Obama vs. McCain – Energy and environment

Now that the Presidential nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties have more or less been determined, we think it would be useful to compare and contrast the two candidates on their positions and voting records on various issues. Before we begin, though, here is a video for those who are wont to take this election season more seriously than it deserves( courtesy JibJab)

Here are the two candidates on energy and the environment.

Update( Aug. 15, 2008):Senator Obama, recognizing the importance of offshore drilling to the American electorate, has signaled his support for a bi-partisan energy initiative that includes a limited amount of offshore drilling. The initiative is brought by the group calling itself the "Gang of 10" and contains a fast-track approach to reducing American dependency on foreign oil. Sneator McCain has not yet backed this plan.

Update 2( August 24, 2008): Here is an excellent article that outlines McCain's voting record on key aspects of clean energy.

As Senator Obama's alternative energy policies( and consequent job generation possibilities) gain traction, we've been seeing a gradual shift by the McCain campaign towards the same. To the casual observer, it may seem that there is not much difference in the two candidates' policies ( even the pictures of windmills on their ads are the same!) so it is worth looking at their voting records on the environment and seeing if they walk the walk. It must be emphasized that the League of Conservation Voters give the two candidates very different scores on their voting performance.

Barack Obama

•    Reduce Carbon Emissions 80 Percent by 2050
•    Invest in a Clean Energy Future
•    Support Next Generation Biofuels
•    Set America on Path to Oil Independence
•    Improve Energy Efficiency 50 Percent by 2030
•    Restore U.S. Leadership on Climate Change
•    Supports fully closing the Enron Loophole and eliminating offshore loopholes that encourage excessive speculation. Plan will ease the impact of rising prices.
•    Supports implementing a well-designed windfall profits tax on profits made over $80 per barrel to help families pay energy bills
•    Plan for renewables, fuel economy and energy efficiency will help create 5 million new green collar jobs.


•  Passed tax credit for installing E85 ethanol at gas stations. (Feb 2008)
•  Voted YES on removing oil & gas exploration subsidies. (Jun 2007)
•  Voted YES on making oil-producing and exporting cartels illegal. (Jun 2007)
•  Voted YES on factoring global warming into federal project planning. (May 2007)
•  Voted YES on disallowing an oil leasing program in Alaska's ANWR. (Nov 2005)
•  Voted YES on $3.1B for emergency oil assistance for hurricane-hit areas. (Oct 2005)
•  Voted YES on reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (instead of 5%). (Jun 2005)
•  Voted YES on banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Mar 2005)
•  Sponsored bill for tax credit for providing 85% ethanol gas. (Apr 2005)
•  Sponsored bill to notify public when nuclear releases occur. (Mar 2006)
•  Sponsored bill raising CAFE by a 4% per year until 2018. (Jul 2006)
•  Rated 100% by the CAF, indicating support for energy independence. (Dec 2006)
•  Designate sensitive ANWR area as protected wilderness. (Nov 2007)
•  Set goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025. (Jan 2007)
•  Voted YES on including oil & gas smokestacks in mercury regulations. (Sep 2005)
•  Tax credit to remove lead-based housepaint. (Nov 2005)

Obama missed four of the 15 key votes on the environment last year, but was on hand to vote for a version of an energy bill that would have repealed the oil companies' tax breaks. He scores 67% with the League of Conservation Voters for the 2007 Senate session.

On cap and trade: “I think that back in the '60s and '70s a lot of the way we regulated industry was top-down command and control, we're going to tell businesses exactly how to do things. I think that the Republican Party and people who thought about the markets came up with the notion that, "You know what? If you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives, for businesses–let them figure out how they're going to, for example, reduce pollution," and a cap and trade system, for example is a smarter way of doing it, controlling pollution, than dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and oftentimes is less efficient.” – April 27, 2008.

On nuclear power: “I actually think that we should explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix. There are no silver bullets to this issue. We have to develop solar. I have proposed drastically increasing fuel efficiency standards on cars, an aggressive cap on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted. But we're going to have to try a series of different approaches.” – July 23, 2007.

On offshore drilling – “We cannot drill our way out of the problem. Instead of subsidizing the oil industry, we should end every single tax break the industry currently receives and demand that 1% of the revenues from oil companies with over $1 billion in quarterly profits go toward financing alternative energy research and infrastructure.” – October 1, 2006.
“When I hear McCain say that he is now in favor of the same oil drilling off the coast that he was opposed to just a week ago, what he doesn't tell you is that George Bush's own energy department has said that this would have no impact on consumers until 2030," he said, "no appreciable impact for the next 22 years. Something they're not telling consumers.” – June 20, 2008.

