Candidates Duel over Energy

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WASHINGTON -- Both John McCain and Barack Obama on the campaign trail have spent much energy talking about energy.

They both want energy independence since they see it as key to America's future national security. Both want to fight global warming and see the control of energy's use as a key to that.

Dan Cronin at the Environmental Defense Action Fund said, "Both candidates support developing new clean forms of energy."

Too Much Faith in Drilling?

Probably the biggest difference is that McCain is more for oil drilling and Obama is more for alternate energy. So their campaigns fight over that.

McCain senior policy advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer told CBN News, "We need to drill now and drill here."

Obama backer and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson mocked that McCain stand: "He wants to drill, drill, drill everywhere. You can't do that. You have to have a comprehensive policy."

Obama wants to cut way down on oil by putting big federal money into developing alternate sources like solar, wind and clean coal.

But the McCain campaign says Obama's plans to use those in a big way depends on technologies still not proven, or in some cases, even developed. As Pfotenhauer put it, "He's for wind, solar, tide. That's pretty much all he's for. And that's like saying you're for, as one of my colleagues put it, 'puppies, kittens and sunshine.'"

Too Much Faith In Alternates?

Ben Lieberman, energy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, thinks it's naïve to put too much faith too soon in wind, solar and other alternatives.

"Solar energy, wind energy, these are not new," he said. "They've been 'just around the corner' for almost as long as I've been on this planet, and at a point you have to question whether there are inherent disadvantages with some of these alternative energy sources."

Lieberman told CBN News that Obama's team has far too much faith that alternatives will slash the need for oil. And he thinks that overconfidence has led them to put forth an energy policy that might significantly curb U.S. buying of an entire kind of Canadian oil.

It's not the regular kind of oil found by drilling, but instead a different type - from a huge developing source: Canada's oil sands.

What Obama finds so objectionable is that getting and using that oil emits triple the greenhouse gases of regular oil.

If Canada can't seriously slash those emissions, Obama senior advisor Jason Grumet has said to the news media, "Then we don't believe that those resources are going to be part of the long term."

Governor Richardson said to CBN News, "I don't dispute the need to get oil from Canada, but let's do it in an environmentally-sound way."

McCain advisor Pfotenhauer said it's shortsighted to talk of cutting off this Canadian oil.

"If we were going to switch off of Canada," he said, "we'd be back getting more energy from Saudi Arabia" - or unfriendly players like Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and so on.

Heritage's Lieberman pointed out, "Every barrel that comes from a friendly source is a barrel that doesn't come from an unfriendly source."

Who'd Put The Money Where Their Mouth Is

Now when it comes to McCain and alternate sources of energy, the GOP candidate says he does back wind and solar.

But Obama's senior energy advisor Elgie Holstein claims when it comes to McCain actually supporting solar and wind with tax credits, "He has frequently voted against them - more than 20 times in fact."

But McCain would give a $5,000 tax credit to those who buy cars emitting zero carbon.

The Obama campaign tops that, offering a $7,000 tax credit.

McCain would award 300 million tax dollars to whoever comes up with a cheap, high-mileage battery that could free cars from gas altogether.

But Obama goes far beyond that, proposing a massive $150 billion, 10-year crash program to achieve energy independence for all sectors of the country and economy.

Holstein said this would be like the Manhattan Project or the 10-year crash program to put a man on the moon "where we really make a national commitment to use all of our resources, not sort of hope that somebody in their garage is going to come up with the invention that's going to change society," he said. Much of the money would be spent helping to create the jobs that would produce alternate energy and technology to use it. Holstein described these as "5 million new jobs in America…clean, green energy jobs."

One area where both men agree they'd invest big would be clean coal technology.

McCain would commit $2 billion annually, because, as Pfotenhauer said of America, "We are the Saudi Arabia of coal."

There's no monetary figure from the Obama campaign, but Holstein said an Obama administration would invest in clean coal technology, "so we can use America's hundreds of years' worth of coal deposits."

Both Hot to Fight Global Warming

Both campaigns would set lofty goals to slow global warming, with McCain aiming to cut carbon emission levels 60 percent by 2050 and Obama by 80 percent.

Dan Cronin of the Environmental Defense Action Fund said that's crucial, not just environmentally, but economically.

"If we allow pollution to build-up, temperatures to rise, it's going to have a profound impact on our economy," Cronin said. "For instance, look at insurance rates. If sea levels continue to rise, storms become more violent and weather's going to become more unstable, that's going to raise insurance rates," he explained. "Look at the price of food. If we have more droughts, more flash-flooding, that's going to put extra burdens on farmers, lower crop yields."

But Heritage's Lieberman totally disagrees. He thinks cutbacks needed to slow global warming could be ruinous.

"My fear," he said, "is that it would be far more economic pain than environmental gain."

He said the cost would be "horribly expensive," like shooting up the price for oil, electricity and natural gas 30 percent.

McCain Would Go Nuclear

McCain says one way the U.S. could avoid much of that economic pain is to commit more to clean, green nuclear power.

He proposes building 45 new nuclear plants.

Pfotenhauer said of McCain, "He, of course, is someone who comes from the Navy and knows that the Navy has been powering ships with nuclear power for something like 60 years and they've been doing it safely."

But the Obama campaign gives short shrift to nuclear power. And Obama energy advisor Holstein said the price tag is way too much for McCain's 45 nuclear plants, ".at about eight to $10 billion each."

But Pfotenhauer came right back, arguing that to produce the power of just one nuclear plant, "you would have to have two massive wind farms roughly the size of Manhattan."

So there it is: two candidates committed to energy independence and developing alternate sources of energy, but with two very different visions of America's energy future.

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CBN News
Paul Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Sr. Washington Correspondent

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