McCain vs. Obama on Energy and the Environment

They've both promised a lot in setting goals and dealing with climate change and energy demand. Here's a succinct comparison of their positions. [Note: All statements are taken directly or rephrased from each candidate's site, unless otherwise noted.]

The Reality of Climate Change


"Based on consensus among the world's scientists, I believe that global climate change is real, consequential, and related to human activities. …" 1


"Global warming is real, is happening now and is the result of human activities." 2

How High a Priority in Their Administration?


Top three priorities are "winning the war against Islamic extremists, …reforming government, … [and] reforming health care." 3

When asked to rank health care, energy and entitlement reform in order of priority, stated: "I think you can work on all three at once." 4


Top three priorities are "ending this war in Iraq, … [p]roviding universal health care, …[and] combating global warming and putting our country on the path toward energy independence" 5

Prioritizes energy when asked to rank health care, energy or entitlement reform as first-year priorities. 6

Carbon Emissions


Reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2050

Establish a carbon reserve as a source of trade permits during periods of economic duress.

Does not support a carbon tax. 7


Reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050

Will price emissions permits to have the same effect as a carbon tax. 8


Cap-and-Trade Regulation


Participants will include electric power, transportation fuels, commercial and industrial businesses. Small businesses will be exempt. Participants will have the option of making their own emissions reductions or purchasing offsets. These offsets will be available via an organization established to ensure the validity of reductions. Offsets may be domestic or international. An early allocation of some permits will be allowed in order to aid in industries' transitions. "Banking" and "borrowing" of permits would be allowed so that emissions reductions may be accelerated or deferred depending on the state of the economy.

A new commission will handle recommendations pertaining to the percentage of permits that are auctioned and the percentage that are allocated for free.

Proceeds from the auctions will be used to fund advanced technologies and to help American families through the transition period.


Advocates a 100 percent auction requirement; permits will not be granted for free.

Partial revenue from these auctions will be used to support clean energy development and deployment, to increase energy efficiency and to address transition costs.




Will commit $2 billion per year to clean coal technology research and development. 9

Coal usage should not cease while clean coal technology is being developed. 10

Collaborate with China to make coal cleaner. 11


Significantly increase the resources devoted to the commercialization and deployment of low carbon coal technologies.

Retrofit existing coal facilities with carbon capture-and-sequestration technology as soon as it becomes commercially available.

Will instruct the Department of Energy to develop five commercial-scale coal-fired plants with carbon capture and sequestration. 12




Believes in an even-handed system of tax credits to transform the market in favor of wind, hydro and solar power. 13

Advocates for improved light bulbs. 14


Establish a federal renewable portfolio standard to require that 10 percent of electricity consumed in the United States is derived from clean, sustainable energy sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025. 15

Set a goal of reducing electricity demand 15 percent from the Department of Energy's projected levels by 2020. States that this program will save consumers $130 billion, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 5 billion tons through 2030 and create jobs. 16

Ensure that 30 percent of the federal government's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020.

Government energy consumption will be reduced 15 percent by 2015. 17

Phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2014.


Nuclear Power


Views nuclear power as an essential part of America's energy production, citing successes in France and Belgium. 18

States that the United States should increase its use of nuclear power, 19 advancing a goal of building 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030 to achieve an eventual 100 new plants. 20

"Above all, we must make certain that every [nuclear] plant in American is safe from the designs of terrorists." 21

Views Yucca Mountain as a viable storage site and the Savanna River Site as a viable reprocessing site. 22

"I was on Navy ships that had nuclear power plants. Nuclear power is safe, and it's clean and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs." 23


"Contrary to what Sen. McCain keeps on saying, I favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix." 24

Make the safeguarding of nuclear materials a top anti-terrorism priority.

Lead a federal effort to develop a safe, long-term nuclear disposal solution.

Does not view Yucca Mountain as a viable storage site.


Smart Grid Technology


Says that smart grid technology can help homeowners and businesses reduce their energy use.

Work to reduce red tape in grid investment. 25

Deploy SmartMeter technologies to give consumers a more precise picture of their energy consumption. 26


Create a digitally connected power grid by investing federal money to leverage state and private sector funds.

Establish a Grid Modernization Commission to facilitate the adoption of smart grid practices. 27

The secretary of energy will be instructed to establish a smart grid investment matching grant program; conduct programs to deploy advanced technologies; and establish demonstration projects focused on advanced technologies for power grid sensing, communications, analysis and power flow control. 28

Emphasizes that a smart grid is better protected from acts of terrorism than our current grid.