John McCain


•    Expanding domestic oil and natural gas exploration and production( particularly drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf)

•    Breaking our dependency on foreign oil by reforming our transportation sector – includes tax credits  for automakers developing fuel efficient cars and a $300 million prize for the development of a  revolutionary battery package

•    Investing in clean alternative sources of energy

•    Putting the administration on track to construct 45 nuclear plants by the year 2030

•    Proposing a cap-and-trade system that would set limits on greenhouse gas emissions while           encouraging the development of low-cost compliance options

•    Promoting energy efficiency

•    Addressing speculation in oil markets – does not support windfall profits tax on oil companies


•  Voted YES on disallowing an oil leasing program in Alaska's ANWR. (Nov 2005)
•  Voted NO on $3.1B for emergency oil assistance for hurricane-hit areas. (Oct 2005)
•  Voted NO on reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (instead of 5%). (Jun 2005)
•  Voted YES on banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Mar 2005)
•  Voted NO on Bush Administration Energy Policy. (Jul 2003)
•  Voted YES on targeting 100,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2010. (Jun 2003)
•  Voted YES on removing consideration of drilling ANWR from budget bill. (Mar 2003)
•  Voted NO on drilling ANWR on national security grounds. (Apr 2002)
•  Voted NO on terminating CAFE standards within 15 months. (Mar 2002)
•  Voted YES on preserving budget for ANWR oil drilling. (Apr 2000)
•  Voted YES on defunding renewable and solar energy. (Jun 1999)
•  Voted YES on approving a nuclear waste repository. (Apr 1997)
•  Voted NO on do not require ethanol in gasoline. (Aug 1994)
•  Sponsored bill for greenhouse gas tradeable allowances. (Feb 2005)
•  Rated 17% by the CAF, indicating opposition to energy independence. (Dec 2006)

McCain receives a 0 from League of Conservation Voters' 2007 scorecard. Absences count as a vote against the environment since the legislator did not cast a vote for the environment. In 2007, Sen. McCain missed all 15 critical environmental votes in the Senate.( examples -skipped Vote on Green Tax Credits in Stimulus Package( only Senator to miss vote) and skipped vote on renewable energy in 2007.)


On offshore drilling: "I think it's a very important signal to lift the ban on offshore drilling. I know that (Democratic) Sen. (Barack) Obama is opposed to lifting the ban on offshore drilling. I think the states should continue to decide." – July 14, 2000( reverses previous position and voting record on the issue.)

On storage of nuclear waste:“I would seek to establish an international repository for spent nuclear fuel that could collect and safely store materials overseas that might otherwise be reprocessed to acquire bomb-grade materials. It is even possible that such an international center could make it unnecessary to open the proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.”- in Reno May 27, 2008. ( Reversing previously made statements, one in Utah saying "“Oh, you have to travel through states … I am for Yucca Mountain. I’m for storage facilities. It’s a lot better than sitting outside power plants all over America.” – March 3, 2007)

On ethanol: In 2003, McCain said that ethanol "does nothing to reduce fuel consumption, nothing to increase our energy independence, nothing to improve air quality." Campaigning in Iowa in August 2006, he described ethanol as a "vital alternative energy source, not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but its greenhouse reduction effects." In February 2008, in Massachusetts, he reverted to his anti-ethanol position.CNN.com
On allowing California to implement tougher environmental laws: “I have to agree with the governor. I'm a federalist. The states should decide to enormous degrees what happens within those states, including off their coasts. The people of California have decided they don't want oil drilling off their coasts. The people of Louisiana have decided that they do. I applaud the governor's efforts and that of other states in this region and other states to try to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Suppose that the governor and I are wrong, and there's no such thing as climate change. We adopt these green technologies, of which the US and the innovative skills we have and the entrepreneurship and the free market cap-and-trade proposal is enacted. Then all we've done is giving our kids a cleaner world.” – Jan 30, 2008

"It seems to me the reason California went the way they did was because we, federally, failed to act to address greenhouse gas emissions," McCain told a small group of reporters on his campaign bus. "So my goal would be to see a federal standard that every state could embrace. … I think we can achieve a status where that would go away." – June 28, 2008

"It's hard for me to tell the states they can't set their own standards. … At the end of the day, I think states should make their own decisions." – July 19, 2008

Sources: ontheissues.org, cnn.com, official campaign websites.

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