Monday, October 20, 2008

Reason #5: Obama has the better energy policy

The two energy plans compared.

There are actually several points of agreement. Both favor a cap-and-trade system for regulating CO2. Though Obama sets a slightly more ambitious target, both put that target way out at 2050, making progress difficult to gauge. Neither candidate is currently proposing to open ANWR to drilling (though I'm convinced that if McCain dies in office, Palin will have it sucked dry before he's buried). Both are eager to develop alternatives to our coal-fired energy system, with McCain being far more ready to go nuclear.*

I like most of McCain's energy plan, but I think Obama's is broader and more comprehensive. There are two things I'd like to address from McCain's plan.

The first is the summer gas tax holiday. I think it's a bad idea; so bad, in fact, that I was really surprised that McCain hadn't pulled it from the plan. The government would be passing on $10 billion in lost revenues, but the money will probably go to the oil companies, not to drivers. Dropping the price would only increase demand, which would shoot the price back up to its previous levels. End result, bigger profit margins for the oil companies, same price at the pump.

The second thing is nuclear energy. McCain points to France as a model -- which has to be a Republican first. But look at the drawbacks from a right-wing perspective. France's energy infrastructure is almost entirely nationalized. I think that's an almost unavoidable consequence of choosing nuclear energy. From the enormous capital investment to the inherent danger in the fuel and byproducts, nuclear energy demands big government intervention.

Or, to put it another way, a move to deregulate the nuclear industry would be about as popular as giving Enron nuclear warheads.

So, here are the things I like about Obama's plan. He's talking about weatherizing 1 million energy-inefficient homes a year. This will reduce energy consumption, while giving purpose and direction to idle construction workers. Old manufacturing centers will be revitalized and retooled to build green tech. Obama's plan calls for ramping up fuel economy standards, while providing tax incentives for advanced technologies. That should ease Detroit's concerns that higher fuel standards will destroy their business.

In fairness, McCain proposes a slightly smaller tax incentive, though for a smaller range of vehicles.

But I have to ask. Candidates, where is my electric bicycle subsidy?

Obama's plans seem to focus more on promoting the technologies of the future, and making the United States the center of a technological revival. McCain, with his focus on expanded drilling and nuclear power, along with his "Drill, baby, drill" running mate, seem to be trying to eke out the last drops of a dirty and unsustainable technology. He won't place any more tax burden on oil companies, for fear of underfunding the next wave of oil exploration and expansion, which seems to indicate which activities a McCain administration would encourage.

* Pun intended.

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