Vice Presidential Candidates Wrangle Over Energy, Climate Change

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, October 3, 2008 (ENS) – The vice presidential candidates, Democratic Senator Joe Biden and Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, held their only debate of the election campaign at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri on Thursday night. Gwen Ifill of PBS was the debate moderator.

Among many other topics, the candidates differed on how they would deal with energy and climate change if elected on November 4.

A poll taken continuously as the debate was taking place, shows that of 1,195 respondents to the climate change topic, Biden’s statements were approved by 83 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Independents and 16 percent of Republicans; while Palin’s statements were approved by 84 percent of Republicans, 36 percent of Independents and 17 percent of Democrats.

Asked who won the debate overall, of 1,182 respondents, 80 percent of Republicans voted for Palin, 87 percent of Democrats voted for Biden, and 69 percent of Independents also voted for Biden.

The results were gathered simultaneously through text messaging and a web tool and displayed live on [].

Vice presidential candidates Senator Joe
Biden and Governor Sarah Palin meet
for the first time onstage at the debate.

On the topic of energy independence and tax breaks for big oil corporations, Governor Palin accused Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama of voting in favor of a 2005 energy bill that gave tax breaks to oil companies.

Senator Biden countered by saying that Obama voted for that energy bill “because, for the first time, it had real support for alternative energy.”

“When there were separate votes on eliminating the tax breaks for the oil companies, Barack Obama voted to eliminate them,” Biden said.

Then Biden asked a question of his own about the position of Palin’s running mate, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, on tax breaks for big oil companies.

“If John really wanted to eliminate them, why is he adding to his budget an additional $4 billion in tax cuts for ExxonMobils of the world that, in fact, already have made $600 billion since 2001?” asked Biden.

Palin did not directly reply to that question, but she said, “I had to take on those oil companies and tell them, ‘No,’ you know, any of the greed there that has been kind of instrumental, I guess, in their mode of operation, that wasn’t going to happen in my state.”

“And that’s why Tillerson at Exxon and Mulva at ConocoPhillips, bless their hearts, they’re doing what they need to do, as corporate CEOs, but they’re not my biggest fans, because what I had to do up there in Alaska was to break up a monopoly up there and say, you know, the people are going to come first and we’re going to make sure that we have value given to the people of Alaska with those resources,” Palin said.

In August, Palin signed a bill authorizing the state of Alaska to award TransCanada Pipelines a license to build and operate a $26 billion pipeline to transport natural gas from the North Slope to the continental United States through Canada.

Five other proposals were submitted – by Sinopec, AEnergia, the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority, and another consortium that included BP and ConocoPhillips.

By setting criteria met by TransCanada but not the large oil companies, Palin claims to have broken their monopoly.

As governor, Palin helped pass a tax increase on oil company profits, although she opposes the windfall profits tax proposed by Senator Obama.

However, in Thursday’s debate, when Biden said, “Look, I agree with the governor. She imposed a windfall profits tax up there in Alaska. That’s what Barack Obama and I want to do,” Palin did not challenge or deny his statement.

Senator Joe Biden and Governor
Sarah Palin in debate

Obama’s proposal for a windfall profits tax on oil companies would target profit from the biggest oil companies by taxing each barrel of oil costing more than $80, according to a fact sheet on the proposal. The tax would help pay for a $1,000 tax cut for working families, an expansion of the earned- income tax credit and help for people who cannot afford to pay their energy bills.

“But John McCain will not support a windfall profits tax,” Biden repeated. “They’ve made $600 billion since 2001, and John McCain wants to give them, all by itself – separate, no additional bill, all by itself – another $4 billion tax cut.”

“So I hope the governor is able to convince John McCain to support our windfall profits tax, which she supported in Alaska, and I give her credit for it,” Biden said.

Palin said, “Energy independence is the key to this nation’s future, to our economic future, and to our national security. So when we talk about energy plans, it’s not just about who got a tax break and who didn’t. And we’re not giving oil companies tax breaks, but it’s about a heck of a lot more than that.”

She blamed the “East Coast politicians” who do not allow energy-producing states like Alaska to tap into domestic sources of oil and gas.

“We’re circulating about $700 billion a year into foreign countries, some who do not like America – they certainly don’t have our best interests at heart – instead of those dollars circulating here, creating tens of thousands of jobs and allowing domestic supplies of energy to be tapped into and start flowing into these very, very hungry markets.”

Sign at a rally for Republican presidential
candidate Senator John McCain in
Jacksonville, Florida. September 15,
2008 (Photo credit unknown)

“The chant is ‘drill, baby, drill,’” Palin said. “And that’s what we hear all across this country in our rallies because people are so hungry for those domestic sources of energy to be tapped into.”

She then blamed her Democratic opponents for what she called “the energy crisis that we’re in.”

“You even called drilling – safe, environmentally-friendly drilling offshore, as raping the outer continental shelf,” Palin accused. “There – with new technology, with tiny footprints even on land, it is safe to drill and we need to do more of that. But also in that ‘all of the above’ approach that Senator McCain supports, the alternative fuels will be tapped into: the nuclear, the clean coal.”

This week, Congress allowed the long-standing moratorium on drilling for oil and gas on the outer continental shelf to expire although it has been renewed annually by every Congress since 1981. Conservationists object to offshore drilling that might spill oil into sensitive coastal ecosystems and say it would divert resources from renewable energy development.

Moderator Ifill asked the candidates, “What is true and what is false about what we have heard, read, discussed, debated about the causes of climate change?”

Palin said, “Alaska feels and sees impacts of climate change more so than any other state. And we know that it’s real.”

But she equivocated on the issue of whether or not the Earth’s rising temperature is due to human activities.

“I’m not one to attribute every man – activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man’s activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet,” she said.

Campaign rally for Senators Barack
Obama and Joe Biden in Dublin, Ohio.
August 30, 2008 (Photo credit unknown)

Biden laid the blame on human activities. “Well, I think it is manmade. I think it’s clearly manmade,” he declared. “And, look, this probably explains the biggest fundamental difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.”

“If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is manmade. That’s the cause,” Biden said. “That’s why the polar icecap is melting.”

“As governor, I was the first governor to form a climate change sub-cabinet to start dealing with the impacts,” Palin said.

Palin created the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet on September 14, 2007 by administrative order. Made up of the heads of six state government agencies, it serves an advisory function on an Alaska climate change strategy.

California and Florida, among other states, have had such advisory climate change bodies for longer, although they may not refer to them as sub-cabinets.

“We’ve got to reduce emissions,” Palin declared. “John McCain is right there with an ‘all of the above’ approach to deal with climate change impacts … tapping into alternative sources of energy and conserving fuel, conserving our petroleum products and our hydrocarbons so that we can clean up this planet and deal with climate change.”

Biden countered, “We have three percent of the world’s oil reserves. We consume 25 percent of the oil in the world. John McCain has voted 20 times in the last decade-and-a-half against funding alternative energy sources, clean energy sources, wind, solar, biofuels.”

To curb greenhouse gas emissions, Biden said he and Obama would rely on “clean coal and safe nuclear” as well as “wind and solar.”

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