I told you they'd be in no particular order. For the original post, go here.
Anyway, energy policy is in the news a lot, so I'll dispense with my thoughts on that forthwith. Let's look at each candidate's policy positions and see what they hold. We'll start with Sen. John McCain.
McCain's energy policy position stresses the importance of increasing oil and gas exploration, mostly by opening up the currently off-limits areas of the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling. From his tenor on the campaign trail, this appears to be the centerpiece of his policy. He does have some ideas on encouraging research to get cars made more efficient - including sort of a governmental version of the automotive X Prize. He wants to expand nuclear power and clean coal power, and does lip service to other alternative power sources like solar and wind. He'll propose getting rid of ethanol subsidies and tariffs, presumably opening our ethanol market up to Brazilian products.
Sen. Barack Obama's energy plan involves giving immediate relief from high gas prices by issuing an energy tax credit. It will presumably be paid for by an extra tax on oil companies (the "windfall profits" tax you've heard so much about). He talks about more effective regulation of the oil futures markets. Like McCain, he supports pouring money into alternative energies - unlike McCain, he wants 25% of our energy to come from renewables by 2020 (something of an arbitrary goal, but a goal nonetheless). He also supports research for making better biofuels. He proposes an overhaul of the national energy grid as well, and wants to give grants to people who make their buildings more efficient. Obama also stresses the need to coordinate conservation efforts with other energy-using countries.
Rep. Bob Barr's energy policy essentially boils down to "get the hell out of the way." Barr believes that more subsidies and government programs will distort the market, and wants to do away with all restrictions on exploration. So like McCain, he wants to open up the OCS and ANWR to drilling; like Obama, he wants to end subsidies to oil companies. He wants to do away with ethanol subsidies, and says nothing about renewables.
I'm having issues finding Rep. Cynthia McKinney's energy policy, so I don't know much about it. All I know is that McKinney opposes opening up the OCS (the only candidate to completely oppose doing so) and expansion of nuclear power.
Anyway, here's my take:
I've never seen so much demagoguery over one issue in my short political career. I don't even think terrorism got this treatment in the wake of 9/11. The national panic over $4/gallon gas got the candidates all worked up, and really got the B.S. flowing. There are several things we can do without in all these plans. Obama's "windfall profits" tax is an awful idea, as are continued subsidies for ethanol production. McCain's insistence that OCS drilling will help gas prices is ridiculous. It won't become profitable for oil companies to drill on the closed parts of the OCS unless oil prices continue to rise. Heck, it's not even profitable for oil companies to drill on all the areas that they have already leased. And even if drilling were to start today, it would increase our oil output by 1-2%... in ten years. President Bush and McCain seem to think that there will be some psychological effect on oil prices from a repeal of the OCS ban, but last time I checked, neither supply nor demand were affected by psychology. And biofuels? Right now, production of biofuels in America costs about as much energy as the fuels produce. Encouraging production before research has made them viable is ridiculous, and is part of what's driving the global food crisis to boot.
There are, however, some ideas I like. I can sympathize with Barr's desire to say "to hell with it, let the market decide," and I think the market ought to be the main driving force of an effective energy policy. The market, however, isn't particularly good at conducting research on technologies whose profitability is beyond the horizon, and so we need government money to help out with that. But Barr's suggestion that we do away with subsidies altogether is right on. Obama's talking about the grid, which is good because the grid is decaying rapidly and needs a little refurbishing. Also, he's the only one who seems to think that alternative energy research is important. McCain is talking about nuclear, which is a technology that is cleaner than what we have and ready to deploy now.
All of this, though, is long-term, and unfortunately, the campaigns are leading voters to believe that their policies will send gas back to $2/gallon tomorrow. Nothing will - I doubt gas will ever go below $3/gallon again. The most effective tool anyone can use to lower gas prices is... the calendar. Fall will be here soon, people will be using less energy to cool their houses or travel for summer vacations, and prices will decline. It happens every year, folks. We've driven less this year, and the midsummer recent gas price retreat is probably a result of that.
But the best idea that anyone has come up with for lowering gas prices in the short term? Barack Obama's suggestion that we make sure the tires on our car are inflated. As any bicyclist knows (and as Matt Novak recently discovered), it's easier to move if your tires are inflated. Estimates are that proper inflation saves you 8% at the pump. Assuming that half of us have underinflated tires, that's going to cut gas consumption by 4%, and since gas consumption is roughly half of our oil usage, we'd cut our oil use by around 2% if everyone inflated their tires. For reference, if we developed all the oil in the OCS tomorrow, we'd increase our oil output by about that much.
Naturally, people are making fun of Obama for coming up with a good idea. That is because people are stupid.
An effective energy policy, in my opinion, will involve both controlling demand and increasing supply. There's a lot not to like about Obama's energy policy (the "windfall profits" B.S. and the ethanol subsidies, for example), but at least he's thinking seriously about both sides of the equation. Barr and McCain are only thinking about supply. Credit Obama for bringing up the grid, too - recent regional power failures have pointed out the weaknesses in our grid, and we need to refurbish it yesterday. I like Barr and McCain's dedication to eliminating subsidies, but to me that plus Obama's bad idas aren't enough to overcome Obama's good ideas. McCain second because he's at least throwing out some token funds for alternative energy research. McKinney's in fourth by default - if I keep having trouble finding her policy positions I'll just drop her from consideration.
1. Barack Obama (D)
2. John McCain (R)
3. Bob Barr (L)
4. Cynthia McKinney (G)
So for those of you keeping track at home, we're at:
Obama - 16
McCain - 12
Barr - 8
McKinney - 4