Blog Post

FAQ: The Obama Energy Plan

Now that the Democratic Party has a presumptive nominee, it’s time to take a closer look at Sen. Barack Obama’s energy plan and how he intends to use the office of the president to accelerate our transition to a greener economy. We profiled Sen. John McCain’s energy plan earlier, and since energy will almost certainly not get as much debate time as Iraq, health care or the economy, we encourage you to compare McCain’s and Obama’s plans and comment below. (The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the comparison this morning.)

Obama has compared his plan for renewable energy to both the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Space Program in terms of financial, intellectual and notably entrepreneurial scope. But what are the specifics of Obama’s proposed energy plan?

Cleantech Venture Capital Plan: Obama’s cleantech venture capital plan entails doling out $150 billion over 10 years to fund projects in a broad swath of cleantech sectors, including biofuels, plug-in hybrids, clean coal, smart gird and “renewable energy.” The fund would be aimed at later-stage opportunities with the expressed goal of developing technologies for rapid commercialization in the U.S. and deployment globally.

Cap and Trade on Carbon: Obama’s overarching environmental goal is to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below our 1990 levels by 2050. To achieve this, Obama wants to institute a cap-and-trade system to manage carbon emissions. Unlike the cap-and-trade system proposed by McCain, Obama insists that 100 percent of the credits be auctioned off, ensuring that all polluters pay for all of their pollution. Funds generated by this new carbon market would be reinvested in clean energy and energy efficiencies and be used to smooth the transition for American workers to a carbon constrained economy, Obama says.

Clean Coal Optimist: “We’re also going to need to find a way to use coal, America’s most abundant fossil fuel, without adding harmful greenhouse gases to the environment,” Obama told the Detroit Economic Club last year. Illinois has a nearly $1 billion coal industry and Obama has voted several times in favor of clean coal research and lists the development and deployment of clean coal technologies as its own initiative. However, some estimate that clean coal is a decade away, beyond the reach of even a two-term president.

Automobile Standards: Obama wants to improve vehicular greenhouse gas emission standards by 5 percent in 2015 and 10 percent in 2020. He says that by boosting the corporate automobile fuel economy (CAFE) standard to 43 miles per gallon we could cut out the need for all of the oil we import from the Middle East. Speaking in Detroit, Obama did not shy away from telling auto execs that the dire situation they now find themselves in is partially their own doing, but he says he wants to work with them to rebuild a cleaner American car industry.

Gas Tax Holiday: Obama is adamantly opposed to a gas tax holiday, an issue that has set him apart from Clinton as well as McCain. McCain called for a summer-long suspension of the federal gasoline tax, a nixing a 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day. However, Obama points out that this would save the average American only half a tank of gas while draining money from the federal government’s highway trust fund. Meanwhile, the savings for the consumer are dependent on trickle down from the oil companies who are not guaranteed to pass along the savings.

Nuclear Power: While Obama has said “nuclear energy is not optimal” he does not rule it out as part of our energy future. Obama’s own Illinois has more nuclear power plants than any other state and Obama has worked on nuclear accountability and safety legislation. He is opposed to Yucca Mountain and wants to make sure that spent fuel is properly and publicly disposed of.

Also check out: FAQ: The McCain Energy Plan.

35 Responses to “FAQ: The Obama Energy Plan”

  1. NotSoImportant

    I think Obamas best bet to get America “in shape” for a greener future, is investing in a nuclear plant somewhere in the U.S. As far as I know, no one has ever died in a nuclear accident in the U.S… ever. Having a nuclear plant would be great for our polution in automobiles, have the cars run on hydrogen. Sure its more unstable, but in the long run it would do us so much good!

    -Get H2O from the ocean
    -Boil it within the plant Having pure H O and salt
    -dispose the salt back into the ocean or wherever
    -Take the pure water and put it into the earth- it will take in nutrients from the earth, not harming the trees
    -Get all the hydrogen, and put it into automobiles
    -The hydrogen thus mixes with the oxygen, polluting water.
    Now, one problem with this is the “heat pollution” but, we could use this to boil the water in the first place, and get the hydrogen. If done correctly, I see no problem with this at all.

    Honestly, whats wrong with this idea? The main problem with Americans is our procrastination, yes our ideas for a cleaner America is out there, but when the hell are we going to get off our asses and actually DO something? (Furthermore, we are being preoccupied bailing out business’s who made, lets face it, terrible financial decisions, and now instead of going for alternative energy’s, were bailing out those morons. Now the stock market is in the hole, and were going through a huge financial crisis where everyones suffering except for the big corporate owners.)