Will encourage consumers to produce electricity via solar panels or wind turbines; electricity can then be sold through the grid to other consumers.


Energy Efficient Homes and Buildings


Will ask Americans to learn and practice sensible habits in homes and businesses. 29

Encourage homeowners to install better light bulbs, appliances, windows and insulation. 30

Will apply a higher efficiency standard to federal buildings leased or purchased and will retrofit existing buildings with green technology. 31


Make all new buildings carbon neutral [producing zero emissions] by 2030 by improving new building efficiency by 50 percent and existing building efficiency by 25 percent in the next 10 years.

Sets a goal of a 40 percent increase in energy efficiency of all new federal buildings within five years. All new federal buildings will be zero emissions by 2025. Existing federal buildings will be retrofitted to achieve a 25 percent increase in energy efficiency within five years. 32

Weatherize 1 million low-income homes each year for the next decade. 33

Establish a grant program to award states and localities that take the first steps in implementing energy efficient building codes. Expand federal grant programs to help states and localities build more efficient public buildings.

Fix incentives to utilities to promote conservation, not consumption.

Overhaul the process for updating appliance efficiency standards.


Biofuels, Fuel Efficiency and Automobiles


Says that alcohol-based fuel, like cellulosic ethanol, shows great potential and will not compete with food crops. 34

Eliminate mandates, subsidies, tariffs and price supports that focus on corn-based ethanol. 35 Repeal the tax on imported sugar-based ethanol. 36

Increase federal efforts for the development of plug-ins, hybrids, flex-fuel vehicles and hydrogen-powered cars and trucks. 37

Calls on automakers to make a rapid and complete switch to flex-fuel vehicles. 38

Will establish a national $300 million challenge to improve the cost, range size and weight of electric automobile batteries. 39

Issue consumer tax credits based on reductions in carbon emissions. A $5,000 tax credit will be committed to each customer who buys a zero-emissions car. Similar tax credits will be given depending on the carbon emissions of the vehicles purchased. Essentially, the lower the emissions, the higher the tax credit. 40

Enforce existing Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and penalize manufacturers who do not follow these standards. 41

Institute a summer gas tax holiday. 42


Invest $150 billion in the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure.

Set a goal of 2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol in the system by 2013. Will require that 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels be in the total fuel supply by 2022, with the goal of having at least 60 billion gallons of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel, in the system by 2030.

Develop and incent new ethanol refineries to jumpstart rural economies.

Establish a national low carbon fuel standard. Fuel suppliers must reduce the carbon in their fuels by 5 percent in five years and 10 percent in 10 years, beginning in 2010. 43

Increase automobile fuel economy standards 4 percent per year. 44 Will double fuel mileage standards over the next two decades. 45

Funds will be invested to create fuel-efficient vehicles that use lightweight materials and new engines. Consumer tax incentives will be established to encourage the purchase of these cars.

All new vehicles sold in the U.S. should be flexible fuel vehicles that run on biofuel blends.

Put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015. Emphasizes that these cars be built in the United States. 46

$7,000 tax credit will be implemented for those who purchase advanced technology vehicles or convert older vehicles. 47

$4 billion tax credit and loan guarantees will be implemented to support domestic auto plants and parts manufacturers. 48

Convert the entire White House fleet to plug-ins, security permitting. 50 percent of cars purchased by the federal government will be plug-in hybrids or all-electric by 2012. 49

Does not support a summer gas tax holiday. 50


Transportation Infrastructure




Devote resources to repair roads and bridges. 51

Require governors and leaders in metropolitan areas to include energy conservation as a part of spending federal funds.

Create National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to receive and disperse $60 billion over 10 years. 52

Tax incentives for public transit and carpooling.


Research & Development


Invest some proceeds from emissions auctions in new technologies.

Create a Green Innovation Financing Transfer to aid in the commercialization of technologies.

Make permanent a research-and-development tax credit.

Investments should be made by the government and turned over to the private sector once they become productive. 53


Create $10 billion Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund ensure that new technologies move beyond the lab and into the commercial market.

Double federal science and research funding for clean energy projects to $6 billion.

Tax incentives, cash prizes and government contracts for the production of advanced biofuels.

Extend production tax credit for five years to encourage renewable energy production.


