McCain – Obama Debate – Energy Policy Focus: “Solar, Wind, Biodiesel and Yes, Nuclear Power”

  • Published on September 29th, 2008

McCain and Obama debating energy policyI was disappointed by the moderator’s decisions during the first Presidential Debate. Officially, the debate topic was foreign policy, but Jim Lehrer bowed to the news of the moment and turned the first half of the debate into a discussion about the proposed bailout of the Wall Street financial industry.

That focus crowded out most discussion about two major campaign issues that both have a huge impact on foreign policy – energy and the environment. Whenever the candidates tried to talk about energy policies, the moderator immediately tried to change the subject.

I am not a single issue voter, but I really want to understand the nuances of the energy policy positions for the two candidates in this particular election. The last time energy policy was such a major part of the campaign was in 1976; the result of that election made a huge difference in our current energy source mix.


It is difficult to understand American foreign policy since 1900 without understanding our dependence on industries fueled by petroleum, coal and natural gas. The effort to ensure reliable access to those fossil fuels has defined our relationships with a number of key countries and companies. It is nearly impossible to imagine how to determine where to go from here without discussing a strategy for our energy future.

There are few global issues with more potential impact on long term foreign policy than the coordination of efforts aimed at controlling air and water pollution along with limiting the production and emission of gases that are contributing to global climate change.

Despite the moderator’s seeming lack of interest in the topic, the candidates made some quick and pointed comments attempting to highlight the differences in their energy policies. Just hearing or reading the transcript of the debate is not enough to give a full interpretation of the differences, so in the interest of fair use, I produced a little clip of the energy policy exchange, including enough of the moderator’s redirection to show what I mean when I said he was not terribly interested in the topic. The photo accompanying this article is an extraction from that clip.

Senator McCain outlined his “all of the above” strategy of developing alternative energy sources and off shore oil drilling, with a clear emphasis on the importance of his desire to build 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030. He tried to make the case that Senator Obama’s stance on used nuclear fuel might inhibit that kind of development. Senator Obama similarly articulated an essentially “all of the above” strategy, listing all available options including solar, wind, biodiesel, nuclear, clean coal, and even limited off-shore drilling.

There was some back and forth regarding alternative energy. Obama stated that McCain had a voting record that did not back up his words; according to Obama, McCain has voted against alternative energy programs 23 times during his 26 years in the senate. McCain looked frustrated when Jim Lehrer attempted to move on right after that comment and pushed a chance to respond, starting off with “Look, no one from Arizona is against solar power.”

In one of the more contentious periods in the whole debate, McCain said, “Senator Obama says he is for nuclear but he is against reprocessing and he is against storing. So, it’s hard to get there from here.” Senator Obama disputed that characterization of his position. He tried to interrupt several times and finally succeeded stating, “I just have to correct the record. I have never said that I object to nuclear waste. What I said is that we have to store it safely.”

Please take a look at the presidential debate energy policy focus clip to see for yourself the body language that went along with the spoken words.

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About the Author

loves and respects our common environment, but he has a fatal flaw in the eyes of many environmentalists -- he's a huge fan of atomic energy. Reduce, reuse, and recycle have been watchwords for Rod since his father taught him that raising rabbits is a great way to turn kitchen scraps into fertilizer for backyard fruit trees and vegetable gardens. They built a compost heap together in about 1967, when he was 8 and when Earth Day was a mere gleam in some people's eye. During his professional career, he has served in several assignments on nuclear submarines, including a 40-month tour as the Engineer Officer of the USS Von Steuben. In 1994, he was awarded US patent number 5309592 for the control system for a closed-cycle gas turbine. He founded Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. in 1993, started Atomic Insights in 1995, and began producing the Atomic Show Podcast in 2006. He is currently an active duty officer (O-5) in the US Navy. He looks forward to many interesting discussions.
  • Hmmm… All these disputes over cost and how much oil cost affects foreign policy etc…

    This is another major wonderful reason to go use renewable energy sources – Each country has more than enough of it's own latent energy sitting there waiting to be captured as electricity.

    Every country has wind and sun, Not every country has coal or oil. The less we depend on oil as countries, the less 'Foreign policy' would have to be developed and the wars, sanctions and disputes that happen now over oil, natural gas, and coal would not need to occur.

    Liam.

  • MStrans

    I have posted in the past to both McCain and Obama in June. I wrote them
    about this, here’s a quick recap.

    1. We all what not just more jobs but better paying jobs.
    2. We all want energy independence.
    3. We need to fix our Medicare, medical and social security.
    all in a one shot plan for both sides.

    Dems and Reps agree to open and drill for more oil with a revote to
    continue drilling in 10years.
    We built warships in record months and oil rigs can be done as well.

    The US oil & gas is the taxpayers, don’t let the energy companies take
    full profits. Put a 2, 7 or 9% profit per barrel force to go towards
    alternate energy projects, and I mean the ones that work all ready.

    Building Energy Infrastructures’** High speed rails to over lay or next
    to existing RR tracks for close metro to metro cities, most the airports
    and sea ports are already have tracks in place.