    I am hoping that with this election, we will soon see some changes… and by soon I mean NOW.

  2. Barack Obama has topped all of McCain’s ideas whether it comes to energy, environment and economy. Clearly McCain is all fed up with defending himself from Obama’s critisizms. John McCain is the next George Bush so who would you vote for???

  3. Ed Teeter

    I am impressed at the above comments concerning the energy concerns facing our nation. Some very enlightening thoughts. For the most part I agree with many of them, however, we are a mobile society, that depends on transportation to sustain our economy. Without this one fact our way of life and freedom are in jeopardy.

    We need to take an all-of-the-above approach(except biofuels) to insure our future and make the US less dependent on the rest of the world.
    We have already given manufacturing away to offshore interest, hence the major devaluation of our currency. I will vote for the person that vows to reinstate both energy and economic indpendence for all americans.

  4. Lyle in Las Vegas

    As an environmental student I agree with David Braden, the answer is in our grasp if we have the balls to convert immediately.
    We have to drill now to give us the energy to transition. The Pickens plan can and will succeed,which will give us the necesary time, while nuclear power is revitalized, as it is the only greenhouse gas free fuel with enough capacity to replace fossil fuels. Nuclear power already is a safe proven successful method of non green house gas energy.
    If you think Obama is the man to accomplish this you are all in La-La land. His paltry cleantech venture plan at 15 billion a year is dwarfed by the 60 billion we spend every month that goes in the pockets of countries bent on our destruction.

  5. David Bradin

    I am a biofuel scientist, and hope that whoever gets into office will help provide funds to move our technology forward. However, even if we had a blank check for $150 billion, it would take years to implement any new technology.

    As a country, we know how to use oil, and oil is a big part of our agriculture, pharmaceutical, polymer, and transportation industries. We have to think beyond just transportation needs if we want to have a sustainable economy.

    Realistically, if we want energy independence, we need to pursue domestic oil, rather than exporting trillions of dollars over the next ten years to oil producing countries.

    Natural gas, coal, biomass, wind, solar, and nuclear combined can, over the next ten years, provide a certain percentage of our energy needs. Combined with domestic oil production, perhaps result in complete energy independence.

    I like Picken’s plan, but believe it would be even better if one could produce the same fuel from biomass, coal, and natural gas.

    This can be done, but there’s only one surefire way to do it – convert all of these raw materials to syngas, then convert the syngas to a fuel. That is, we know coal-to-liquids works, gas-to-liquids works, and biomass-to-liquids can work. All three feedstocks can be converted to the same product, and driven in one type of vehicle.

    What we don’t need are ten different types of cars (i.e., gasoline, flexible fuel, diesel, CNG, LPG, hydrogen, compressed air, fuel cell (generating electricity on the fly), battery powered (plug in at night, drive during the day), and hybrids). We need to have cars with a standard engine that burns a variety of fuels, or, preferably, burns a single fuel produced from coal, natural gas, and biomass.

    My biofuel company hopes to produce a fuel using a process that can convert biomass, natural gas, and/or coal into a fuel for flexible fuel vehicles. We believe this plan can work.

  6. Bill D. Johnston

    There seems to be no real creative thinking that will lead to a breakthrough.
    Are there possibly any other forms of energy to be harnessed that some scientists of vision have thought of by now?
    I do see some relief with hybrids, but there will still be problems that arise that involve other sorts of pollution and oil is not used only for fuel, but it is used for a multitude of other products.
    Solar energy could be alright, especially if transmitted power could be developed.
    Whatever solution is devised a new host of problems will arrive and it does not help to blame limosine liberals or the other elite controlling the country now (caddillac conservatives) to solve any problems.
    It seems that any solution will have to come from somebody other than the people in control,whatever political persuasion they are.
    The people who created the problem will not solve it.

  7. I do not think much of the Obama plan or the McCain plan but I do like the Pickens Plan. I will take the energy security plan from a financial genius and life long oil man like T. Boone Pickens over either of the candidates for POTUS any day. They should both consider his plan I think.

