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.