Editor’s note: This week, SmartPower communications director Mike Garofalo takes a look at the energy and environmental positions of one the leading candidates in the Democratic field: Senator Barack Obama.
Senator Barack Obama is the junior US Senator representing the state of Illinois in the US Senate. He was elected to the Senate in 2004 and is serving in his first term. Previously, Obama had served as a 3-term Illinois state senator. Barack is married to his wife, Michelle, and they have two young daughters.
Obama, even as a freshman US Senator, is in the ‘top tier’ of Democratic candidates for President. He has visited New Hampshire more than 20 times, spending more than a month’s worth of time traveling across the Granite State. He has been virtually in every corner of this state bringing his messages of hope to Democratic and Independent voters here.
Obama’s reputation for delivering passionate speeches full of hope and promise is legendary. He is often compared to Senator Robert F. Kennedy for his ability to inspire and motivate those who hear him. But for all his inspirations and hope, Obama appears to be a man of great contradictions, at least as far as renewable energy issues are concerned.
I caught up with Senator Obama in mid May traveling through NH’s seacoast area. At a town hall meeting, I asked him, as I have asked all of the candidates, about his views on promoting clean energy. Obama’s response, “I have been leading the bipartisan effort to raise CAFÉ standards and to promote the development and use of hybrid cars.” Well, raising CAFÉ standards is a good idea and hybrid cars are great but I really wanted some depth (and inspiration) from this man.
I followed up with my usual follow-up question about how can we make America more energy independent and he replied, “I am also working on a bipartisan effort to produce more clean coal.” Not quite what I had hoped he would say. His candidacy and his campaign positions offer some opposing views.
Last month, Senator Obama unveiled details of an ambitious energy policy, right here in New Hampshire. Unlike in most of the presidential debates, clean energy is a real concern of the voters here, so announcing his plan in NH made sense. Senator Obama supports:
- A cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. This seems to be the standard against which all ‘green’ candidates are being measured. Obama wants the emission permits to be auctioned rather than allocated, which would a lot of money that he wants dedicated to clean energy research and development.
- He supports a national renewable portfolio standard that would require 25% of US electricity to be generated from renewable sources by the year 2025.
- He supports huge and continued subsidies for corn-derived ethanol production, which would certainly help farmers in Illinois, but do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, he does support expanded use and development of cellulosic biofuel production.
- There is another issue that Obama has supported that has not won him many friends in the environmental and renewable energy communities. He strongly supports expanding and developing more ‘clean coal’ technologies. He also wants to invest in lower emission coal plants. Again, this would help southern Illinois coal producers, but at the expense of exacerbating greenhouse gas emissions.
- Obama has stated that, “The U.S. is recognized as the global leader in understanding better geologic coal-sequestration technologies. If we abandon that leadership, we risk leaving the rest of the planet wide open to investing billions in polluting infrastructure.”
- He would support signing the Kyoto protocols to demonstrate American leadership in battling global warming. Obama would prefer a new international global warming partnership.
- As recently as the last Democratic debate (in Las Vegas) Obama reiterated his support, albeit lukewarm, for nuclear power. He reminds us that nuclear currently provides over 70 percent of our non-carbon generated electricity. But he does understand that there are significant safety and waste issues that are cause for real concern. Nonetheless, his support is undeterred because of our dependence on foreign fossil fuels.
- Obama wishes to invest $150 Billion over the next ten years to develop renewable energy technologies in the United States.
- Another courageous stand, that many candidates are not advocating, is conservation. Obama would like to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 35% by 2030.
- He is also promoting energy efficiency by making federal government buildings more energy efficient. His energy efficiency plans also call for the phasing out of traditional incandescent lightbulbs by 2014.
- Obama also wants the federal government to lead America in the use of clean energy. He wants 30 percent of the government’s electricity use to come from clean energy by 2020.
- Obama has authored or co-authored over 100 eco-friendly bills in the US Senate and promises this set of issues will have a prominent place in the Obama Administration.
Senator Barack Obama is a man full of hope, promise, and complicated positions and beliefs. He is a compelling candidate, with some really strong environmental beliefs. But in his short political career, his positions on a variety of issues have changed, and so has he.
As David Bowie might sing, “Time may change me, But I can’t trace time …”
Next week: Former NY City Mayor Rudy Giuliani
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