  8. Can everyone please just stop picking on the details and look at the big picture. Obama is by far the better choice between the two candidates for president. So if you care about our future, please show that you clearly support him. If you pick on every decision he makes, then it appears that people disagree with him in general and gives more credibility to his opponent. Instead of harping on a decision about coal, how about saying ‘Obama is clearly the best candidate from an energy perspective, but there is one point that I disagree with him about.’ Obama’s opponent thinks he can fool some people by just saying that energy is an important thing for national security, but he doesn’t have a real plan, he says he’s going to give a prize to some people and that’s about it – just stay in the pocket of big oil. How about an oil boycott, that might bring the price of oil down. Refuse to buy it for a day. Sure we can’t all give up driving gasoline cars tomorrow, but why not scare the oil barons a bit. Make sure they know the people have some power still. By the way, if you want to see the future of energy, look a the UAE, where they are using their oil profits to create a clean energy future. They know that oil will end and they will be living on solar and wind in a clean desert, but hopefully the US will pay attention, so they won’t be laughing at us forever.

  9. Marcy C.

    The long dirty list of mismanaged disasters will be a bigger challenge than any one person can solve. Our country now faces proportional dilemas like no other generation has seen. The key to turning things back around is in the hand of every citizen. We simply have to move beyond apathy and work toward unity in the cause of saving not only our country’s future, but the fate of our earth as we know it.
    As far as fuel dependency, I will say that now it is absolutely vital to redirect our government to go back to serving the people. Big Oil and Big Pharma have been pimping out politicians to do their “little favors” at the expense of taxpayers for too long.
    It will certainly be interesting to see the extent of which alternative energy sources are allowed to develop. The backpeddling with corn ethanol was inevitable. Our administration chose the least efficient biofuel to throw funding at…just to say “I told you so”. Now they’re focused on drilling again. Go figure! If only the more efficient biomass crops were being researched, we would see the greater impact of true renewable biofuels. I predict that other countries like Canada will soon beat us to the punch, only to reveal the extent of our handicapped and ineffective government powers. Watch for innovative developments in superior cellulosic plants like Hemp and switchgrass. Of course, we’re already selling off valuable ecosystems like the everglades in hopes of cropping sugarcane for fuel. Sugarcane sounds great, but again, there are better alternatives that would spar growth in our agricultural industry as well as other sectors in our own country.
    I do hope that a president like Obama would be progressive enough to open doors for the most optimum alternatives and strongest contenders to stand up against the current oil and energy cartels.
    Also, it would be great to see tax incentives for consumers utilizing new aftermarket automotive conversions for bettering fuel efficiency.
    Why isn’t this innovative solution getting press?

  10. Mikebarr

    It always amazes me that our liberal elite never mentions another key ingredient to any energy, pollution, or quality of life solution. Its called population control. Simplistic, perhaps, but simple arithmetic says less people equal less demand for energy, less pollution, less urban sprawl, etc. Instead of encouraging illegal immigration, and subsidies to those members who contribute the least to society, we should be doing all that we can to follow China’s lead and only allow replacement children. Any violation should result in all tax breaks, welfare, or any other benefit received be canceled and appropriate penalties instituted. As to countries that do not follow these guide lines all aid should be immediately stopped.

  11. jim fling

    I used to work in the solar industry in the early 80’s. When the government tax credits went away the business died. If government support of alternative energy had continued and grew, we would not be having these discussions about the energy crisis now.
    Dick Cheney’s comment about energy conservation “not being and energy policy but a personal choice” states this administrations lack of commitment to ending our dependency on foreign oil.
    Every expert has stated the fastest, least costly and least disruptive way to more energy is better conservation. We can conserve our way to less dependence on more oil. This will create thousands of jobs. We will give the people a feeling of entitlement in the battle against global warming. Scrap drives and Victory gardens did not do much to hasten the end of WWII but it made the American people feel like they were a part of the war effort. It’s time to let the people be a part of a national effort to solve these problems with the governments help and encouragement.


    Listen everyone, the idea of 2050 etc, is ridiculous, we can tool up just like we tooled up for WWII we have to beFORCED? to do it look @ Bush’s despicable accomplishments? Ie from 1.50 to 4.00 in 7 yrs where will oil be in 2050???? Come EVERYONE, LETS GET REAL! We have to do something…… and Obama, has to make this priority as soon as his feet come down on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This product affects every part of our NATIONS fiscal picture w/out definite success ASAP in this problem we will be @ China’s (our debt service) and Saudi’s (oil) beck and call. As far as I am concerned I have a lot more faith in the AMERICAN people and ingenuity, than 2050????? Pulllleasssse

  13. Debra Kelly

    Obama must bring together top scientist on renewable fuel technologies; solar and wind. The world must cut back on energy use and out of control population growth. But please Mr. Obama, do NOT go down the nuclear power plant path!

