Let’s look at the issues: Energy

This is the second post in the “Let’s look at the issues” series. In it, major issues and the major candidates’, being those who are on enough ballots to win the presidential election, positions on them are examined. The first one, on the War on Terror, can be read here. Today’s topic is energy.

The topic will be broken into two categories: transportation and electricity generation. First, though, some background information.

Energy became a big issue in this country because of the Industrial Revolution because that’s when humans first learned to harness the energy of fossil fuels and other fuels to run industrial processes and make their lives more convenient, more comfortable, more profitable, and longer. Since then, coal, natural gas, and oil have dominated the fuel market. It is not only businesses that have to think about energy consumption, households too too. This is why companies like Sandbar Solar exist, to help you become more energy efficient within your home. There are many benefits to this, including lowering your utility bills and lowering maintenance costs. It may be worth giving it a go or at least looking into this concept. If you are worried about the amount you are paying for your energy bills, you can always research into becoming more energy efficient in the home and you can also look into a site like Simply Switch who can compare and find the latest deals for you to help save money on gas and electricity.

They are not the only fuels, though. The first diesel engine ran on peanut oil. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford saw electric cars as the only sensible option for the future. In modern times, the environmental movement was the first to call for alternative, and mostly renewable, energy sources. There are now many other groups calling for sustainable energy, energy independence, and similar ideas.

Fossil fuels are fuels made from the remains of organic matter that has been compressed underground for millions of years. They include oil, coal, and natural gas. Alternative energy, on the other hand, is anything that is not a fossil fuel. These range from nuclear to wind power to wave power to biomass to trash-to-energy.

Climate change is a major factor in the discussion of energy. While some chose not to believe the vast majority of climate scientists, geologists, scientists in related fields, international organizations, policymakers, and other highly esteemed individuals, for this post the assumption will be made that climate change is real and caused by human activity. Specifically, the burning of fossil fuels resulting in the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (although there are a few other sources that contribute in a small way to climate change). The following National Geographic video offers a brief explanation of global warming:

The recent increase in gas prices is another aspect of the argument. The rising gas prices have caused higher food prices (due to food production relying on oil for things like transportation and synthetic fertilizers) and higher prices on products in general, which in turn has caused inflation and the weakening of the US dollar.


Without humanity’s harnessing of energy, a horse and a buggy would still be the fastest mode of transportation. However, modern technology has given us the plane, the train, the automobile (not to mention the motorcycle, the segway, and some others) – and the vast majority of most forms of transportation run on oil. There are two types of oil – diesel and gasoline. The type that a vehicle uses depends on what the engine is built to run on.

The world uses a lot of oil, and the United States uses a disproportionate amount. We’ve got about 4% of the population, yet use about 25% of the oil. In 2005, every nation on Earth combined consumed about 83.6 million barrels of oil per day (a barrel is 42 gallons of crude, or unrefined, oil). Of that, the US consumed over 20 million barrels every day. And of that, 70%, or about 14 million barrels, went toward transportation.

An issue in this election, as in many, has been “energy independence.” That is defined as making the United States’ percentage of the energy supply that it imports 0%. Right now, we import a majority of the oil used in our country. To solve this problem, some have pushed for expanded domestic drilling, which was actually passed in Congress this week in a spending bill. Others disagree, arguing that offshore drilling poses an environmental risk, and won’t really make a dent in oil imports or gas prices. Not to mention, it could take up to a decade for oil companies to set up and fully operate equipment where the new drilling will take place, meaning that this is not the solution to high gas prices that Americans have been asking for.

For the most part, the debate over gasoline has centered around alternatives. The most common alternative is corn ethanol, which has become a political and environmental boondoggle. It was created by subsidies for growing corn and creating the ethanol, which is literally alcohol made from corn that certain cars can run on. Originally hailed as an environmental and energy independence victory, the truth has since come out. Ethanol production is actually more harmful to the climate than gasoline production, it is less efficient as a fuel, it has caused an increase in the “dead zone” off the coast of Louisiana (due to increased fertilizer run-off), and it does not have the potential to replace any significant amount of the gasoline used in the USA. Not to mention, the production of corn ethanol uses a lot of imported natural gas.

Fortunately, there are other alternatives, including more environmentally friendly plant-based fuels like algal biodiesel. Hybrid vehicles have been on the market for almost ten years now. These are vehicles that run on both a combustion engine and a small electric motor. They get better mileage than their traditional counterparts. Plug-in hybrids will be coming to the market in the next few years. They run off of an electric motor that is charged through an outlet and have a small combustion engine to recharge the battery if it runs out of juice while driving. Efficiency in general is a great alternative as well. More aerodynamic vehicles, cars that shut off extra pistons when not in use, and similar ideas are already being made. Electric cars are making headway as well. Tesla Motors has put an electric car on the market and Aptera Motors is selling a model exclusively in California that can either be a 100% electric car or a plug-in hybrid.

