Muckraker: Grist on Politics

The McCain campaign held a press call yesterday on Barack Obama’s energy policy, in which their spokesfolks let fly a few statements that should be categorized as something other than truthful.

Senior adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin: “Barack Obama has said no to more domestic exploration of oil and natural gas … He has said no to new coal-fired electrical generation plants … He has said no to nuclear.”

Actually, as reported earlier, Obama has said he’d allow some drilling if necessary to reach a compromise on energy legislation. And on the coal front, Obama has long supported coal and advocated for it on the campaign trail — to the chagrin of many enviros. As for nuclear, while Obama’s not as big a fan as McCain, he hasn’t taken it off the table.

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The McCain campaign also brought on Brecksville, Ohio, Mayor Jerry Hruby (R), who argued that Obama doesn’t support clean coal: “John McCain is for clean-coal technology, which will create jobs. Barack Obama is not. He is turning his back on the state of Ohio, on the fact that there are jobs that could be created with clean-coal technology and it’s something he has rejected.”

In fact, Obama touts “clean coal” technology on the energy page of his website: “Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology: Obama will significantly increase the resources devoted to the commercialization and deployment of low-carbon coal technologies. Obama will consider whatever policy tools are necessary, including standards that ban new traditional coal facilities, to ensure that we move quickly to commercialize and deploy low carbon coal technology.”

Hruby also tried to argue that Obama didn’t have an energy plan until recently: “Our candidate has a plan, whereas in contrast to Barack Obama where there really isn’t a plan until very recently … It seems to me that Barack Obama is only responding right now to somebody who showed the leadership on the energy issue from the very start of the campaign.”

Actually, Obama rolled out his energy plan in October of last year. McCain began laying his out in June of this year, and didn’t dub it the “Lexington Project” until June 25.

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More from Holtz-Eakin: “[Obama] has said he would go along with a compromise, but going along is what got us here to begin with. Going along is what brought the United States from 30 percent imported oil in 1970s to 60 percent now … John McCain knows that to solve big problems, you can’t always go along. At times you have to buck your party line, reach across the aisle, and do the right thing for the American people, even at the near-term expense of your political fortune.

But McCain’s people have also suggested that their candidate is willing to consider the “Gang of 10” compromise proposal — the same one that prompted Obama to say he would consider some drilling in order to pass a decent overall energy plan.

Here’s Holtz-Eakin on McCain and the production tax credit for renewables: “The senator has a comprehensive approach, and he has a track record of not voting for things that did not solve the problem. There’s a history in the U.S. Congress of having a one-year production tax credit, which doesn’t make any policy sense. These are long-term investment decisions — you need a credit that’s permanent.” Folks in the renewables industry would certainly agree.

The problem with Holtz-Eakin’s statement is that McCain has consistently opposed the renewable-energy tax credits. In 2004, he introduced an amendment that would have eliminated the tax credits. He voted against extensions in 2006, and he skipped at least six votes on extensions this Congress.

McCain’s “Lexington Project” doesn’t even mention the renewable tax credits specifically, though it does include an ambiguous line about how he would “require that we rationalize the current patchwork of temporary tax credits.” In an interview with Grist last year, McCain indicated that he didn’t support assistance for renewable energy: “I’m not one who believes that we need to subsidize things. The wind industry is doing fine, the solar industry is doing fine.”

And as an added treat, here’s Holtz-Eakin, talking about why we should keep building coal-fired power plants:

Sen. McCain understands that for the United States to be successful, it needs to be able to burn coal, and for it to be successful in leadership on global warming, to capture and sequester the carbon. He is investing in the capability to do so, and to make sure that the United States is a leader in that area. While that’s happening, he understands that building a modern, coal-fired electrical generation plant takes offline a 50-year-old dirty coal generating plant, and actually includes the environmental impacts. Sen. Obama has taken a position that says there will be no more construction of coal-fired plants unless that plant can be retrofitted for carbon capture and sequestration, clean-coal technology. In effect, he said you can’t build any more. He simply keeps saying no to expansion of the capacity to generate energy in American communities.

What he doesn’t mention is that one of McCain’s own energy advisers has noted that carbon capture and sequestration is still at least a decade away, so building new, dirty coal-fired plants would continue for quite a while. He also doesn’t mention that if McCain is serious about implementing a cap-and-trade plan, he would have to rethink his coal cheerleading. A real cap on carbon emissions would make it economically infeasible to open up new coal-fired power plants without CCS technology.