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Edwards, Obama, Richardson and Clinton on energy

Which of the major Democratic party candidates has the best energy platform? I thought I'd do a comparison based on what I could find on their websites and some interviews. The good news is that all four of Edwards, Obama, Richardson, and Clinton have either "Energy" or "Energy and Environment" as one of the top-level platform issues on their sites. The not-so-good news is the content of those platform proposals. Details below!

To facilitate comparisons I broke down the candidates' energy plans into 14 significant policy areas, with an additional note on the detail level of the plans and a final "miscellaneous" category for special ideas found in each. Every one of the proposals has something that seems unique and useful, but not all will do as much to solve our energy and climate problems.

Energy policy area Edwards Obama Richardson Clinton
Plan detail level Medium Low High Low
CO2 reduction goal 15% by 2020, 80% by 2050 80% by 2050 20% by 2020, 80% by 2040, 90% by 2050 No policy
Post-Kyoto Yes: binding greenhouse reductions in trade agreements After we take first step; help developing countries with our technology Mandatory world-wide limits, help finance leapfrogging in developing countries No policy
CAFE 40 mpg by 2016 4% annual increase 35 mpg by 2016, 50 by 2020 No policy
Renewable electric standard 25% by 2025 No policy 30% by 2020, 50% by 2040 20% by 2020
Bio-fuels Goal of 65 billion gallons/year by 2025 (corn ethanol first, then cellulosic) National Low Carbon Fuel Standard: reduce fossil carbon in fuels by 5% in 2015, 10% in 2020; expand E85 and biodiesel life-cycle low carbon fuel standard - 30% lower by 2020 Part of Strategic Energy Fund
Carbon tax or cap and trade? Cap and trade Cap and trade Cap and trade Cap and trade
"Clean coal" freeze on new coal power until sequestration in place No freeze; use cap and trade market to decide by 2020 new plants have to emit 90% below today's Fund R&D on "clean coal"
Energy R&D $13 billion/year New Energy Economy fund No policy Energy and Climate Investment Trust Fund - several billion dollars/year Part of Strategic Energy Fund
Solar/wind production tax credit make permanent No policy 10-year extension; add storage technology tax credit No policy
Oil company subsidies Repeal No subsidies that increase global warming Invite oil companies to become energy companies Eliminate tax breaks, create new "Strategic energy fund" - oil companies can invest in renewable energy themselves, or pay into the fund
Distributed generation $5000 tax credit, R&D, smart meters, smart grids No policy No policy No policy
Public transportation No policy No policy increase funding, tax incentives for passengers No policy
Buildings weatherizing and other efficiency No policy goal of 50% savings by 2030; incentives and regulations on retrofits and new buildings No policy
Improving Efficiency Goal-based; cut US govt energy use 20%, add R&D dollars Market-based; don't prejudge what works Strong federal standards; efficiency resource program through utilities Market-based; invest in R&D
Other ideas GreenCorps - volunteers adding renewable/efficient infrastructure domestic auto makers get health care assistance for efficiency investments 100 mpg car, smart growth, bike and walking trails, more specifics "Apollo Project-like program" for energy independence

All of these are significant improvements over present US energy policy. Senators Clinton and Obama have actually introduced some of their ideas as legislative proposals this session, but so far they haven't won enough support to be enacted into law. Richardson and Edwards clearly favor government regulatory-based approaches to improving efficiency and introducing technologies, rather than the more market-based approaches of Clinton and Obama, though even Obama introduces regulatory constraints with his CAFE improvements and Low Carbon Fuel standard, and they all force regulation through "cap and trade" and post-Kyoto international agreements, something Republicans have clamored against for decades now.

I don't think any of these plans is perfect, but all will be helpful. If I've misinterpreted or missed something from one of their policy statements on energy, please let me know.

Update: I just learned that a 20% by 2020 Renewable Electric Standard has been introduced as an amendment to the energy bill currently under consideration in the house: from the oil drum and some background info from Dave Roberts. If this actually gets through maybe we can cross that line off our table - though Richardson's proposal is still tougher.

In a comment, writer Arthur Smith adds:

... on nuclear power:





Edwards Obama Clinton
Too costly, too slow, no waste solution we should explore it waste and cost are problems; invest in R&D to solve them
Editorial Notes: The original article has a reader poll and many comments. Arthur Smith is one of several posters at Daily Kos who have been writing about energy. Arthur Smith neglected an item to show what the candidates thought about peak oil. Unfortunately their positions would all be the null set, except for Hilary, whose husband we know has been reading Richard Heinberg's book "The Party's Over" (story). The table shows the immense chasm that still separates what mainstream politicians are discussing and the reality of peak oil and climate change. But as Dan Bednarz says, "you don't propose marriage on the first date." UPDATE: One Presidential candidate who was not covered in the table is Chris Dodd, the only one to favor a carbon tax: interview at Grist. -BA

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