Updated 22 Aug 2008

In the early months of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, enviros were skeptical of his (now heavily qualified) support for coal-to-liquids technology and unvarnished enthusiasm for ethanol, but he earned their respect with his aggressive climate and energy plan. The plan centers on a cap-and-trade system that aims for 80 percent emission reductions from 1990 levels by 2050 and calls for auctioning 100 percent of the pollution permits. It also includes a $150 billion investment to boost clean energy and create green jobs, along with fine-grained proposals to boost efficiency, build a smart electricity grid, and encourage public transportation. Enviros have also applauded Obama’s refusal to endorse a gas-tax holiday and his now somewhat qualified opposition to offshore oil drilling. Obama earned an 86 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his first three years representing Illinois in the U.S. Senate (a lower score than might have been because he missed some votes while campaigning for president).

Read an interview with Barack Obama by Grist and Outside.

Key Points

  • Calls for cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Would accomplish this through a cap-and-trade system that would auction off 100 percent of emissions permits, making polluters pay for the CO2 they emit.
  • Would channel revenue raised from auctioning emissions permits — between $30 billion and $50 billion a year — toward developing and deploying clean energy technology, creating “green jobs,” and helping low-income Americans afford higher energy bills.
  • Calls for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and for 30 percent of the federal government’s electricity to come from renewables by 2020.
  • Proposes investing $150 billion over 10 years in R&D for renewables, biofuels, efficiency, “clean coal,” and other clean tech.
  • Calls for improving energy efficiency in the U.S. 50 percent by 2030.
  • Calls for 36 billion gallons of biofuels to be used in the U.S. each year by 2022 and 60 billion gallons of biofuels to be used in the U.S. each year by 2030.
  • Calls for all new buildings in the U.S. to be carbon neutral by 2030.
  • Calls for reducing U.S. oil consumption by at least 35 percent, or 10 million barrels a day, by 2030.
  • Introduced the Health Care for Hybrids Act, which would have the federal government help cover health-care costs for retired U.S. autoworkers in exchange for domestic auto companies investing at least 50 percent of the savings into production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • Supports raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles to 40 miles per gallon and light trucks to 32 mpg by 2020.
  • Supports a phaseout of incandescent light bulbs by 2014.
  • Cosponsor of the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act. After being badgered by MoveOn and other progressives over the issue, he “clarified” his position by saying he would support liquefied coal only if it emitted 20 percent less carbon over its lifecycle than conventional fuels.
  • Has been endorsed by Friends of the Earth Action, in part for his opposition to a summer “gas-tax holiday” that McCain and Clinton support. (FoE Action had previously endorsed John Edwards.)

Video & Audio

Watch part of Obama’s Oct. 8, 2007, energy policy speech in Portsmouth, N.H.:

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Watch Obama’s May 7, 2007, speech to the Detroit Economic Club, in which he calls on automakers to manufacture more efficient cars:

Watch Obama answer a question about nuclear power at the CNN/YouTube debate on July 23, 2007:

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Watch Obama offer a different perspective on nuclear power at an Iowa campaign rally on Dec. 31, 2007:

Listen to Obama’s Sept. 20, 2006, speech on energy independence [MP3], part of a MoveOn Progressive Vision Series:

Listen to a clip of Obama’s interview with Grist and Outside:

Quotable Quotes

  • “I’ve put forward one of the most aggressive proposals out there [on climate change], but the science seems to be coming in indicating it’s accelerating even more quickly with every passing day. And by the time I take office, I think we’re going to have to have a serious conversation about how drastic steps we need to take to address it.”
    — Dec. 4, 2007, during a Democratic debate


  • “We are not acting as good stewards of God’s Earth when our bottom line puts the size of our profits before the future of our planet.”


  • “Businesses don’t own the sky, the public does, and if we want them to stop polluting it, we have to put a price on all pollution. It’s time to make the cleaner way of doing business the more profitable way of doing business.”
    — Oct. 8, 2007, in an energy policy speech in Portsmouth, N.H.


  • “Saying that America is addicted to oil without following a real plan for energy independence is like admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the 12-step program.”
    — April 2, 2006, in a speech at the Associated Press’ annual luncheon, referring to President Bush’s 2006 State of the Union address


  • “The auto industry is on a path that is unacceptable and unsustainable — for their business, for their workers, and for America. And America must take action to make it right. … For too long, we’ve been either too afraid to ask our automakers to meet higher fuel standards or unwilling to help them do it. But the truth is … we have to do both. We must demand that they revamp their production, we must assist that transition, and we must make the choice to buy these cars when we have the option.”


  • “If we’re going to have timber industries operating on public land then we should make sure that old-growth forests aren’t destroyed but it’s that second growth are what are harvested.”
    — May 24, 2008, in an interview with the Beacon newspaper


  • “I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other. And it’s very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals.”