Muckraker: Grist on Politics

John McCain followed up yesterday’s energy speech with more energy talk today during a roundtable at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo. Today he focused more specifically on his support for two energy sources: nuclear power and “clean coal.”

The roundtable also featured Greg Boyce, CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, and Mike Chesser, CEO of Great Plains Energy. The panel was moderated by Jim Jones, a Chevron board member and president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dedicated to “educating the public” about energy. (Jones is also, as David pointed out, being talked about as a potential Obama VP pick.)

In his remarks, McCain argued that the major obstacles to expanding use of nuclear power are political, and that it has suffered because of the “mindset of those who prefer to buy time and hope that our energy problems will somehow solve themselves.”

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“If we’re looking for a vast supply of reliable and low-cost electricity, with zero carbon emissions and long-term price stability, that’s the working definition of nuclear energy,” said McCain.

There are currently 104 nuclear reactors in the United States, generating 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. It’s been decades since a new nuclear plant was built in the U.S., but McCain promised to get 45 new reactors up and running by 2030, and set a goal of 100 new plants over time.

As for coal, McCain promised to commit $2 billion dollars a year to clean-coal research and development, including construction of demonstration plants.

“Burning coal cleanly is a challenge of practical problem solving and human ingenuity, and we have no shortage of those in this country. Perhaps no advancement in energy technology could mean more to America than the clean burning of coal and the capture and storage of carbon emissions,” McCain said. If the U.S. masters this technology, he said, it can export it to developing nations.

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“Once we supply the means of clean-burning coal and carbon capture, nations everywhere will pursue the same end: abundant energy with low carbon emissions,” he said. “China in particular has enormous coal reserves that could power its continued economic growth cleanly and efficiently, and by mastering the technology, America will lead the way.”

McCain was less keen to provide government support for renewables. “In the progress of other alternative energy sources — such as wind, solar, geothermal, tide, and hydroelectric — government must be an ally but not an arbiter,” said McCain. He defended his previous votes against extending tax credits for renewable energy, saying he opposed them because they were “temporary” and created a “patchwork.” Instead, he said he would let “the market decide which ideas can move us toward clean and renewable energy.”


In an interview with Grist last year, McCain also defended his opposition to providing assistance to renewable energy sources like wind. “The wind industry is doing fine, the solar industry is doing fine,” he said.