Even the Wall Street Journal is baffled by McCain’s “all over the map” energy policies

When even the nation’s premier business newspaper is confused about your conflicting economic positions, your campaign has jumped the shark. I’d like to think the WSJ read my post on the presumptive GOP nominee’s doubletalk strategy: “Memo to media: McCain doubletalks to woo conservatives and independents at the same time.”

The WSJ really nails McCain. They trot out a variety of euphemisms for “inconsistent” or “baffling” or “incomprehensible” — the favorite journalistic phrase in this regard being “defies easy categorization”:

Senator’s Broad Range Of Energy Policies Defies Categories

Sen. John McCain is putting energy policy at the center of his presidential campaign, embracing a diverse array of positions that defies easy categorization.

He is for more oil drilling and also for alternatives to oil. He wants to drill off the coasts but not in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He supports subsidies for nuclear power and clean-coal technology, but has opposed them for ethanol, solar and wind power.

He wants to lower gasoline prices by temporarily suspending the federal gas tax. But he wants to raise the price of gas with a cap-and-trade system that punishes polluting industries.

In environmentally conscious Portland, Ore., he praised wind power. In Texas oil country he supported more drilling. In rural Missouri he urged more nuclear power. In California he praised fuel-efficiency standards.

An expert from the center-right think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies is even more blunt:

“It’s all over the map,” said Bob Ebel, a senior adviser and energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I’m just sort of scratching my head.”

In general, the Republican presidential candidate has been reluctant to support mandates, tax credits and subsidies aimed at boosting alternative fuels, saying that government interference distorts the market.

He opposes subsides for ethanol, famously declining to back down even as he competed for votes in the corn state of Iowa. He has opposed federal tax credits for wind and solar power, but his campaign said last week it would support a new credit aimed at these industries.

Just last month, he explained why they were a bad idea. Asked in Washington state about subsidies to promote solar power, he said: “When government jumps in and distorts the market, then there’s unintended consequences as well as intended.”

Sen. McCain has long supported subsidies for nuclear power, proposing a new commitment to construct 45 new reactors by 2030. He also proposed $2 billion a year in subsidies for clean coal, despite numerous technical problems bringing this technology to market.

Given his opposition to government interference, Sen. McCain was asked last week why he supports government help for nuclear and clean-coal industries. “We know clean coal is a winner and we need to spend money on nuclear reactors to get that process moving,” he told reporters.

[Hmm. So wind and solar aren’t winners? Then why go to a wind factory to give your energy talk? Or is clean coal a “winner” the same way we are “winning” in Iraq? (Sorry couldn’t resist.) Serioulsy, though, major government support ought to be reserved for emerging technologies that need help competing against the big incumbent technologies — not for energy sources like nuclear that have a 20% market share.]

Sen. McCain was an early supporter of a cap-and-trade system to control carbon emissions and slow global warming. Under this system, those who pollute too much would have to buy credits from those that bring their emissions down.

But when cap-and-trade legislation finally cleared a Senate committee and made it to the Senate floor, he said he would oppose the bill. First he said it didn’t contain enough support for nuclear power. Later, an adviser said it contained too much extraneous spending. The bill never came up for a final vote.

With gasoline prices at record highs, Sen. McCain makes it clear on almost a daily basis that he knows American families are struggling. U.S. reliance on foreign oil, he says, threatens U.S. security as well as its economy.

“Energy security is the great national challenge of our time,” he said Monday in Fresno, Calif., where he came out for new incentives toward battery-operated cars. He said that punishments should be increased for car companies that fail to meet fuel-efficiency standards — typically luxury car makers who represent a small slice of the market. But Sen. McCain has opposed raising those standards in the past.

Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign jumped on this point.

“We just don’t have the ability as a nation to predict whether President McCain would be the president who’s for more tax cuts for big oil … or whether he would wake up one morning and decide it was time to come back to the discussion about fuel-economy standards,” said senior energy adviser Jason Grumet.

Last week, Sen. McCain reversed himself and said he would support lifting a federal ban on offshore oil drilling. But he has taken considerable flak from some conservatives over his opposition to drilling in ANWR. At a town hall meeting and a fund-raiser last week, he was confronted by supporters of Arctic drilling, one of whom said he had information that would change Sen. McCain’s mind.

Later, on his bus, Sen. McCain said he had changed his position on offshore oil drilling because of the rising price of oil. Asked if the high price of oil tempts him to reconsider drilling in ANWR, as well, he said: “No, but again, if somebody says, ‘Will you look at this information?’… I’ll be glad to look at that information. I think it’s incumbent on me to review it. But I certainly haven’t changed my position.”

McCain has sacrificed his “maverick” brand in attempt to pander to everyone simultaneously. Kudos to the WSJ for calling him out on his shamelessness.

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14 Responses to Even the Wall Street Journal is baffled by McCain’s “all over the map” energy policies

  1. Ecostew says:

    McCain will be against drilling in ANWR until he’s not.

  2. paulm says:

    The guy is old and with that comes age related symptoms. He has age before our eyes in the last 2 months. Has an unfocused look and often seems confused. I would be nervous to vote him in to run the country.

    Can we corner him more on the nuclear subsidy, but not a renewable one….crazy crazy crazy. Everyone just loves high tech, don’t they. Its the same with the British.

  3. crf says:

    Probably enough has now been said about McCain. His policies are not those of Republicans, generally, so it is hard to say he is leading the right. Even if he is elected, who knows what his energy policy will morph into.

    Joe Romm: can you do more about Obama’s energy policy, and also comment on the current positions of key Republicans and Democrats? Do the parties, generally, have energy policies one can comment one, or are they all over the map, even within each party?

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    crf — IMO, inside the Beltway is nothing but chaos, inability to act meaningfully.

    Fiddling while Rome burns…

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