After years of being relegated to the sidelines of the issues game during elections, energy and the environment have taken a much more prominent role in the current presidential election. For the first time ever, major-party candidates are discussing the reality of human-impacted climate change and trying to deliver a green message to the voters. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) insist they are ready to lead the nation to greener pastures, but what do their records say? What are their claims and how do they intend to back them up? Eco-structure took a look at what the candidates are saying and doing about the environment.


Sen. McCain has shown a more aggressive approach toward environmental and climate-change issues than most Republicans. He has been an integral part of some eco-friendly legislation throughout the years and adopted a green message in his campaign very early on. Although previous Republican administrations have tended to stay away from the topic of climate change, McCain has brought it into the discussion as a real issue for his party. His recent views about offshore drilling and nuclear power, however, have received some criticism from environmental groups.


• In 2003, McCain joined with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.) to introduce the Lieberman- McCain Climate Stewardship Act, the first Senate bill aimed at curbing global-warming emissions. The legislation seeks to reduce U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions by 65 percent by 2050. The legislation did not pass and was reintroduced in 2005 and again in 2007. Obama signed on as one of the co-sponsors of the 2007 version. The measure ultimately failed in the Senate during a vote for which neither candidate was present.

• In 2007, McCain joined with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to introduce an amendment to the Senate’s energy bill that would raise fuel-efficiency standards in cars to 36 miles per gallon (15 km per liter) by 2015.

• McCain has voted in favor of protecting Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling.

• McCain supports carbon cap-and-trade measures that call for gradual reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions from U.S. utilities, transportation and large businesses. He approves a target to bring emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020 and 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.


• In light of increases in energy costs, McCain has become a vocal supporter of offshore drilling for oil in the U.S., a measure he once opposed.

• McCain is a proponent of nuclear power and has pressed for storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev. He has opposed waste storage in or transport through his own state of Arizona.

• In 2005, McCain voted against a national renewable- electricity standard that would require utilities to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. McCain missed all renewable energy votes in 2007.

• According to the Washington, D.C.-based League of Conservation voters, McCain has faced 294 environment-related measures in the Senate and has voted in favor of the environment 71 times.


McCain’s plans in the area of climate change rest primarily upon his carbon-dioxide cap-and-trade proposal. The heart of the plan is that CO2 caps will drive the market to innovate cleaner technologies because of the financial incentive of selling carbon credits. According to the “American Energy” statement on his Web site, www., offset credits would be auctioned to industry and a portion of the funds would be directed to what his policy proposal calls “a diversified portfolio of research and commercialization challenges, ranging from carbon capture and sequestration to nuclear power to battery development.” In terms of energy, McCain favors what he refers to as an “all of the above” solution that includes traditional fossil-fuel energy supplies and renewable-energy sources. Although his emissions goal is a return to 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, much of his energy platform appears to focus on improving emissions- and pollution-control technology that uses U.S.-based sources of fossil fuels—such as natural gas, offshore oil and clean coal—and nuclear power.

He proposes to allocate $2 billion per year to develop improved clean-coal technology. The energy-policy page on McCain’s Web site includes discussion of wind, hydroelectric and solar power. It acknowledges a U.S. Department of Energy statistic that estimates that 1/5 of U.S. power could come from wind by 2030. McCain’s posted policy offers unspecified tax cuts: “John McCain believes in an even-handed system of tax credits that will remain in place until the market transforms sufficiently to the point where renewable energy no longer merits the taxpayers' dollars.“ The statement also calls for increasing the energy efficiency of government buildings but does not set specific energy-reduction targets. It is clear that John McCain believes humaninfluenced climate change is a real issue that requires serious attention. He envisions a gradual shift away from fossil fuels and believes the market can and will inspire the technological innovation and economic drivers to move the nation where it needs to go.


During his tenure as a state and U.S. senator, Barack Obama has been a proponent of environmental legislation. His plans to counter climate change will, by his own admission, have an upfront cost but will pay off in the long term. Obama is a supporter of renewable-power sources and has pledged to fund their continued research and development. He has ambitious goals to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy in the near future; however, his strong opposition to offshore drilling has softened recently.


• Obama is a co-sponsor of the most aggressive climate-change legislation yet proposed in the U.S. Senate, the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act. Introduced in the Senate on Jan. 16, 2007, this amendment to the Clean Air Act seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

• Obama has voted in favor of alternative energy subsidies (June 21, 2007) and in opposition of oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (Aug, 1, 2006) and ANWR (March 16, 2005).

• A primary co-sponsor of the Fuel Economy Reform Act of 2007, which proposed to increase fuel efficiency by 4 percent each year, Obama supports a doubling in fuel-economy for cars in the next 18 years, has voted to repeal tax breaks for large oil companies and favors a “windfall tax” on oil companies for crude that sells for more than $80 per barrel.

• Obama has called for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025 and for all new buildings to be carbonneutral by 2030.


• Early in his campaign, Obama supported the idea of liquid-coal fuel. Since then, he has quantified the support by noting it would be contingent on the liquid coal emitting at least 20 percent less CO2 than conventional fuels.

• Like McCain, Obama was not present for the Senate’s vote for the 2007 incarnation of the Lieberman- McCain Climate Stewardship Act. Obama voted in favor of the much-maligned Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was considered by many as being pro-oil. In a statement released on June 29, 2005, Obama claimed he supported the bill because of its provisions for doubling the use of ethanol and biofuels. McCain opposed the bill.

• Obama does see nuclear power as part of the total energy solution but opposes the nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain. He proposes a disposal plan based on research but does not specify a location or particular method of storage.

• Citing an unfair burden on the mining industry, Obama has opposed the Hardrock Mining Reform Act of 2007, a House bill that would reform regulations allowing mining companies to operate on public lands without paying royalties that are being required to perform cleanup.


Obama’s environmental and energy policies, as laid out on his Web site,, are comprehensive, especially regarding renewable energy and efficiency standards. He proposes $150 billion during 10 years to develop what he refers to as “advanced energy technologies.” His framework includes a doubling of federal science and research funding for clean energy projects and an extension of the federal Production Tax Credit to encourage the deployment of renewable technologies. The targets for the general population are ambitious, but, in almost every case, the targets for government are more ambitious.

For example, Obama proposes 25 percent of U.S. energy will come from renewable sources by 2025 but at least 30 percent of the federal government’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020. Federal buildings are to be 40 percent more efficient within the next five years and have zero emissions by 2025. Energy efficiency is a major component of Obama’s plan, and the action items range from phasing out incandescent bulbs to setting up new incentives for energy-efficient buildings. The plan proposes a grant program for states and localities that are early adopters of green-building and energy-efficiency programs. There also is a provision to offer incentives to utilities for improved energy efficiency rather than increased consumption.

Like McCain, Obama favors a cap-and-trade approach to reducing industry emissions: a reduction of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The proposals Obama puts forth reflect his beliefs in the severity of human-influenced climate change. Achieving the ambitious targets laid out in his plan would be challenging and may cause more pocketbook pain for consumers, government and the private sector, particularly at the outset. Obama believes the long-term economic and environmental benefits will balance the shortterm challenges.