Final Presidential Debate: Energy Key to Economic Repair

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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HEMPSTEAD, New York, October 16, 2008 (ENS) - In their final debate of the election campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, sparred over domestic issues - taxes, the economy, health care, education - and particularly energy policy.

McCain put the emphasis on nuclear power and offshore drilling to achieve energy independence for the United States and says he would eliminate existing subsidies for ethanol production.

"I opposed subsidies for ethanol because I thought it distorted the market and created inflation. Senator Obama supported those subsidies," said McCain. "I would eliminate the tariff on imported sugarcane-based ethanol from Brazil."

Obama supports clean coal technology, nuclear development as long as it is safe, and U.S. production of solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy technologies.

Held Wednesday evening at Hofstra University in Hempstead, the debate was moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News. While Schieffer asked one question about controlling climate change, neither candidate addressed climate issues except indirectly by advocating renewable energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases.

McCain takes an "all of the above" approach to providing energy. "It's wind, tide, solar, natural gas, nuclear, offshore drilling, which Senator Obama has opposed," he said. "And the point is that we become energy-independent, and we will create millions of jobs, millions of jobs in America."

Obama tried to identify his opponent with the failed economic policies of the current Bush administration, saying, "When President Bush came into office, we had a budget surplus. And the national debt was a little over $5 trillion. It has doubled over the last eight years. And we are now looking at a deficit of well over $0.5 trillion."

"So one of the things that, I think, we have to recognize is, pursuing the same kinds of policies that we've pursued, over the last eight years, is not going to bring down the deficit. And frankly Senator McCain voted for four out of five of President Bush's budgets," Obama said.

On the defensive, McCain denied that his direction is the same as that of the Bush administration.

"It's very clear that I have disagreed with the Bush administration. I have disagreed with leaders of my own party. I got the scars to prove it," McCain said, referring to the fact that he was the first to bring a climate change bill to the floor of the Senate.

On October 30, 2003, Senator McCain together with Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, brought the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 to a vote in the Senate. The measure failed by a vote of 43 to 55, but the vote demonstrated growing bipartisan support for a genuine climate change policy from a body of lawmakers who in 1997 unanimously rejected signing the international climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.

To McCain's question on standing up to members of his own party, Obama, who represents the coal-producing state of Illinois, cited his support for coal.

"I support clean coal technology. Doesn't make me popular with environmentalists," he said. "So I've got a history of reaching across the aisle."

"If I occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people - on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities - you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush," Obama said.

When Schieffer asked the candidates for "a specific number" of how much they believe the United States can reduce foreign oil imports during their first term, McCain did not actually give a number.

"I believe we can," said McCain, "for all intents and purposes, eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and Venezuelan oil. Canadian oil is fine."

"We can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by building 45 new nuclear power plants right away," said McCain. "We can store and we can reprocess."

Then he identified with extremism his opponent's requirement that nuclear power development be safe, saying, "Senator Obama will tell you, in the - as the extreme environmentalists do, it has to be safe."

McCain too said he supports clean coal, among other forms of energy. "So the point is, with nuclear power, with wind, tides, solar, natural gas, with development of flex fuel, hybrid, clean coal technology. Clean coal technology is a key in the heartland of America that's hurting rather badly," he said.

McCain appeared muddled in his response to the energy independence question. "So I think we can easily, within 7, 8, 10 years, if we put our minds to it, we can eliminate our dependence on the places in the world that harm our national security, if we don't achieve our independence from them," he said.

But Obama did not give a specific number for foreign oil import reduction during his first term either.

He did change the time frame, saying," I think that in 10 years we can reduce our dependence so that we no longer have to import oil from the Middle East or Venezuela. I think that's about a realistic time frame."

Calling U.S. energy dependence "the most important issue that our future economy is going to face," Obama said again as he said in last week's debate, "Obviously, we've got an immediate crisis right now, but nothing's more important than us no longer borrowing $700 billion or more from China and sending it to Saudi Arabia. It's mortgaging our children's future."

Obama outlined his plan to wean the United States off foreign oil dependence.

"Number one, we do need to expand domestic production," he said. "And that means, for example, telling the oil companies the 68 million acres that they currently have leased that they're not drilling, use 'em or lose 'em. And I think that we should look at offshore drilling and implement it in a way that allows us to get some additional oil."

McCain jumped on his opponent's words "look at" offshore drilling.

"He said we will "look at" offshore drilling. Did you get that? "Look at." We can offshore drill now. We've got to do it now. We will reduce the cost of a barrel of oil because we show the world that we have a supply of our own. It's doable, the technology is there, and we have to drill now," urged McCain.

"But understand," Obama said, "we only have three to four percent of the world's oil reserves and we use 25 percent of the world's oil, which means that we can't drill our way out of the problem. And that's why I focused on putting resources into solar, wind, biodiesel, geothermal."

"These have been priorities of mine since I got to the Senate, and it is absolutely critical that we develop a high fuel-efficient car that's built not in Japan and not in South Korea, but built here in the United States of America," he said.

Obama said he favors federal loan guarantees for the automakers that are "getting hammered right now" with high gas prices, and the financial crisis forcing car dealerships to close because people cannot get car loans.

"But we do have to hold them responsible, as well, to start producing the highly fuel-efficient cars of the future," said Obama, adding, "And, you know, Detroit had dragged its feet too long in terms of getting that done."

"It's going to be one of my highest priorities, because transportation accounts for about 30 percent of our total energy consumption," Obama said.

"If we can get that right, then we can move in a direction not only of energy independence but we can create five million new jobs all across America," he said, "including in the heartland, where we can retool some of these plants to make these highly fuel-efficient cars, and also to make wind turbines and solar panels, the kinds of clean energy approaches that should be the driver of our economy for the next century."

Going into the debate, the Gallup Poll put Obama in the lead at 49 percent to McCain's 43 percent. "It will be several days before the full impact of this debate can be measured in the three-day rolling average, although its initial impact might be apparent as early as Friday's report," Gallup said in a statement.

But other polls on the debate are out, and they declare Obama to be the winner.

In the CBS poll of undecided debate-watchers, 53 percent say Obama won, only 22 percent say McCain won, and 24 percent say it was a tie.

The CNN poll shows 58 percent of respondents saying Obama won, to 31 percent saying McCain won.

{Photo: The nominees shake hands after the debate while their wives applaud. From left: Cindy McCain, John McCain, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama. (Photo courtesy Hofstra University)}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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