Sunday, June 8, 2008

Climate Change Legislation

This past week has seen two noteworthy political events - the culmination of the Democratic primary and the collapse of the Warner-Lieberman sponsored climate change legislation. As one of the longest Democratic primaries I can remember winds to a close with Barack Obama pulling into the winning lane, it makes sense to start looking at how the different candidates and parties are addressing the issue of climate change legislation. This investigation becomes equally important given the failure of what was billed as the "best chance" for climate legislation under the current Bush regime.

Looking at the two candidates, the easiest thing to note is their current rhetoric on the issue. While primary debates are heavy on promises and may not be the best indicator of future implementation, they do provide a sense of how well the candidate can understand and speak about the issue. The following points are culled from New Hampshire speeches by both the candidates (YouTube videos linked):

Barack Obama (NH primary)
1) Would cap emissions of greenhouse gases for everyone. Create a market. Make renewables competitive and help lower-income people with adjustment to higher electricity prices.
2) Implement renewable energy standard (aka renewable energy portfolio).
3) Increase fuel efficiency standards on cars.
4) Change habits. Conservation and energy efficiency.

John McCain (NH town meeting)
1) Cap and trade system which would work within the capitalist system.
2) Nuclear power got to be part of equation.
3) "Energy independence". Needed for security purposes.

Obama seemed to be ahead on this one, as he acknowledged climate change and elucidated several steps towards a reasonable solution (of course, these solution steps closely mirror the philosophy of Jeff Bingaman and the majority side of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee) The next place one should look to learn more about the individual candidates and their plans for a national energy plan is the candidate's web sites, and this quest yielded the following results:

Obama - "Energy & Environment" page with a linked "Energy Fact Sheet" *.pdf and "Environment Fact Sheet" *.pdf that contain detailed information on Obama's plans to reduce carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels using an auctioned credits cap-and-trade system while investing $150 billion in clean energy over the next ten years. Plans also call for re-engaging the international community on climate change, raising the biofuels mandate, increasing incentives to efficient building constructors and utilities, and even phasing out the incandescent light bulb. While a grain of salt is needed in considering the feasibility of success of all these measures, there is clear evidence of some serious thought and a well-developed understanding of the problem.

McCain - "Climate Change" page that outlines McCain's allocated credits cap-and-trade system (very similar in levels to the Warner-Lieberman bill that failed this week, essentially requiring a 60% drop below 1990 emissions by 2050, 20% smaller than Obama's system). Also, some rhetoric about McCain's role in international climate change negotiations going forward, but I was rather disappointed by the "detailed" description of the plan as it turned out to be a pop-up that basically showed jobs being created as power plants cut emissions and then showed the US increasing exporting numbers of wind turbines while getting an increasing amount of cash from India, China, and Europe. Lacked any clear evidence of a real understanding of the need for a coherent energy policy, as well as a decent description of the climate change system (especially important since allocations rather than auctions are McCain's preferred method of credit dispersal).

Obama - 2, McCain - 0. Moving past the rhetoric, I also find it useful to check the actions people have completed that either support or contradict their stated stance on an issue. For Congress-people, the most useful source for this information is The Library of Congress' THOMAS legislative information system as it lets you look at legislation sponsors as well as actual Congressional records. Looking through the current (110th) Congress' information, I found the following regarding Obama and McCain:

Obama - Has sponsored and referred to committee more than five bills in the past Congress, spanning topics from climate change to fuel standard increases, including one on providing incentives to the auto industry for advanced vehicle research (the sole authorship indicates that the candidate and his staff must actually have thought the bill up themselves, a good sign).

McCain - Nothing. No sponsorships of anything related to energy or climate change in the past Congress. Big emphasis is on security and the military.

Clearly, Obama's rhetoric and actions show a better understanding of the issues and possible solution steps when compared with John McCain's. Such evidence does not in any way indicate that actual progress will occur during the next presidency and should not be used as the sole determinant of anyone's voting preference, so please do not read this article as an endorsement of Obama over McCain (in interest of full disclosure, my original intent was to show that McCain had experience and leadership on this issue compared to the novice Senator Obama, but that direction was clearly overruled by the facts on the table).

What is important is for Americans to understand the scope of the problem and the need for a solution in the form of some sort of climate change plan and energy plan. With gas up to nearly $4 a gallon, this issue is increasingly on the average consumer's mind, but the big challenge will be designing something that does not choke the US economy while also allowing renewable and efficient energy solutions to appear. We can only hope, pray, and vote to see such change emerge in the next four years.

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