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Senator Obama and the environment

LAWS OF NATURE LAWS OF NATURE LAWS OF NATURE ith political reporting being what it is, one fears that Americans know more about Senator Barack Obama’s three-point shooting ability than his stance on the environment. However, it may be that former Vice President Al Gore’s summer challenge – on behalf of renewable energy – struck a chord with the American people, and that this message has stuck with Obama, who has said that he would support investing $150 billion over 10 years in alternative energy research. He believes that “we cannot drill our way to energy independence, but must fasttrack investments in renewable sources of energy like solar power, wind power, and advanced biofuels”. Unlike his Republican counterpart, Senator John McCain, and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a conservative on environmental issues, Senator Obama has condemned calls for drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, although he conceded that some offshore drilling might be acceptable. He has boldly called for energy efficiency to be doubled within 18 years. The League of Conservation Voters’ “0%” rating for McCain (although his lifetime record stands at “26%”) is in sharp contrast to their “86%” rating (down from “96%” only because of missed votes) for Obama over his 3 years in the US Senate, a rating that is largely based on Obama’s introduction or co-sponsoring of nearly 100 environmentally friendly bills, including proposed legislation on reducing mercury emissions, raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles, and promoting biofuels production. (If a “below zero” rating were recognized, Palin would qualify. The day she stated that “the jury was out” regarding global warming, the Markham Ice Shelf separated from Canada’s Ellesmere Island. Why would the governor of the state closest to the North Pole not be concerned about predictions that the Pole will be ice-free in a few years?) On the other hand, some environmental groups are skeptical of Obama’s support for coal-to-liquids technology, and his apparent enthusiasm for ethanol-based fuels. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a political campaign if there weren’t dissimilarities between the candidates’ positions; however, as noted in a recent Los Angeles Times article, the two candidates share a certain amount of common ground regarding environmental issues: “The differences between [Obama and McCain] on the environment tend to be a matter of degree. They support the same policies, but (in general) Obama wants tougher (and costlier) regulation. Both want to create a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases – Obama’s would reduce them to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, while McCain’s would cut them by 60%. Both want more energy efficiency programs and renewable energy, though Obama would spend more to get them. McCain is a big proponent of nuclear power, an issue Obama has largely avoided thus far.” Now let’s look at the other differences that exist between the two Senators: www.fr ontiersinecology.or g US Congress • Both candidates understand the need to cut carbon emissions, but disagree on how to accomplish this. • Both support measures to maintain/enhance US energy security, but in somewhat different ways; Obama has supported corn-based ethanol and cellulosic-based fuels as fuel additives, whereas McCain has objected to ethanol and ethanol subsidies. • Obama has strongly advocated new regulation of animal feeding operations for pollution mitigation. McCain has been mostly silent on this issue. • The candidates differ on the nuclear power option. Obama is cautious about nuclear power, would end the development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility, and promotes the need for stronger scientific analyses. McCain is a dedicated supporter of nuclear power and the Yucca Mountain facility. • Obama has fairly consistently supported development of green technologies, reductions in fossil-fuel consumption, and increases in fuel-efficiency standards. McCain has spoken out in favor of tougher emissions standards, the creation of nuclear and “clean coal” power plants, the use of alternative energy sources, and electric cars. • Obama has promoted inner-city recycling programs, advanced environmental justice, and has fought environmental racism, a subject that McCain has largely avoided. • Obama has called for reductions in both mercury and lead emissions to protect community health, a position with which McCain has basically agreed. • Obama emphasizes the protection of the Great Lakes and our National Parks and Forests, while NRA member Palin supports aerial wolf hunting and has refused to take action to protect polar bears in Alaska. Neither candidate is entirely clear on how these critical issues would be funded. Obama would probably push for tax incentives and a tax on carbon emissions. McCain’s position is not very different. So, will McCain’s maverick image and his public divorce (or perhaps it’s a trial separation) from the Bush Administration’s environmental policies bode well for the environment, or will Obama’s activist image portend better solutions to pressing problems? Most pundits believe that a McCain Administration will at least be a “step forward” from the Bush Administration when it comes to the environment, whereas an Obama Administration will eventually result in a nearly complete reversal of the current Administration’s stance on environmental policy. Stay tuned during the fall and, of course, for the 4 years thereafter – Act One will open in Copenhagen, at the UN Climate Conference in early 2009. Douglass F Rohrman DLAPiper US, LLP © The Ecological Society of America http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Ecological Society of America

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