Electricity Generation

When focusing on energy, electricity generation and usage cannot be ignored. It is even more significant in the debate than transportation. In the United States, we get about half of our energy from coal, about one fifth from nuclear power, about 15% from natural gas, about 2% from oil, around 7% from hydroelectric, and the rest comes from other alternative energies.

Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution. It has made possible the computer you are reading this on and, in a sense, most modern innovations. However, the use of coal comes at a price. Coal mining poisons workers, the local environment, and communities. Coal is also the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas is less tolling on the environment, yet it is not benign. The same goes for oil. In a sense, they are less harmful than coal simply because they are less common.

Nuclear is the largest source of electricity that is not a fossil fuel. It does not generate any greenhouse gases, but the mining of uranium, which is used by nuclear plants, does considerable environmental damage. However, many environmentalists and policymakers still champion it as a solution to climate change, which it has the potential to be. Nuclear waste is also a problem with nuclear power, in that spent nuclear fuel has no safe place to be stored right now. Perhaps the greatest problem with nuclear power is the price to taxpayers. Each new nuclear plant built in the United States will cost at least one billion dollars in federal subsidies.

Renewable fuels are increasingly seen as a major player in the future of energy. For now, most of them remain too expensive and not completely compatible with our current electricity grid. Renewables generate power from sources of energy in nature like the sun, the wind, and waves. For the most part, they require next to no investment after they are already installed and they generate no pollution. You can learn more about them here.

Candidates’ Positions

From Barack Obama’s website:

  • Increase Fuel Economy Standards. Obama and Biden will increase fuel economy standards 4 percent per year while providing $4 billion for domestic automakers to retool their manufacturing facilities in America to produce these vehicles.
  • Get 1 Million Plug-In Hybrid Cars on the Road by 2015. These vehicles can get up to 150 miles per gallon. Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe we should work to ensure these cars are built here in America, instead of factories overseas.
  • Create a New $7,000 Tax Credit for Purchasing Advanced Vehicles.
  • Establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Obama and Biden will establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) to reduce the carbon in our fuels 10 percent by 2020. Obama and Biden will also require 60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels to be phased into our fuel supply by 2030.
  • A “Use it or Lose It†Approach to Existing Oil and Gas Leases. Obama and Biden will require oil companies to develop the 68 million acres of land (over 40 million of which are offshore) which they have already leased and are not drilling on.
  • Promote the Responsible Domestic Production of Oil and Natural Gas. An Obama-Biden administration will establish a process for early identification of any infrastructure obstacles/shortages or possible federal permitting process delays to drilling in the Bakken Shale formation, the Barnett shale formation, and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
  • Ensure 10 percent of Our Electricity Comes from Renewable Sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
  • Deploy the Cheapest, Cleanest, Fastest Energy Source — Energy Efficiency.Obama and Biden will set an aggressive energy efficiency goal — to reduce electricity demand 15 percent from projected levels by 2020.
  • Weatherize One Million Homes Annually. Obama and Biden will make a national commitment to weatherize at least one million low-income homes each year for the next decade, which can reduce energy usage across the economy and help moderate energy prices for all.
  • Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology.Obama’s Department of Energy will enter into public private partnerships to develop five “first-of-a-kind†commercial scale coal-fired plants with clean carbon capture and sequestration technology.
  • Prioritize the Construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline. As president, Obama will work with stakeholders to facilitate construction of the pipeline. Not only is this pipeline critical to our energy security, it will create thousands of new jobs.

Invest in Climate-Friendly Energy Development and Deployment: Barack Obama knows that we need to rely on technology to help solve the critical energy and environmental problems facing this country. As he announced in his energy policy, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will invest $150 billion over the next ten years to enable American engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial-scale renewable energy, and begin the transition to a new digital electricity grid. This investment will transform the economy and create 5 million new jobs.

From John McCain’s website:

John McCain Will Commit Our Country To Expanding Domestic Oil Exploration. The current federal moratorium on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf stands in the way of energy exploration and production. John McCain believes it is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions and to put our own reserves to use. There is no easier or more direct way to prove to the world that we will no longer be subject to the whims of others than to expand our production capabilities. We have trillions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves in the U.S. at a time we are exporting hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas to buy energy. This is the largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind. We should keep more of our dollars here in the U.S., lessen our foreign dependency, increase our domestic supplies, and reduce our trade deficit – 41% of which is due to oil imports.

