McCain’s Opposition To Energy Independence

Our guest blogger is Daniel J. Weiss, a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

In the third and final presidential debate on October 15, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said one of his goals is that “we become energy independent and we will create millions of jobs in America.”

However, he conclusively demonstrated that he advocates policies that will achieve neither “energy independence” nor “millions of jobs.”

Plank #1: Nukes, Baby, Nukes

Sen. McCain said that to achieve “energy independence…. We have to have nuclear power.”

Building 100 new nuclear plants, as he has proposed, will do nothing to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Nuclear power generates approximately 20% of U.S. electricity, while oil produces less than 2%, and only 2% of oil use goes to producing electricity.


Nuclear power will not lead to energy independence because the U.S. must import over 90% of its uranium, with nearly one-third coming from Russia. If we double the number of nuclear plants, as McCain has called for, we would become even more dependent on countries that, in McCain’s words, “don’t like us very much.” Plank #2: Continued Oil DependenceDebate moderator Bob Schieffer asked Sen. McCain to “give us a number, a specific number of how much you believe we can reduce our foreign oil imports during your first term?”

McCain responded that “for all intents and purposes, eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and Venezuelan oil….We can easily, within seven, eight, ten years…eliminate our dependence” on oil from these places.

Currently, the U.S. imports a total of 3.5 million barrels per day — or one-third of total imports — from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela. The new 35 mile per gallon fuel economy will save 1.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2020. McCain has long opposed increasing fuel economy standards.

Sen. McCain proposed measures to achieve independence including “nuclear power, with wind, tide, solar, natural gas, with development of flex fuel [vehicles], hybrid [vehicles], clean coal technology.”

Nuclear power, wind, tide, solar, and natural gas would produce electricity, and reduce coal, not oil, use. There are already 4.5 million flex fuel vehicles on the road, but nearly all of them use gasoline rather than 85% ethanol (E85) because the latter is only sold at one percent of service stations.


There are only 186,000 hybrid cars out of 200 million U.S. autos. Plug-in electric hybrid vehicles could lead to cars that get 100+ miles per gallon, but none will be commercially available until 2010. And Sen. McCain opposed the renewable tax package that included consumer incentives to buy super efficient cars.

Advanced coal technology that would enable power plants to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions underground is a promising technology that is at least 10 years away from commercial availability. If it works, it will enable power plants to burn coal with far fewer greenhouse gas emissions, but will have no impact on oil use.

In short, McCain’s plan will not achieve his goal after two terms, let alone one.

Plank #3: Opposing Renewables Before He Supported them.

Sen. McCain said that other elements of his plan would include “It’s wind, tide, solar, natural gas, nuclear, off-shore drilling.”

He repeatedly voted against a requirement that utilities generate more of their power from wind and solar. He also opposed the extension of tax incentives for renewables and efficiency measures.


Expansion of offshore oil drilling into to the Outer Continental Shelf “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices,” according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Plank #4: No New Jobs

He asserts his energy plan “will create millions of jobs — millions of jobs in America.”

An energy plan based on expansion of offshore oil drilling to areas three miles off of our coasts will create far fewer jobs than investments in renewables and efficiency. The Center for American Progress’s Green Recovery report found that an investment in renewable energy and efficiency measures would create four times more jobs compared to the same investment in offshore oil drilling.

Plank #5: Support for Big Oil

During the debate, Sen. McCain criticized those who supported the Energy Policy Act of 2005 because “it was full of goodies for the oil companies that I opposed.” However, he opposed proposals to remove these subsidies for big oil.

Sen. McCain’s economic plan would actually increase “goodies for the oil companies” because it would slash taxes for the largest US oil companies by $4 billion, including reducing ExxonMobil’s tax tab by over $1 billion.

Plank #6: No Biofuels

When asked about spending cuts, Sen. McCain proudly said that he would cut “a number of subsidies for ethanol….I oppose subsidies for ethanol because I thought it distorted the market and created inflation.”

Corn based ethanol will displace half a million barrels of oil daily in 2008. Biofuels could displace 2.5 million barrels of oil daily by 2022. The next generation of “cellulosic biofuels” made from switch grass, farm waste, wood chips or other biomass will be much less energy intensive to produce than corn ethanol. Subsidies would help speed the commercialization of this replacement for oil.