Presidential Debates – Substantive energy discussions? Not really.

Energy, Healthcare and Entitlement Reform (social security benefits) were clearly at the top of the list of tonight’s discussion. Unfortunately the format was a bit ridiculous in that it limited the answer to such weighty questions to a mere 120 seconds.

Tom Brokaw asked each candidate to address and prioritize these three issues. Senator McCain felt that all three were priorities that could and should be addressed simultaneously. He may have a point – all are clearly needed, and different departments of the executive cabinet are available to deal with them. While this may be the case, his follow-up was weak. He did not present an executable roadmap for how he was going to have his staff address these behemoths (any of them). We are one month away from the election of the President of the United States and there was no mention on how he proposed to change the abysmal track record the United States has on all three of these issues. Unfortunately for him I do not think he did elsewhere in the debate either.

Senator Obama front ended his answer for the energy community. He was bullish on energy – claiming it was his priority # 1* and said he would propose for an investment of $15 billion a year for ten years to wean the US off Middle Eastern oil. He started to propose a roadmap, and yet while oil is fundamentally critical, it alone does not tackle the issue of energy, nor is or dependence on Middle Eastern oil at stake. While it creates a strong sound bite that blends a strong stance on energy and security policy, the United States received more oil from Canada and Mexico than it did from the Saudi Arabia in 2007 and less than 23% of the US’ imported oil comes from that region.** The US could, if it chose to make a point, import exclusively from non-Middle Eastern sources and yet continue to import 70% of its oil.

Responding to this particular point neither candidate struck a chord with me – Senator McCain swept it under the rug a bit by making a broad statement that nuclear and renewables will need to play a more prevalent role in our energy mix (neither a surprising revelation nor an elucidating consideration for why one should vote for him) and Senator Obama made a simplistic argument reducing the need for investment to a necessity to keep from driving up the oil revenues lining the pockets of our potential enemies. The argument to invest in renewables is broader and more powerful, and they had a chance to expound on the very next question.

The question asked about what each candidate proposed to do to stimulate green jobs and address climate change during their first term. Perfect! It was an easy lay up that would have allowed each candidate to tell us their plan, and get to the heart of how their plans were different. Unfortunately they both came back with the standard rhetoric about how US should invest in renewable and locally generated power for the sake of energy security, geopolitical stability, environmental stewardship, and local economic stimulation. Thanks gentlemen, you are not the first to make these connections.

Senator McCain took a jab at his opponent’s voting record and how it (at least once) supported oil corporations and gave a myopic macro-economic rationale for freeing up our offshore reserves for exploration. His answer was heavy laden with talk of nuclear power, a necessary reality, but one that doesn’t stimulate a new way of producing, and equally importantly, distributing power. Nuclear power is a continuation of the status quo, just with less of a carbon foot print (our coal is local) – and the exposure to terrorists to centralized power is compounded when you add radioactive materials to the mix. He came up short on delivering a valid how he would get us on the path of renewable energy.

In my opinion Senator Obama’s answer was more encouraging, he parried his opponent’s jab and clearly stipulated the need for a public-private partnership and highlighted the importance of working with other governments. He echoed Senator McCain by saying that energy could be the stimulator for the economy and equated it to the computer in the 1990’s. He spoke about the impact of jobs and began to make traction with me.

While he may have done better neither candidate took the opportunity to communicate their plan to America. This close to the election I would have hoped that the future President of the United States could give me a clearer reason for why I should trust them to solve what is clearly one of the top three issues to be addressed within their first term. To have done so succinctly would have been the deciding factor for me.

As it stands, after tonight’s debate I now lean more heavily towards Senator Obama, before tonight I met many of the smart people giving him advice and council – he has tremendously capable advisors. I also think that heavy discussions about nuclear power fail to address the concerns about radioactive waste, security and the costs associated with insuring against disaster (that need to be backed by the Federal Government). From a sustainable perspective I instinctively feel that money spent ameliorating these complications and increasing the ability to reuse our radioactive material is probably better spent on developing renewable technologies that offer ongoing, low input cost, and safe power – especially geothermal to bolster our baseload output.

I am still waiting for a distinction that will make it more obvious which candidate will be able to have a more positive effect on the future of renewable energy and clean technologies. I want them to tell me about investments they will earmark towards much needed changes and upgrates to our grid to accommodate and stimulate the investment in renewable sources of energy, I want to hear how they intend to invest tax dollars on research at universities and the national labs. I want them to tell me how they intend to facilitate the training of our work force and how much it is going to cost us.

I vote based on the economy, geopolitics, national security, environmental sustainability and the future of the industry that puts food on my table. Clean technologies touch all of them; I’m still undecided on who I’ll vote for next month.

I want to be convinced. My vote is up for grabs, but it is slipping fast.

Cheers for now,


PS: Watch the debate online in its entirety here on the BBC if you missed it.

*Healthcare came second and Education (not Entitlements) came third for Senator Obama.

** YTD 2008 has Saudi Arabia as the 2nd importer. Iraq is a distant 6th and Kuwait is 14th

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One comment on “Presidential Debates – Substantive energy discussions? Not really.

Brad Meikle

Ive noticed that McCain used to say… “well Im all about new sources of energy. The US is the Saudi Arabia of Coal, Clean Coal is the future…. oh yea and also wind, solar and all that other stuff..” after some backstage editing last night McCain said “Solar, Wind, and Coal… ” Look lets be honest we all know what the powers that be are in DC. The Oil lobby is a curse on the US because on one hand we are in the Middle East fighting because oil is right now a crucial natural resource. Men and women are dying. $10billion a day. The US is seen in a jaded light …. it would be one thing if the US was doing everything we could to develop all new sources of energy BUT the powers that be are doing everything they can to stop Electric Cars, Hybrids, Solar on and on… We couldnt even pass a bill that would achieve 35mpg by 2018. The UAW actually complained that it would auto workers out of jobs. How about this GM, develop a car that actually is cool and gets more than 8mpg. News flash – nobody whats another Tahoe or Suburban. WTF? Yes it is too crazy to be true. The truly amazing thing is that the veil of BS that gets cast across the public eyes.

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