Thursday night’s vice presidential debate produced several rows on climate and energy policy, with both candidates making somewhat unexpected claims on their own policy positions. Notably, however, both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin acknowledged that climate change is real and must be addressed — though they clearly didn’t agree fully on what’s causing it or what should be done.
For enviro viewers, perhaps Palin’s biggest moment came when she was asked directly about climate change. She said that emissions should be cut while also calling for more drilling and again disputing whether all of global warming is caused by humans (she’s offered a range of statements on this subject in the past).
Asked directly whether she supports a cap on carbon emissions, Palin responded, “Yes, Sen. McCain does support this.”
While Palin didn’t say whether she supports a cap, she did say that she thinks climate change should be addressed:
As the nation’s only Arctic state and being the governor of that state, Alaska feels and sees impacts of climate change more so than any other state. And we know that it’s real. I’m not one to attribute every man — activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man’s activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet.
But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don’t want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?
She then went on to argue that increasing drilling was imperative to curbing climate change (no, really):
We’ve got to become energy independent for that reason. Also as we rely more and more on other countries that don’t care as much about the climate as we do, we’re allowing them to produce and to emit and even pollute more than America would ever stand for.
So even in dealing with climate change, it’s all the more reason that we have an “all of the above” approach, tapping into alternative sources of energy and conserving fuel, conserving our petroleum products and our hydrocarbons so that we can clean up this planet and deal with climate change.
Biden had a quick comeback for Palin’s climate comments:
If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is manmade. That’s the cause. That’s why the polar icecap is melting.
Biden made other remarks sure to perk up the ears of Grist readers, especially his assertion that “I have always supported [clean coal], and that’s a fact” — a much stronger pronouncement than his previous statements on the subject. He added, “By investing in clean coal and safe nuclear … we can create new jobs,” and later in the debate repeated, “My record for 25 years has been supporting clean coal.”
Even as recently last week, Biden said “We’re not supporting ‘clean coal.'” And last year, in an interview with Grist, he said, “I don’t think there’s much of a role for clean coal in energy independence.” He’s always said, however, that he thinks that “clean coal” technology should be exported to China, which he repeated tonight: “China is building one to three new coal-fired plants burning dirty coal per week. It’s polluting not only the atmosphere but the West Coast of the United States. We should export the technology by investing in clean coal technology.”
Palin and Biden sparred several times on energy, with Palin talking repeatedly about the need to achieve energy security for the United States and saying that the only way to do so is by exploiting all the energy resources available here at home. Biden countered by going after McCain’s votes against measures to support renewables: “We should be creating jobs. John McCain has voted 20 times against funding alternative energy sources and thinks, I guess, the only answer is drill, drill, drill. Drill we must, but it will take 10 years for one drop of oil to come out of any of the wells that are going to begun to be drilled.” (Enviros might not be as excited about the “drill we must” part as they are about the rest of that statement.)
Palin responded by correcting Biden on the drilling meme — “The chant is ‘drill, baby, drill.'” She said voters attending McCain-Palin rallies are all for more drilling. “That’s what we hear all across this country in our rallies because people are so hungry for those domestic sources of energy to be tapped into,” she said.
Palin also accused Biden of saying “no to everything” in terms of energy policy — though she was really just referring to drilling. She targeted a previous statement of Biden’s in which he called drilling offshore “raping the Outer Continental Shelf.”
Palin talked up the tax she imposed on oil companies up in Alaska:
And that’s why Tillerson at Exxon and Mulva at ConocoPhillips, bless their hearts, they’re doing what they need to do, as corporate CEOs, but they’re not my biggest fans, because what I had to do up there in Alaska was to break up a monopoly up there and say, you know, the people are going to come first and we’re going to make sure that we have value given to the people of Alaska with those resources.
And those huge tax breaks aren’t coming to the big multinational corporations anymore, not when it adversely affects the people who live in a state and, in this case, in a country who should be benefiting at the same time.
Biden pointed out that the Alaska tax is similar to the windfall profits tax on oil companies that Obama has called for on a federal level, which John McCain has opposed:
Look, I agree with the governor. She imposed a windfall profits tax up there in Alaska. That’s what Barack Obama and I want to do. We want to be able to do for all of you Americans, give you back $1,000 bucks, like she’s been able to give back money to her folks back there.
But John McCain will not support a windfall profits tax. They’ve made $600 billion since 2001, and John McCain wants to give them, all by itself — separate, no additional bill, all by itself — another $4 billion tax cut.
Twice in the debate, Palin criticized Obama for his vote for the 2005 energy bill, a sweeping, oil-friendly measure opposed by enviros. In voting for it at the time, Obama cited the bill’s support for ethanol and “clean coal” technology. Biden voted against it, as did McCain.
But while the McCain campaign keeps citing his no vote as evidence of his willingness to take on Big Oil, at the time, McCain’s chief criticisms of the bill were that he thought it would raise gas prices in Arizona, that it mandated too much ethanol use, and that its tax incentives for people who buy alternative-fuel vehicles were too generous. And according to FactCheck.org, the bill actually “resulted in a small net tax increase on oil companies.”
Biden responded to Palin’s attack by saying that “Barack Obama voted for it because it had … real incentives for alternative energy.” He also took McCain and Palin to task for “giving ExxonMobil another $4 billion tax cut.” Indeed, the policies that McCain has proposed on the campaign trail this year would continue subsidies for Big Oil, which would total $33 billion [PDF] in the next five years. His plans would also cut taxes on oil companies by $4 billion, according to a recent report [PDF] by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Later in the debate, Palin was asked about any disagreements she may have with John McCain. Here, she brought up McCain’s long-held opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: “I’m going to keep pushing him on ANWR,” she said, offering a wink at the camera.
So the take-away from tonight’s debate for enviros? It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, both candidates said action must be taken to address climate change. On the other, Biden offered a strong endorsement of clean coal and Palin emphasized drilling over and over again.
Two more presidential debates to go …
The full debate video is on YouTube, courtesy C-Span.