John McCain’s Clean Car Challenge. John McCain will issue a Clean Car Challenge to the automakers of America, in the form of a single and substantial tax credit for the consumer based on the reduction of carbon emissions. He will commit a $5,000 tax credit for each and every customer who buys a zero carbon emission car, encouraging automakers to be first on the market with these cars in order to capitalize on the consumer incentives. For other vehicles, a graduated tax credit will apply so that the lower the carbon emissions, the higher the tax credit.

John McCain Will Propose A $300 Million Prize To Improve Battery Technology For Full Commercial Development Of Plug-In Hybrid And Fully Electric Automobiles. A $300 million prize should be awarded for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars. That battery should deliver a power source at 30 percent of the current costs. At $300 million, the prize is one dollar for every man, woman and child in this country – and a small price to pay for breaking our dependence on oil.

John McCain Believes Alcohol-Based Fuels Hold Great Promise As Both An Alternative To Gasoline And As A Means of Expanding Consumers’ Choices. Some choices such as ethanol are on the market right now. The second generation of alcohol-based fuels like cellulosic ethanol, which won’t compete with food crops, are showing great potential.

John McCain Will Commit $2 Billion Annually To Advancing Clean Coal Technologies. Coal produces the majority of our electricity today. Some believe that marketing viable clean coal technologies could be over 15 years away. John McCain believes that this is too long to wait, and we need to commit significant federal resources to the science, research and development that advance this critical technology. Once commercialized, the U.S. can then export these technologies to countries like China that are committed to using their coal – creating new American jobs and allowing the U.S. to play a greater role in the international green economy.

John McCain Will Put His Administration On Track To Construct 45 New Nuclear Power Plants By 2030 With The Ultimate Goal Of Eventually Constructing 100 New Plants. Nuclear power is a proven, zero-emission source of energy, and it is time we recommit to advancing our use of nuclear power. Currently, nuclear power produces 20% of our power, but the U.S. has not started construction on a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years. China, India and Russia have goals of building a combined total of over 100 new plants and we should be able to do the same. It is also critical that the U.S. be able to build the components for these plants and reactors within our country so that we are not dependent on foreign suppliers with long wait times to move forward with our nuclear plans.

John McCain Will Encourage The Market For Alternative, Low Carbon Fuels Such As Wind, Hydro And Solar Power. According to the Department of Energy, wind could provide as much as one-fifth of electricity by 2030. The U.S. solar energy industry continued its double-digit annual growth rate in 2006. To develop these and other sources of renewable energy will require that we rationalize the current patchwork of temporary tax credits that provide commercial feasibility. John McCain believes in an even-handed system of tax credits that will remain in place until the market transforms sufficiently to the point where renewable energy no longer merits the taxpayers’ dollars.

From Ralph Nader’s website:

Nader/Gonzalez would:

  • End subsidies of entrenched oil, nuclear, & coal interests.
  • Curtail price gouging with strict law enforcement.
  • Invest heavily in renewable energies, including solar and wind technologies. Also encourage citizens to install their own solar panels and storage the electricity in Deep Cycle Solar Batteries.
  • Invest in more efficient homes, automobiles, businesses and government facilities.
  • Put renewable energy before the wasteful corn ethanol.

Nader/Gonzalez would cut corporate welfare programs propping up the corn ethanol industry.

From the beginning, Ralph Nader has been opposed to the subsidized ethanol industry as inefficient, environmentally damaging, inflationary, and as the primary fuel sustaining the corporate welfare kings…

Nader/Gonzalez proposes a straightforward carbon tax—set to annual benchmarks to bring, with the expansion of solar energy, US emissions to at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

A phased in initial price of $50 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions would harness $300 billion annually—money that would be put back in the pockets of American taxpayers, and money that would finance a green industrial revolution, providing a boon of 10 million new green collar jobs (in efficiency retrofits, cogeneration, geothermal, solar energy generation, and green grid enhancements) in the first five years.

From Bob Barr’s website:

Bob Barr on: Energy Policy

Every American who drives an automobile knows that something needs to be done about the cost of energy in the United States. While Republicans are calling for more subsidies to oil companies and Democrats are seeking to micro-manage energy companies with more regulations and laws — or to punish them by raising taxes on them — Americans are left to watch helplessly as fuel prices go through the roof.

Government intervention, whether through more regulations or more subsidies (or both), hurts consumers in the end. The free market, driven by consumer choice and reflecting the real cost of resources, should be the foundation of America’s energy policy. The federal government should eliminate restrictions that inhibit energy production, as well as all special privileges for the production of politically-favored fuels, such as ethanol.

In particular, Congress should allow the exploration and production of America’s abundant domestic resources, including oil in the Outer Continental Shelf and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and alternative sources such as shale oil. We should develop our nation’s natural assets, which would lower costs to the consumer and assure more adequate and consistent supplies.

