Will Candidates' Green Talk Lead to Presidential Action?

WASHINGTON, DC, February 4, 2008 (ENS) – Millions of Americans will vote in the Super Tuesday primary elections on February 5th, and many will consider the candidates’ shade of green before casting their ballots. From addressing climate change to touting biofuels, the presidential hopefuls promise a wide range of sustainable actions if elected. But which candidate is more likely to act once he or she is sworn into office?

If you listen to them speak, the remaining presidential candidates can sometimes sound like jolly green political giants. They discuss carbon caps, pledge to mandate renewable energy, and promote clean technology including solar, wind and biofuels.

Senator Barack Obama of
Illinois, Democratic
candidate (Photo
courtesy Office of
Senator Obama)

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have addressed green issues including carbon cap and trade systems, renewable energy, and biofuels much more frequently while campaigning than their Republican counterparts.

Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee have said comparatively little about climate change or clean energy during their debates or on the stump so far. Promoting clean energy for them is often in the context of energy independence and national security.

This is not a surprise since the environment is of greater importance to Democratic voters, according to author Terry Tamminen, who was the secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Sadly, Republican candidates believe that their ‘base’ voters don’t care about environmental issues in general and, in many cases, don’t believe in global warming,” Tamminen says.

Tamminen created a scorecard grading the candidates’ action plans for climate change and gave both Democrats a B and an F to all three Republicans.

Senator Hillary Clinton
of New York,
(Photo courtesy
Clinton for

Once the general election starts, he says the Republican nominee would likely become more vocal about climate change and related issues to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters.

Talk is cheap, however, especially when it comes to presidential campaigning.

“Part of the problem is that candidates say a lot of things that they don’t follow through on,” says George A. Gonzalez, an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Miami. “Can we understand how they will govern based on how they campaign? Unfortunately not.”

More telling of what the candidates would do as president are their connections to lobbyists and the record of their energy and environmental policies, according to experts.

Rich Gold, a partner at the law firm of Holland and Knight who practices in the area of legislative and environmental law, says voters should, “Look more at their historical relationships and their life experiences.”

Gold, who worked in the Clinton administration, says if there is a gap between what the candidates are saying during the primary season and what their political philosophy has traditionally been, believe their historical views.

For example, when George Bush was campaigning for president in 2000, he claimed to support a cap and trade system on carbon emissions, which contradicted his 20 years of working in the oil business. Gold says, it “shouldn’t have surprised people that he flip-flopped.”

A president who acts to limit carbon emissions or mandate renewable energy production would not be popular with the oil and gas crowd, especially if they helped to get him or her into the White House.

Senator John McCain
of Arizona,
Republican candidate
(Photo courtesy
Office of Senator

When criticized for accepting money from energy companies, Hillary Clinton has protested that she makes her legislative decisions independent of campaign contributions.

Experts differ on the influence of oil, nuclear and coal industries on presidents. Professor Gonzalez says that “any president will have to take their counsel to a certain extent.”

According to author Tamminen, the oil industry contributed $186 million to congressional and presidential candidates during the past decade and received generous tax breaks in return, adding that, “While it’s hard to prove any specific act of money-in-favors-out, those numbers speak for themselves.”

Attorney Gold, however, says presidents act largely above the lobbyist fray. “I don’t think people at that level are making decisions based on who gave them money.”

The three senators who are running for president have considerable differences in their environmental voting records, according to data from the League of Conservation Voters, LCV.

According to the LCV scorecard, Obama had a perfect score during the 2006 congressional session – the last year that data was compiled. Clinton scored 71 percent, and McCain scored just 29 percent.

Despite Obama’s stellar environmental voting record, he supports clean coal and nuclear technologies that are important to the economy of his home state of Illinois, but that some environmentalists find objectionable.

In January of 2007, Obama co-sponsored the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007, which would provide funding to companies that convert coal to liquid diesel fuel. After taking heat on the bill, several months later Obama backtracked, saying he would only support clean coal initiatives that would reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent as compared with conventional fuels.

Mike Huckabee,
former governor
of Arkansas
(Photo courtesy
Huckabee for

He has also supported incentives for nuclear energy. He voted for the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which, along with some funding for renewables, gave tax breaks to companies for expanding nuclear power.

Clinton has not authored any significant legislation concerning climate change or renewable energy. She has voted against funding coal to liquids technologies as well as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that provided incentives for the nuclear industry. In 2007, she voted to expand offshore oil drilling.

McCain began sponsoring legislation to address climate change in 2003, before it became a popular subject in the Senate. The McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 was revised and presented to the Senate again in 2005, but failed to pass. It provides for a cap on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases and a trading system for emissions permits.

Like Clinton, McCain voted to expand offshore drilling, but unlike his two peers, he was not present to vote for the landmark 2007 energy bill that raised vehicle fuel economy standards.

Mitt Romney,
former governor
of Massachusetts
(Photo courtesy
Romney for President)

Both governors took measures to address climate change during their administrations. As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee adopted the National Governors Association’s 2006 policy position on climate change, promoted energy efficiency by switching to compact fluorescent lighting, and signed into law the Arkansas Renewable Energy Development Act.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney promoted a Climate Protection Plan, which encouraged required state agencies and large businesses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. He supported an agreement of Northeastern states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Neither governor did much while in office to encourage the development of clean technology.

Whoever takes office in 2008 will have to prioritize energy and environmental concerns among many other issues and work closely with Congress to enact new laws.

Attorney Gold says that with a slipping economy, climate change legislation may have to take a back seat. Working with Congress during the “honeymoon days” that coincide with a new administration might be the best time to get green legislation passed, according to Gold.

Professor Gonzalez says the increased talk of clean energy and climate concerns on the campaign trail could result in new executive action. Once in the White House, Gonzalez says, a candidate who made promises to the electorate might do more than one who did not. He says, “I have more hope that someone who is talking about it more will take action.”

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