Greening autos: Experts comment on the candidates' policies

Depending on their own point of view, they give thumbs up – or down – to Obama's and McCain's energy proposals.

Scott Audette
Mary Altaffer

John McCain:

Clean Car Challenge to American automakers in which a consumer gets a tax credit of up to $5,000 for buying a green car; penalties are raised to car companies for violating federal fuel-efficiency standards; a $300 million prize is offered to improve battery technology for plug-in hybrid or electric cars; tariffs on imported ethanol are removed or reduced.

Barack Obama:

Use some revenue from cap-and-trade permit auction to invest $150 billion over 10 years for next-generation fuels and for commercialization of plug-in hybrids; invest federal resources to develop cellulosic ethanol; expand locally owned biofuel refineries; require 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be included in fuel supply by 2022; double fuel economy standards within 18 years but give tax breaks and federal loan guarantees to US auto companies; expand federal tax credits for hybrids; mandate that all new cars be flex-fuel vehicles.

Jerry Taylor, senior fellow, Cato Institute

On McCain: "His opposition to corporate welfare and subsidy disappears when it comes to the domestic auto industry.... Price signals will deliver all of these sought-after technological improvements if [and] when they are economically competitive."

On Obama: "Obama's plan is a more naked assertion that federal will plus federal dollars will make all technology wishes come true.... If subsidy and mandates could deliver low-cost alternatives to fossil fuels, then ethanol would already be cheaper than conventional gasoline."

Peter Wilcoxen, director, the Maxwell School's Center for Environmental Policy and Administration at Syracuse University

On McCain: "The centerpiece of McCain's energy strategy is more drilling, which is a mechanism for lowering the price of gasoline.... If you want to have cheap gasoline, it will be hard to move people off of gasoline-powered cars."

On Obama: "Raising revenue by enclosing a cap-and-trade permit system for carbon emissions is a good energy policy because it will encourage people to shift from imported oil to alternative vehicle fuels. It will also reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, and it would provide money to reduce the deficit."

A.F. Alhajji, chief economist, NGP Energy Capital Management

On McCain: "Demand for energy is huge, and it is growing at a high rate. Whatever we see today is a blip, a knee-jerk reaction to the fast and large increase in oil prices. So we need every drop of every single energy source, and ... we need to drill wherever possible. That is a major distinction between the candidates."

On Obama: "Cap-and-trade, that's fine, but what if the program doesn't generate money? It's just like when President Bush proposed drilling in ANWR in Alaska and then taking the money and spending it on renewable energy. If you don't drill in ANWR, you get nothing. If you want to go for renewable energy, spend on it like you would spend on social programs."

Tyson Slocum, director, Public Citizen's Energy Program

On McCain: "McCain's proposal of a tax credit for green vehicles is a sound idea, but the one concern would be if flex-fuel vehicles would be included. A consumer should not get credit simply for purchasing a car that can run on [85 percent ethanol], because 99.9 percent of E85 cars on the market run on old gasoline."

On Obama: "Ethanol is not a sustainable fuel for America.... A superior plan would be promoting plug-in hybrids. There the technology is already there, and you're tapping into the electric grid. It's easier to get renewable electricity production than renewable fuel production."

Max Schulz, senior fellow, Manhattan Institute's Center for Energy Policy and the Environment

On McCain: "McCain's proposal for a $300 million prize for breakthroughs in battery technology is ... quite a bit different from what we normally see from Washington, where there's a focus on throwing out subsidies and tax breaks.... Rather than pick winners, this would solely reward achievement and spur innovation."

On Obama: "My first reaction [to his cap-and-trade proposal] is that this sounds a lot like the Clinton-era proposal for a Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, which ultimately ... got killed off because it achieved nothing except spent a lot of money. Whenever I see attempts by Washington to direct things in the economy, I'm a little wary."

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