McCain and Obama share energy goals, not methods
The candidates would take very different steps to greater energy independence for Americans.
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With fuel topping $4 a gallon and oil at a record price, energy now ties the economy in polls as voters' top concern, and the presidential candidates spent the past week trying to outflank each other on an issue that's thinning billfolds from Maine to California.
Their plans share key goals – less reliance on foreign oil, a push for cleaner fuels – but their methods differ sharply.
Senator McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, wants 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030 and an end to the federal moratorium on new offshore drilling. He would use market lures – tax rebates for electric cars, a $300 million prize for a better car battery – to promote alternative sources of energy. He would offer motorists immediate relief in the form of a hiatus in the federal gas tax.
Senator Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, opposes new offshore drilling and is wary of nuclear power. He would double auto fuel-efficiency standards within 18 years, subsidize development of ethanol, and force power companies to generate one- quarter of their energy from wind, solar, and other renewable sources by 2025.
An opponent of the gas-tax holiday, Obama favors a "windfall profits" tax on multinational oil companies.
In many ways, their approaches square with party ideology. On the Republican side, financial carrots and a significant role for the private sector. On the Democratic side, subsidies, taxes, and regulation.
But in a departure from GOP predecessors, McCain has refused to cede the "green" label to his Democratic rival. His aides say his plan strikes the right balance among short-term relief for consumers, environmental stewardship, and long-term energy independence. They have taken to calling Obama "Dr. No," portraying him as an obstructionist with too narrow a view of the country's energy woes.
In a speech in Las Vegas Wednesday, McCain trumpeted his plan as a breakthrough after "three decades of partisan paralysis."
He vowed Wednesday to wean America of its dependence on foreign oil by 2025 and gave his proposal no less momentous a title than "The Lexington Project," after the Revolutionary War site where "Americans asserted their independence once before."
Obama last week called McCain's proposals a series of "cheap gimmicks" that "will only increase our oil addiction for another four years."
Obama wants to reduce oil use 35 percent by 2030, pass a law to phase out all incandescent light bulbs, and spend $150 billion over the next decade to develop and market clean-energy technology, from hybrid vehicles to biofuels like ethanol.
The campaigns are keen to the politics of their plans in important swing states. Ethanol is an economic engine in corn-growing Iowa and Minnesota; offshore drilling is a divisive issue in Florida; and nuclear power is a lightning rod in Nevada, home of the federal government's proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
While Obama's plan is more in keeping with traditional interests in those states, McCain frames his proposals as a boon for consumers and another example of his "straight talk."
"With gasoline running at more than four bucks a gallon, many do not have the luxury of waiting on the far-off plans of futurists and politicians," he said this month in a speech in Houston.
A look at some differences between the presidential candidates on energy:
NEW OFFSHORE DRILLING
McCain: Wants to build 45 new nuclear plants by 2030
Obama: Opposes construction of new reactors until safer methods of nuclear waste disposal are developed
SUMMER GAS-TAX HOLIDAY
McCain: $300 million prize for inventor of better electric car battery, tax rebates of up to $5,000 for buyers of cars with low-to-zero carbon emissions
Obama: Would require power companies to generate a quarter of their electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources by 2025; would spend $150 billion over the next decade on research and development of clean-energy technology
Sources: candidates' speeches and websites, and news articles Energy: Election 2008