Global Cooperation


The United States will lead United Nations negotiations on climate change.

Negotiate climate change agreements with China and India and provide incentives for each country's immediate participation.

Does not support the unilateral renegotiation of NAFTA. 54

The United States will lead in technological innovation and then export it to developing countries.


Re-engage the United States with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Create Global Energy Forum, made up of the G8 plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa to complement and eventually merge with U.N. negotiations to develop a post-Kyoto framework on climate change.

Engage with NATO to ensure that energy security is a global goal.

Invite China and India to join the International Energy Agency.

Create technology transfer program to export climate-friendly technologies to developing countries.

U.S. emitters can offset some emissions by investing in low-carbon energy products in the developing world.

Offer incentives to countries that maintain forests and manage them sustainably.


Foreign and Domestic Oil


End our dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela in "seven, eight, 10 years." 55

Allow states and localities to make exploration and drilling decisions on Outer Continental Shelf oil reserves. 56

Does not support a windfall profits tax on oil companies. 57

Reform the oil futures market. Punish oil speculation abuses. 58


Eliminate the need for oil from the Middle East and Venezuela in 10 years. 59

Reduce oil consumption by at least 35 percent -- 10 million barrels of oil -- by 2030.

Enact a windfall profits tax on top-grossing oil companies. 60 Use proceeds for energy rebate: $500 for an individual or $1000 for a married couple. 61

End oil and gas industry tax breaks. 62 Close the "Enron loophole," a provision that excludes some energy traders from regulations and public protections. 63

Ensure that U.S. energy futures cannot be traded on unregulated offshore exchanges. 64 Work with the International Organization of Securities Commissions and other international organizations to coordinate the regulation of oil futures markets. 65

Release light oil from Strategic Petroleum Reserve to immediately cut oil prices. Replace it with heavier crude oil at a later date. 66

Drill the 68 million acres of land, and the 40 million acres offshore, that oil companies currently have access to. Advocates a "use it, or lose it" policy towards federal lands leased to oil companies. 67 Implement offshore drilling if it is necessary to pass a comprehensive energy plan. 68

Promote responsible oil and gas production in the following areas: the Bakken Shale in Montana and North Dakota; the Barnett Shale in Texas; the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas; and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. 69

Construct the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline. 70


Energy & National Security


"National security depends on energy security…" 71

Iran's $66 billion from 2007 oil sales finances terrorism, threatens Israel and aids in the development of nuclear weapons. 72

"Terrorists understand the seriousness of our vulnerability. Al Qaeda plans for attacks on oil facilities in the Middle East to destroy the American economy. A little over a year ago, a suicide attack at a major Saudi Arabian oil refinery came close to disabling its target. Had it succeeded, it would have driven the world price of oil about $150 dollars a barrel -- and kept it there for a year. We're one successful attack away from an economic crisis." 73


Safeguard nuclear material as an anti-terrorism measure, both domestically and abroad.

Unless change occurs, Middle Eastern regimes will control nearly all of the world's oil by 2030. 74

"We are funding both sides in the war on terror and supporting some of the most despotic, volatile regimes in the world." 75




New technology will create good jobs; 76 jobs will flow to the U.S. providers of insulation, windows, appliances and other sources of energy efficiency. 77

Building 45 new nuclear plants will create over 700,000 jobs. 78


Invest $1 billion per year to spur sustainable economic growth. 79

Use proceeds from cap-and-trade auctions for job training and transition programs.

Create 5 million new green jobs and increase federal funding for green technologies training. 80

Create Green Job Corps and Green Vet Initiative to promote job training. 81

Federal grants program to modernize or reopen manufacturing facilities dedicated to advanced clean technologies. 82

Incentives for forest owners, farmers and ranchers to plant trees, restore grasslands or undertake farming practices that capture carbon dioxide.

