Earlier this week, representatives of four presidential candidates (two Democrat, two Republican) appeared for an issues briefing at the National Press Club on energy policy — videos here (warning, they are kind of boring). The short version is that the politically polite rhetoric managed to smooth over the sticky policy points: details of a cap and trade program and nuclear energy policy.
Congressman David E. Bonior spoke on behalf of John Edwards, Senator Tom Daschle on behalf of Barack Obama, former Secretary of Energy John S. Herrington for Rudy Giuliani, and Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin for John McCain.
The representatives loved to point out that they agreed on two things: leadership and urgency. The discussion was diplomatic and strategically ambiguous, as they did not all agree which required leadership and urgency – energy policy or climate policy.
Secretary Herrington was the outlier whose priority was clearly energy policy (and it’s no wonder, given his background). Only Herrington expressed hesitation regarding a cap and trade program, while the others sparred more over details of a plan. Rather than discuss climate, Herrington repeatedly revolve his comments around Giuliani’s two energy priorities: investing in nuclear energy for our electricity sector and using natural gas to fuel our vehicle fleet. [JR -- a truly pointless idea since 1) natural gas can be used twice as efficiently displacing coal power and 2) if natural gas became a major transport fuel, we'd have to import it, so it doesn't solve our energy security problem.]
Since Giuliani is the Republican front-runner, this lame energy/climate policy is quite discouraging.
The only clear partisan divide was over nuclear energy – both panelists for the Democrat candidates are against nuclear power, to varying degrees, and both for the Republican candidates are for nuclear power. (Similar sentiments were revealed in an earlier poll of Congress. )
Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who represented Obama, said his candidate could support the use of nuclear power but only after figuring out ways to address several issues such as storage, transportation, security and developing a proliferation policy.
“If we say it’s OK for us to acquire far more nuclear capacity, are we prepared to say that about Iran, Sudan and that any other country in the world can have it too,” Daschle said. “Or are we going to be arrogant enough to say, ‘We can have it and you can’t.’”
Meanwhile, both Republicans came out strongly in favor of nuclear power, arguing that it has to be part of any effort to reduce climate change emissions.
“We should move aggressively to allow markets to build nuclear power,” said former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who represented McCain. “It is inexcusable to take nuclear off the table; it’s inexcusable to oppose based on the ghosts of 30 years ago.”
There was doubtlessly one takeaway from the press event: A good presidential nominee is going to need to think through and present an aggressive and comprehensive plan, and the bi-partisan sense of urgency on energy and climate action made that clear. Unfortunately, the representation of Giuliani’s platform painted a fuzzy, dirty, potentially dangerous picture.
– Kari M.