There Are Green '08 Candidates, and Then There Are Some That Aren't ... at All

Which candidates support nuclear and coal? Who's fighting climate change and supports renewables? Here's the scoop.
If you're not sure where presidential contenders, Democratic or Republican, stand on environmental issues -- it's not surprising. There has been little discussion in the debates.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Action Fund, you're more likely to know what a candidate thinks of UFOs than their position on what we should do about global warming. On Tim Russert's Meet the Press there have been 827 questions to candidates and zero mentioned global warming. Same for George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week and Bob Schiefffer on CBS's Face the Nation. CNN's Wolf Blitzer had two questions out of 402 and Chris Wallace on Fox also had two out of 563.

Despite mainstream media's coverage, the candidates' positions stand on global warming and our energy future should be a pressing concern for voters. And there are differences between the candidates.

What are the main issues?

Carbon emissions

Let's start with Clinton. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has given Clinton a lifetime score of 90 (out of 100) points in her record on the environment and her policies. She is a co-sponsor of the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, considered by many to be the strongest global warming legislation introduced in the Senate.

In many instances she falls right in step with LCV's guidelines. Like LCV, to deal with global warming she supports a mandatory cap on emissions and an 80 percent reduction on carbon emissions by 2050. This is the language that most environmental groups are supporting, including the popular Step It Up and 1Sky campaigns.

Obama, who has a score of 96 from LCV, and is also a co-sponsor of the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, has the same position. These two Democrats fall right in step with the mainstream environmental movement on this point.

For Republicans, the story is different. McCain (LCV score of 26), has billed himself as the most enviro-friendly of his party and was recently endorsed by Gov. Schwarzenegger at a solar roofing company, of all places. The governor said of McCain, "He's a crusader, has a great vision in protecting the environment and also protecting the economy."

McCain introduced legislation (with Joe Lieberman) in the Senate, called the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act, which would cap emissions at 2004 levels by 2012 and then decrease them by 30 percent by 2050, a much less ambitious plan than what many environmental organizations and leading scientists have said is necessary.

The rest of the Republican field doesn't offer much. Huckabee (no score from LCV) said he would support cap and trade but hasn't given any specifics; Ron Paul (LCV score of 30) does not support cap and trade; and Romney (no score from LCV) says no unless the rest of the world also participates in the system -- so much for the United States taking a leading role in world politics on this one.

Fuel efficiency

Clinton supports setting a fuel efficiency level of 40 mpg by 2020 and 50 mpg by 2030, pretty much in line with LVC and other enviros as well. Obama is similar but gives a bit of a break to the bigger vehicles, supporting 40 mpg by 2020 but only 32 for light trucks.

McCain says he supports raising standards but hasn't offered specifics. While Huckabee is on board for 35 mpg by 2020. Romney and Paul both oppose fuel efficiency standards.

Energy consumption and renewables

Things get a little more dicey with the candidates on specific energy policy. Clinton supports 25 percent of energy from renewables by 2025 and LCV advocates for 20 percent by 2020. She also supports a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2020 -- a bit above LCV's 10 percent.

Obama also advocates 25 percent by 2025, but while Clinton calls for a $50 billion investment fund for renewables, Obama sets the bar at $150 billion. And he calls for a 50 percent reduction by 2030 in consumption.

McCain and Romney support renewables but don't offer any plan. Huckabee calls for 15 percent of energy from renewables by 2020 (but this also includes "clean coal" and nuclear). And Paul is willing to let the market try to solve this problem and opposes using subsidies to help that process out.


There is really no candidate in the race right now that gets it right on coal.

LCV, Step It Up, 1Sky, and other environmental organizations support a moratorium on all new coal plants unless they capture and store carbon -- meaning they can burn coal but they have to get rid of the carbon emissions. However, the reality is that carbon capture is a technology that has so far remained unproven at the industrial level. Plans to store carbon underground have run into much criticism. Also, residents of coal country, particularly Appalachia, have come out strongly against any technology using coal, because the extraction and cleaning process, which involves blowing up mountains, burying rivers and polluting watershed and communities, wreaks environmental and cultural havoc.

Clinton supports a phase-in on the requirement to capture and store carbon at plants, and Obama would consider a moratorium on new coal plants if it doesn't slow construction of them. This last qualifier seems a little odd; already coal plant construction is running into roadblocks, and a whole bunch of new plants were recently scrapped. But both support the notion of "clean coal," which fails to consider coal's destructive extraction and cleaning costs.

Both Democratic candidates also support investing in liquid coal, if it reduces pollution by over 20 percent from gasoline levels -- which, right now, it does not.

And the Republicans are basically all for coal (or won't articulate their position), including "clean coal" and coal-to-liquids.


Although controversial among many environmental groups, there seems to be little controversy among the candidates when it comes to biofuels. Many environmental groups are against biofuel production, which has caused the destruction of virgin forests across the world, including the Amazon. It is also pesticide- and water-intensive, takes agricultural land out of food production or conservation and has raised the price of corn around the world.

But, probably not wanting to upset Iowa voters, Clinton and Obama want the United States aiming for 60 billion gallons of homegrown biofuels to be available by 2030.

Ron Paul thinks this one is also up to the market and wouldn't offer subsidies, and the rest of the Republican field is in favor of increased use of biofuels.