  14. At the start of his campaign, 35% of his finances came from Exelon, the nuclear power company. He has since distanced himself from that association a little bit, in light of the long anti-nuclear history of the Democratic party.

    They’re all hoping solutions to cost overuns and waste disposal will bail out the nuclear industry. It probably won’t happen, so we’re stuck with an aging nuke infrastructure that’s getting increasingly costly to maintain, ducking bullets every instant.

    New York is getting ready to shut down Indian Point. There is nothing Entergy or the NRC can do about it at this point. There are just too many politicians, celebrities and wealthy socialites, represented by the likes of Riverkeeper, Planet Green, etc… who desperately want to see Indian Point shut down before a disaster happens.

    This will oblige the nuclear industry to start doing what it has forgotten it would have to do someday, that the day of reckoning would come, start decomissioning old nuclear reactors, with all the cost and problems that come along with it, possibly bankrupting the nuclear industry as a whole.

    Obama could be the first president since the birth of the peaceful atom having to deal with the decommisioning of dozens of nuclear reactors to preserve health and safety in densely populated areas, where nuclear radiation caused cancers have reached epidemic proportion.

    There are few solutions to this problem, other than cost effective base load storage technology for solar, wind and geothermal generated electricity. We’re back to mass produced solid-state Li-ion chemistry again.

  15. bobgil

    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.

  16. i personally believe that we need a combination of energy usage reduction, and cleaner burning fuels. nuclear is essential, america is one of the few civilized countries not currently generating a majority of it power from nuclear.

  17. What you get with Obama is intelligence in action. For those lobbyists who want to pin him down, I think there will be great disappointment. We are on the precipice of a mass-extinction event – the human race. It will be in interesting to see how adaptive we really are. My guess is that we will make it.

  18. Barack Obama has made himself the king of starvation with his totally misguided biofuel scheme to convert food and invasive biofuel weeds into fuel. This tragic political miscalculation is causing hunger and frank starvation all over the world. Obama is speaking out of both sides of his mouth about his own disastrous policies, stating on one TV show that he would rethink ethanol and the next day campaigning in Montana promising farmers that he will turn even more corn into fuel. Barack Obama had better wake up to what he is doing and take WORLD FOOD SUPPLY SECURITY seriously, because biofuels are his Bay of Pigs. He got himself into this anti-science, man made disaster, so he has to publicly admit his guilt and reverse course 180 degrees on biofuels.

    For facts on the biofuel disaster and better energy alternatives, see –

  19. Craig

    It is actually Obama’s stance on “Clean Coal” that disappoints me the most. While we may be able to get to point where the emissions from the coal power are negligible, or they are sequested to grow Algae, they can never mitigate the mass environmental damage the mining has on the land. Just look at that is happening in WV where they are destroying entire mountains, causing pollutants to leech into ground water and destroying forests and wildlife habitat.

    There is more to consider than just GHG……

    Read more here….

  20. Divya

    I find Obama’s stand towards clean coal refreshing, and indicative of his openmindedness.

    The truth is, clean coal, and coal to liquids technologies are already in use in China & South Africa.

    While the US needs to wait for the widespread commercialisation of Carbon Sequestration before she can implement Coal-to-Liquids projects, the other option available to CTL companies will be to set up an Algae farm where they can pump excess CO2 and wastewater to grow algae for Biodiesel & Omega 3 production.

    So Obama’s dream might be closer than we think, and achievable within this decade.

    I’ve heard about a Clean Coal Conference in Pittsburgh, I came across it at the Future Coal Fuels website ( The event is focusing on Clean Coal technologies and the latest developments in Carbon Sequestration. I think they’re also looking into the future of Clean coal in the US.

    I think I’m going to attend this just to see what’s new in the industry. Besides, if we’ve got so much coal, then we might as well use it.

  21. Voters in a tizzy crying sexism, racism, whateverism; all the while, peak oil has been chipping away at the economy! Recession seems eminent; depression a possibility.

    It was entertaining watching Obama and Hillary and their followers sling mud at each other; however, now that that is mostly over, I’m more interested in whether Obama and McCain have viable proposals for solving our energy crisis? More shall be revealed!