    Let the RR & Airline companies invests in them also with the Government
    project. This creates good paying jobs. This also declines trucking
    goods from sea ports to close metro areas. Declines airline fuels
    Example: Atlanta to Augusta [air 3hrs, check in to check out] [car
    2.5hrs] but high speed rail projects can take about 1 hr.

    Purpose of above: reduce oil base fuels, even the MORE Nuclear projects
    would power those lines and reduce dirty power plants.
    JUST think if Americans reduced gasoline by 9% use in one year from
    2007-2008.

    If that puts Americans to work with actual long term weekly pay checks
    to put food on the table then a one time kick back check after tax
    season.

    In about 2-3 years the less oil consumption by US travel, transport and
    vacations. NOW SELL OFF ANY unneeded oil production to other countries
    and THOSE Profits get put back into Social Security, Medicare, and
    Medical needs.

    So even in ten years if each state had 1 to 3 projects, it puts
    Americans to work, then OUR oil product can be sold over seas, We make a
    cleaner America, we have money being put back into retirements that
    should never have been touch from either party in the past.

    If the US starts now,
    1 Nuclear plant time 7-9 years
    500 miles high speed track 3-4 years depends on how its done
    our own refineries time “I have now idea how long yet”
    … go ahead add a few more
    Airports and Ship ports think of going to an airport terminal and
    catching a plane OR Train (security checkins) airports don’t lose their
    passengers, they just by modified to a cleaner transportation.

    Just think are you going to take a one a year tax season kick back, or
    would you rather see your tax money be spent on projects that have good
    paying jobs, and those Projects CREATE profit from them, AND then you
    sell off the dirty fuel profit to put back into where it belonged in the
    first place.

    Then all said and done vote shut down the rigs for a rain day if ever
    need again, hopefully not!.

    So it is your choice, a yearly tax credit kick back that is coming out
    of some other US taxpayers Pocket, OR make jobs that give us OUR
    INDEPENDANCE and bring back the American dream like in the great Hoover
    dam projects, or nasa.

    but the only one who has been on some track of this is McCain, Obama has
    said we can’t drill out way out, but would tax the last American owned
    Company Exxon right out of the US. YOU can not TAX the Apple Farmer to
    Get more Apples from him, YOU NEED TO grow more trees.

    For Obama, “We can not just tax our way out of this one
    either!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  • Pingback: McCain Lies About Position on Renwable Energy at Presidential Debate | ecopolitology()

  • While I do agree with those sentiments, Jack–I believe that you may have missed the point of the article above–which is a commentary on the mainstream media's and the American public's astonishing lack of interest on energy and foreign policy issues in comparison to the news of the day, the $700 billion dollar bailout.

    Granted, the economy is bad and we're in a crisis situation economically. It's all over the news. And I'm an Obama supporter as well. But I would have like to have seen them go head-to-head on a foreign policy and energy debate, as well. It may have been their last opportunity to do so before the election.

    We have to reconsider the true motives behind our policies in Iraq, for example. Is it for Iraqi freedom and national security or for oil? How much do oil interests effect our decisions in foreign policy? And is it worth the added $1-5 trillion dollars in the long term to continue funding an war effort indefinitely? Iraq is neither a threat to our national security nor to global security. Nor is al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

    What do these candidates plan to do realistically about global warming, the energy crisis, and the need to find a sustainable (renewable) energy to free us from our dependence on coal and fosssil fuel once and for all? So I am disappointed in Leher as well.

  • jacksmith

    Bush, McCain can run. But they cant hide anymore.

    What ever congress does to try and fix our stunning economic catastrophe needs to be done very carefully. Congress needs to take their time, and be sure of what they are doing. Whatever is done needs to be sharply focused at helping, and protecting the best interest of the ordinary Americans. In particular the vast American middle class. 700 billion dollars is a lot of the peoples money to spend to bail out a bunch of corrupt Bush loan sharks.

    When have you ever known any government plan, or project to only cost what the government said it would. Remember the war in Iraq. Bush and his so-called advisers said it would only cost you about 80 billion dollars. But we now know that the war in Iraq will cost you, and your children, and your grand children over a trillion dollars, and still counting.

    So if 80 billion can end up costing you over a trillion dollars. How much could 700 billion end up costing you. Any math wizards out there. I come up with 9 trillion…:-(

    My fellow human beings, just as I warned you ahead of this catastrophic economic meltdown, I must now warn you that what is ahead has the potential to be even more catastrophic than what we are going through now. The worlds geopolitical landscape has been booby trapped by the Bush McCain administration and their republican allies in congress. These booby traps are poised to spring at any time.

    Fortunately the Worlds Nations have been blessed with many excellent leaders (except the US) who have been careful, wise, strong, and self-restrained in dealing with the provocations, and antagonism's of the Bush, McCain administration.

    Barack Obama and the democrats are your best hope now. Tell your family, friends, and everyone you know to support them as best you can, and vote for them like your life, and the lives of your loved ones depends on it. Because it does. You will not survive 4 more years of Bush McCain.

    JACK SMITH – WORKING CLASS…