With a new interest from much of the world in global warming, the nuclear industry is trying to make a comeback, including billing itself as a clean or renewable source of energy (neither of which is accurate).

Clinton doesn't have much to say about nuclear power. She is not against it seemingly, and also not advocating for it, unless they get that little problem of waste storage figured out (don't hold your breath on that one). Obama has taken a position that has resulted in a lot of heat from enviros by supporting nuclear energy, and his climate change bill in Congress would give generous subsidies to the nuke industry.

All the Republicans are for nuclear power, and McCain's climate bill would also give a nice payoff to the nuclear industry.

What they're saying about them

Certainly these issues aren't all that is important in the environmental movement, but it is a start. Overall, the Democratic contenders have taken a hopeful road in terms of environmental action and also a relatively safe one in terms of popular opinion. Neither has shown that they are visionaries, but both have promise.

The story is a bit different for the Republicans. McCain is the only one who seems to be making an effort, but for a candidate who says that global warming will be one of three priorities if he takes office, he needs a lot less talk and more action in line with what the environmental movement and leading scientists are advocating.

The rest of the Republicans are sadly out of touch with Americans and the world.

Here are some closing words for LCV that flesh out more about each candidates' record.

Hillary Clinton
In addressing the climate crisis, Sen. Clinton's approach emphasizes the potential to strengthen the economy and create new jobs. In fact, she estimates that her energy plan will create 5 million new "green collar" jobs. In addition, Sen. Clinton would create a National Energy Council, similar to the National Security Council, to help coordinate the implementation of her energy plan across the executive branch.
On other issues, Sen. Clinton has been a leader on the nexus between environmental protections and public health issues, particularly when it comes to children's health. As First Lady, she worked with Sen. Barbara Boxer to propose the Children's Environmental Protection Act, a bill to require the government to set health and safety standards at levels that protect children. Sen. Clinton has consistently voted to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and believes we must protect our national parks and forests for future generations. However, in 2006 she voted to allow new drilling off the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Barack Obama
In discussing the climate crisis, Sen. Obama has made a point of acknowledging that there will be a cost on the front end for transforming the way we use energy, but that we can also create a new generation of clean energy jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. He has also introduced the Health Care for Hybrids Act, which would provide automakers with government assistance to help pay their healthcare costs if they put some of those savings into creating more fuel-efficient cars.
Sen. Obama has consistently voted to protect our nation's coasts and beaches by opposing offshore drilling. However, he has expressed concerns with the Hardrock Mining Reform Act of 2007, which establishes a royalty for mines operating on public lands and uses the proceeds to help clean up abandoned mines, but he does support reforming the 1872 mining law.
John McCain
Among the Republicans running for president, Sen. McCain holds the distinction of being the only candidate to make global warming a part of his campaign agenda and to regularly address it on the campaign trail ... Yet Sen. McCain's climate bill would reduce carbon emissions only 65 percent by 2050, when science tell us we must meet or exceed 80 percent reductions by 2050 to avoid major environmental catastrophes.
While Sen. McCain supports developing clean energy sources, including wind, solar and biofuels, he also is a fervent advocate of nuclear power ... In 2005, he voted against a Renewable Electricity Standard that would have required electric utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2020. On other environmental issues, Sen. McCain says that he supports efforts to protect our natural heritage by protecting our national parks, but he has not consistently voted to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Mitt Romney
Former Gov. Mitt Romney has acknowledged that global warming is real, but he has not released a comprehensive plan to address the climate crisis and our energy challenges ... In fact, the energy section of his website touts a quote from the governor in which he advocates using more nuclear power and tapping in to more domestic sources of oil, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Additionally, what few details Gov. Romney has offered regarding his energy plan do not include any concrete goals, targets or timelines.
Aside from energy policy, Gov. Romney's environmental record in Massachusetts was widely regarded as disappointing. For example, Gov. Romney vetoed spending increases for Massachusetts state parks, which rank 48th in the country for per capita spending, and cut the state Department of Environmental Protection's budget and staff, weakening enforcement of environmental laws as a result.
Mike Huckabee
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee has acknowledged that global warming is a problem, but he has not released a comprehensive plan to address the climate crisis and our energy challenges ... He has placed a higher priority on energy issues than some of his Republican rivals, noting on his campaign website that the first thing he will do as president is send Congress a plan for energy independence, but he has not offered a detailed plan.
Gov. Huckabee believes a national energy policy should also include exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off U.S. coasts ... Gov. Huckabee's tenure as governor is mixed. Early in his administration, he referred to "environmental wackos" in a discussion with the Farm Bureau. Later, he opposed tighter water quality standards for the Illinois River after high levels of phosphorous from sewage, animal waste and fertilizer in northwest Arkansas were detected.
Ron Paul
Rep. Ron Paul is a climate skeptic, and he has not released a comprehensive plan to address the climate crisis and our energy challenges. In Congress, he has generally voted against environmental policies. In fact, early this year, Rep. Paul voted to block a requirement that a national intelligence estimate on global climate change be submitted to Congress. In addition, he has voted to allow drilling off America's coasts and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, Rep. Paul has consistently voted against subsidies for oil companies and other anti-environmental efforts.
For more great resources on the candidates, check out Grist and The League of Conservation Voters.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.
Tara Lohan is a managing editor at AlterNet.
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