Energy/ Environmental platforms of the ’08 front-runners
Posted by Rich Sweeney on October 12, 2007
Last weekend Barack Obama released a long, detailed energy/ environmental platform to much political fanfare. After reading it I decided to finally check out Hillary and Edwards’ plans for comparison purposes. If you’re of voting age and read this blog then I definitely encourage you to read each plan for yourself. In the meantime however, I’ll summarize some of the highlights and potential lowlights below.
** Note that this post only looks at the Democratic front runners. I went to the websites of Giuliani, Thompson and Romney and let’s just say that environmental policy clearly isn’t a “key issue” for the GOP at this point. Giuliani has come out in the debates as being pro-nuclear. Other than that, any mention of energy policy is in the context of energy security, and usually amounts to simply opening up untapped domestic oil.
What all three seem to agree on:
- Commit to reduce GHG’s to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050
- Impose a 20% renewables standard by 2020, or a 25% by 2025 (Apparently, politicians like it when numeric goals line up with the year of the deadline)
- Make Federal buildings more energy efficient
- Bring the US back to the table at international climate mitigation meetings.
Where they differ/ sound crazy:
(If you click on the hyperlinks above you’ll notice that Hillary’s page is much much more vague and brief than Obama and Edwards’. That’s because as the clear front-runner she has no incentive to state anything concrete at this point. Expect a much more detailed policy to come if the other two close the gap in the polls, or if she wins the nomination.)
- Would create a $50 billion dollar fund to promote renewables research and would force oil companies to either conduct their own renewables R&D or pay into the fund. (good idea)
- Overall his plan is pretty sensible. But the opening paragraph is a bit too alarmist, even for my liking:
- “Global warming is real, is happening now and is the result of human activities. The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years. Glaciers are melting faster; the polar ice caps are shrinking; trees are blooming earlier; oceans are becoming more acidic, threatening marine life; people are dying in heat waves; species are migrating, and eventually many will become extinct.” (Are people really dying in heat waves right now because of global warming? And the “trees blooming earlier” part seems oddly out of place.)
- Has a lot of really specific, but sensible and practical ways to improve conservation/ efficiency. Highlights include phasing out conventional lightbulbs and investing in the Smart Grid.
- Obama also suggests some unique R&D funding techniques:
- The Good: He’s the only politician I’ve ever heard suggest the US government consider using cash prizes as a way to pull innovation through the market. (Much more to come on this in another post)
- The Bad: Obama pledges to create a Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund run by the government. He cites a similar fund called In-Q-Tel, which develops technology for the CIA. Now the markets for intelligence technology and energy technology could not be more different. The potential future returns from efficiently curbing carbon emissions are clear to all. Furthermore, there’s certainly plenty of VC money floating around out there looking for the idea that will garner these returns. So explain to me again why the government could do this better than the market?
- Likes nuclear but not Yucca. (Someone explain to me how that works)
- Wants to eliminate tax incentive to drive to work. (Good idea, but will probably piss a lot of people off)
- In general there’s a lot of stuff in here that is borderline between wise infrastructure investment and wasteful rural pork spending. Judge for yourself.
- Oh yeah and Obama explicitly committed to auction off 100% of carbon permits (very very good idea).
- If it’s hard to disaggregate the Republican’s environmental policies from their security/ foreign policies, it’s often hard to draw the line between enviro and labor concerns when it comes to Edwards. For example, he would:
- Bind developing countries to pollution reductions (very bad idea).
- Use trade policy to enforce agreements (see previous post).
- Invest $1 billion to “help US automakers” advance technology.
- Has a lot of vague, possibly good ideas to improve efficiency, including teaching farmers to better harness methane gases, better managing peak electricity, installing smart meters, and decoupling profits and production for the electricity sector.
- In typical Edwards fashion also has a lot of gimmicks:
- Would make the White House carbon neutral.
- Would create a “GreenCorps” subset of AmeriCorps.
- And also in typical Edwards fashion there’s a lot of market aversion in favor command and control:
- Hasn’t committed to auction all permits.
- Commits the US to produce 65 billion gallons of ethanol by 2025 (I don’t even know where to start).
- Require 25% of all pumps to sell ethanol (ditto).