Establish Making Work Pay tax credit of $500 per person or $1,000 per family to help workers' pay for rising energy, housing and health care costs and save money for retirement. 83


Lifestyle Changes


Will ask Americans to learn and practice sensible habits in homes and businesses. 29


Energy and climate change goals cannot be achieved without cost, sacrifice and the contribution of all Americans: 84 "This will not be easy. And it will not happen overnight. And if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they're either fooling themselves or trying to fool you." 85



1 http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/issues/candidates/john-mccain/

2 "Obama-Biden: Promoting A Healthy Environment" [PDF available via Obama's official website, http://www.barackobama.com/issues/energy/]

3 http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/issues/candidates/john-mccain/ - top-priorities

4 http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/07/presidential.debate.transcript/

5 http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/issues/candidates/barack-obama/ - top-priorities

6 http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/07/presidential.debate.transcript/

7 http://grist.org/feature/2007/10/01/mccain/

8 http://grist.org/feature/2007/07/30/obama/

9 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/d21e0b27-c5c7-41a9-9ad6-f9db8509908e.htm

10 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/b87d452c-697e-4188-b611-f6b6c9453134.htm

11 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/13bc1d97-4ca5-49dd-9805-1297872571ed.htm

12 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

13 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/8cfe1328-4506-4330-9da1-68eeaf50d1de.htm

14 http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/issues/candidates/john-mccain/ - energy

15 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

16 Ibid.

17 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

18 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/0b381abd-e573-459d-8716-fbd83ab62d8d.htm

19 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/b87d452c-697e-4188-b611-f6b6c9453134.htm

20 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/jan-june08/energycampaign_06-18.html

21 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/0b381abd-e573-459d-8716-fbd83ab62d8d.htm

22 http://grist.org/feature/2007/10/01/mccain/

23 http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/07/presidential.debate.transcript/

24 Ibid.

25 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/8cfe1328-4506-4330-9da1-68eeaf50d1de.htm

26 Ibid.

27 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

28 Ibid.

29 http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/issues/candidates/john-mccain/ - energy

30 http://www.johnmccain.com/Issues/JobsforAmerica/energy.htm

31 Ibid.

32 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

33 Ibid.

34 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/Read.aspx?guid=f1a7b94c-5df9-4635-9b06-5618454bb82d

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/0b381abd-e573-459d-8716-fbd83ab62d8d.htm

38 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/049cac46-6b90-469d-a2a1-8acaec9c5919.htm

39 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/Read.aspx?guid=f1a7b94c-5df9-4635-9b06-5618454bb82d

40 Ibid.

41 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/17671aa4-2fe8-4008-859f-0ef1468e96f4.htm

42 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/0631aeea-5809-4fc8-91c4-baa57700cbd1.htm

43 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy

44 Ibid.

45 http://www.barackobama.com/2008/07/31/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_99.php

46 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

50 http://www.barackobama.com/2008/07/11/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_90.php

51 http://www.barackobama.com/issues/economy/

52 http://www.barackobama.com/issues/economy/

53 http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/07/presidential.debate.transcript/

54 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/Read.aspx?guid=f1a7b94c-5df9-4635-9b06-5618454bb82d

55 http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/president/debates/transcripts/third-presidential-debate.html

56 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/b87d452c-697e-4188-b611-f6b6c9453134.htm

57 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/b87d452c-697e-4188-b611-f6b6c9453134.htm

58 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/17671aa4-2fe8-4008-859f-0ef1468e96f4.htm & http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/049cac46-6b90-469d-a2a1-8acaec9c5919.htm

59 http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/stateupdates/gG5zCW

60 Ibid.

61 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

62 http://www.barackobama.com/2008/06/22/obama_announces_plan_to_fully.php

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid.

65 http://www.barackobama.com/2008/06/22/obama_announces_plan_to_fully.php

66 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

67 Ibid.

68 http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/stateupdates/gG5zCW

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid.

71 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/23/AR2007042301763.html

72 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/Read.aspx?guid=f1a7b94c-5df9-4635-9b06-5618454bb82d

73 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/13bc1d97-4ca5-49dd-9805-1297872571ed.htm

74 http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/stateupdates/gG5zCW

75 "Obama-Biden Plan to Make America a Global Energy Leader" [PDF available via Obama's official website, http://www.barackobama.com/issues/energy/]

76 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/13bc1d97-4ca5-49dd-9805-1297872571ed.htm

77 http://www.johnmccain.com/Issues/JobsforAmerica/energy.htm

78 http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/Speeches/4c980d5b-dfd3-40a3-9663-7d14df1f1468.htm

79 http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/newenergy [via PDF]

80 Ibid.

81 Ibid.

82 Ibid.

83 http://www.barackobama.com/2008/06/22/obama_announces_plan_to_fully.php

84 http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/stateupdates/gG5zCW

85 http://www.barackobama.com/2008/08/04/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_104.php

posted october 21, 2008

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