Chuck Baldwin‘s page from On the Issues:

Drill in Alaska for domestic energy sources

McCain wants to give you $25. Hillary wants to give you $25. Obama wants to make fuel prices skyrocket by punishing those who produce oil and gas. Chuck wants to drill in Alaska and make America dependent on America for energy and not Muslim states. Source: Blog www.ogresview.com, “Who is Chuck Baldwin?” May 7, 2008

More drilling; more refineries; more nuclear power plants

There is absolutely no reason for us to be dependent upon OPEC. There is enough gas and oil under the soil of Alaska (not to mention the Dakotas and the Gulf of Mexico) to meet the energy needs of the United States for the next 150-200 years. There is also no reason that gas should cost more than $1.50 a gallon (which is about what it was before Bush became President).We must begin drilling for the domestic oil that we know exists; we must build more refineries and nuclear power plants.

From Cynthia McKinney’s website:

We Want an Environmental Protection Policy that Works Now!

We want the range of production and consumption policies enacted by our policy makers to reflect the limits of the finite resources that sustain life on this planet. We want our forests protected and restored; we want sustainable resource use and reuse, and we want less waste to dispose. We want renewable energy and we don’t want policies that pit food production against energy production. We want drinkable and clean water, soil, and air. We want to live within our resource means.

We believe that the production and pervasiveness of toxic chemicals in our environment is dangerous and must be stopped. We believe that workers should not be exposed to toxic work conditions. We believe that communities should be preserved and that local economies using local resources should be encouraged. We must put an end to child labor, forced labor, and other illegal or unethical activity included in the goods we consume: for example, Coltan (Columbite-Tantalite) and other minerals mined with slave labor and torture in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the 5 million deaths, political instability, and misery associated with pursuit of unfettered access to the mineral used in our computers, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets.”

We need air, land, water, climate, production and consumption policies that reflect the real limits within which we must live. We need an entirely new paradigm that encourages us to produce green, local, and fairly; most importantly we need true, representative government that serves the needs of the people over that of corporations so that these policies can become law.

Please, feel free to add information about minor presidential candidates or local candidates in the comments. Thank you for joining in the discussion.

Reccomended readings and a few sources:
EIA Petroleum Data
Renewable Energy News
The New York Times on Global Warming
“Senate Ends Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling”
“Ten Reasons not to Expand Offshore Drilling”
“Ethanol Mandates:Â The Single Most Misguided Agricultural Program in Modern American History”
The National Energy Grid
West Virginia Grandfather Takes on the Coal Industry
Renewable Energy Sources

11 thoughts on “Let’s look at the issues: Energy

  1. Ross Levin Post author

    I’ll get it started and post a bit of John Murphy’s (www.johnmurphyforcongress.org) energy position:

    We must begin to think in terms of providing people with sustainable livelihoods based on sustainable production for sustainable markets to support sustainable lifestyles. By requiring equitable trade, investing in urgently needed local labor-intensive public works (infrastructure improvements), creating a new renewable energy efficiency policy; by fully funding education and redirecting large bureaucratic and fraudulent health expenditures toward preventive health care we can reverse this trend and create millions of new jobs.

    Subsidizing renewable energy sources, which directly employ 2 to 5 times as many people for every unit of electricity generated as fossil or nuclear sources yet are cost competitive. Also, retrofit existing buildings for energy conservation and build non-polluting, low impact transportation systems.

  2. kalipay

    Addition to Chuck Baldwin’s information:


    “If I become president we will see to it that the Department of Energy will be eviscerated. Ending the Department of Energy will take the federal government out of the oil and energy business…

    We can by simply getting the government out of the way have a surplus of energy in this country.”

  3. G.E.

    Ross is doing enough work as it is. He’s profiling the six candidates on the most ballots. Extending the program to include everyone on as many as three ballots would make the project unmanageable.

    What is Jay’s position? He’s not so great on healthcare, or at least he wasn’t back in ’04.

  4. Ross Levin Post author

    I found this on Jay’s website:

    JAY: Senator Obama, I don’t know if I want to go down the list of some of the things you just mentioned, but have you any idea of the fact that the government is not constitutionally authorized to be in all those areas? The federal government does not produce energy, it does not drill for oil, it has no business in the health insurance industry, it should not be in the business of delivering education, it should NOT invest in science and technology but should allow private companies to innovate and develop free market solutions, and you are not in the business of making sure kids get to college. They can handle that themselves, and take advantage of many opportunities that are out there, supplied by providers that have no connection whatsoever to the federal government.

  5. G.E.

    Ron Paul is still the only politician I’ve heard state the plainly obvious laissez-faire principle that the government should sell off its land to the highest bidder, not lease it to companies to despoil it or hold it off the market for environmentalists. Let the two groups bid on the land. If it goes to the drillers, they’ll treat it better than the government does, and certainly better than they would if the government leased it to them.

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