Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Not to let John McCain have all the attention on energy policy this week, Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama gave a speech on energy today in Springs Preserve, a 180-acre area in Nevada dedicated to sustainability.

“What we are seeing here … is that a green, renewable energy economy isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, far-off future, it is now,” said Obama. “It is creating jobs, now. It is providing cheap alternatives to $140-a-barrel oil, now. And it can create millions of additional jobs and entire new industries if we act now.”

Obama said that between solar, wind, and geothermal energy, Nevada could create more than 80,000 new jobs by 2025. He noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is slated to cut the ribbon on a new thermal solar technology plant in the state next week. Obama called for better federal support for wind, solar, and other renewable energy industries in order to move beyond reliance on fossil fuels.

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To deal with rising gas prices, Obama called for a $1,000 tax cut for the middle class and a second stimulus package that would send another round of rebate checks to the American people. He also called for a windfall profits tax on oil companies, the closure of the “Enron loophole” that exempts energy trading on electronic platforms from regulation, and an increase in fuel-economy standards for automobiles. He pledged to invest $150 billion over the next 10 years in renewable energy sources, green jobs, and programs to help automakers design more efficient vehicles.

He also threw a few punches at John McCain in the speech, arguing that McCain has been part of the reason Washington has failed to support these alternatives in the past.

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“Time and time again, he has opposed investing in the alternative sources of energy that have helped fuel some of the very same projects and businesses he’s highlighting in this campaign,” said Obama. “He’s voted against biofuels. Against solar power. Against wind power.”

He derided McCain’s proposal to give $300 million to the inventor of a better electric car battery as a “gimmick” and far below the kind of investment the country needs in clean energy.

“When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn’t put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win. He put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity and innovation of the American people,” said Obama. “That’s the kind of effort we need to achieve energy independence in this country, and nothing less will do.”

Obama also criticized McCain’s proposals to instate a “gas-tax holiday” and end the moratorium on off-shore drilling. He noted that McCain himself said yesterday that he doesn’t “see an immediate relief” for consumers because of these measures, but “the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial.”

“The American people don’t need psychological relief or meaningless gimmicks to get politicians through the next election,” said Obama. “They need a long-term energy strategy that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil by investing in the renewable sources of energy that represent the future.”

He also criticized McCain’s proposal to build 45 new nuclear reactors without a plan for waste disposal, and brought up an issue that is likely to be a subject of debate between the candidates: the 2005 energy bill.

Obama voted in favor of the legislation, which enviros opposed as a sweeping, oil-friendly energy bill. Obama says he voted in favor of the bill because of its support for ethanol and “clean coal” technology. Both McCain and Obama’s former Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, voted against the bill. Both McCain and Clinton have pointed to Obama’s vote as proof that he’s not serious about energy concerns. But Obama took it to the mat today, citing the same claim against McCain.

“That bill certainly wasn’t perfect — it contained irresponsible tax breaks for oil companies that I consistently opposed, and that I will repeal as president,” said Obama. “But the tax credits in that bill contributed to wind power growing 45 percent last year, the sharpest rise in decades.”