. The “explosion” was a steam explosion in side the reactor building. This happens in many industries using steam. Ignorance breeds fear. The US nuclear program has the safest track record of any industry and that should tell you something about the folks who are afraid because it is a vogue political view and a scientifically correct point of view. We used to call backwards thinking people a bunch of hicks. Now we call them politically correct Democrats and environmentalists. Hey you guys know less about what you are suggesting than you should that you are so totally against. We are capable of being the world leader in nuclear and we once were. Now France owns our best technologies and uses them. Nuclear is safer than any chemical solution by far.

I am 54, worked in the nuclear industry doing some of the most scariest talked about things with nuclear materials. I did it safely, with good equipment and know how to handle nuclear materials. You have to respect them that is for sure, but they offer energy, clean, carbon neutral energy and we have a near infinite supply of nuclear resources. Had we got the public on board in the 1980’s we could be like France and have 80% of our electricity coming from a clean source and have never generated all the green house gases these past 30 years. Global warming would perhaps not be so devastating. Hind sight is a killer, eyt we continue on in ignorance and rhetoric. Take someone’s insights and advice that has worked hands on knee deep in nuclear wastes, managing and handing special nuclear materials, working to clean up the cold war wastes for the sake of our environment. I deserve your attention. Nuclear energy is the safest production of electrical energy and our country is rich in nuclear energy. So who is stopping this from happening? The politically correct or the ignorant? I have listened to the ignorance until we are drowning in it. Gen X is suppose to a smart generation so prove it. What has the Gen X developed that is better than my old generation anyway? Make a list. Commit your lives as others have for the sake of gaining energy knowledge that all the workers have in DOE programs for nuclear developments. Then listen to that vast uninformed ignorance permeating the public for liberal political glory and Dr. No who wants to be our president. We can not afford NO any more. We need courageous and positive thinkers. Nuclear is a natural energy source and it emits nothing chemically. It is greener than the cars you drive and plastic wrappers on everything you dispose of and the Styrofoam cups which never decay that you buy and use, and the palm oil microwave popcorn you will eat without remorse of the 160 species endangered by loss of territory from palm oil exploits. Be thinkers and really look at what habits we all have created and what we OK and what we frown on. None of us has a plan for our own bad habits.


The fact is that creating new sources (PLURAL) of alternative energy will be the defining acheivemnt of the next decade or so. Global warming, high oil & gas prices ruining the economy, plus reliance on oil from politically unstable areas all mean we have to DO EVERYTHING STARTING NOW. Debating which method will be best is a waste of time and a poor excuse for doing nothing.
We do not know which COMBINATION OF METHODS will work, but we don’t have time to debate.

By the way, like it or not, any Republican including McCain will be bound to the energy policies of the Bush/Cheney Disaster. We cannot take that chance. He’s a good man, but his hands are too tied by party politics.


I’m not sold on cap and trade. I’d rather have him strive to be the energy independence candidate instead of the environmental candidate.


If we (as a country and as a humanity) do not build more nuclear power plants, we will build more coal-fired ones, and exacerbate the GHG emission problem further.

In theory, we could also use less energy, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Solar and wind are incapable of provide baseline power without even higher costs, and so remain out of reach economically at the present time.

Pamela Poole

The Sierra Club gave McCain the worst grade in all of Congress on the environment:

“In the 2007 National Environmental Scorecard released today by the League of Conservation Voters, John McCain receives a score of ZERO. McCain was the only member of Congress to skip every single crucial environmental vote scored by the organization, posting a score lower than Members of Congress who were out for much of the year due to serious illnesses–and even lower than some who died during the term. By contrast, the average Member of Congress scored a 53 in 2007. McCain posts a lifetime score of only 24.”


Rory Gawler

How would removing an import tariff on ethanol spur domestic innovation?

Also, in response to Mr. Coleman’s post, I would like to push back on his problem with McCain’s “reliance” on nuclear power.

While it is true, as Mr. LaFave so ironically points out (I’m assuming here that his atrocious spelling is an intentional jab at our fair president), that nuclear does have risks, these are fairly well known, measurable risks.

Nuclear safety and dealing with nuclear waste are both engineering problems with known, albeit rather grand, variables.

Climate change is not. It is a problem with incredibly mysterious variables, the consequences unknown, but potentially disastrous – potentially an end to civilization as we know it (think no food supply to major cities).

It is also true that Nuclear energy is not renewable. However, there is a lot of plutonium, and I have greater faith in our ability to safely store nuclear waste than our ability to control the weather.

Cortland Coleman

A couple problems with McCain’s Energy Policy:

  1. Greenhouse gas reductions are not deep enough.

  2. Giving away carbon allowance credits instead of auctioning them.

  3. Reliance on nuclear energy.

  4. Allowance of universal offsets. Offsets should be limited, specific, measurable and located in the same hemisphere as the emissions they’re offsetting.

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