I was reading blogs late this afternoon when I found a post by Steve Benen asking: why is John McCain still going on about a gas tax holiday? After explaining again why it's a gimmick that would do nothing to help actual consumers, Steve wrote:
"When pondering why on earth McCain would continue to push obvious nonsense about an important issue, the answer came to me: it’s because he has nothing else to say.
I went to his website to check on his energy policy. On his home page, there’s plenty about golf gear, but nothing about energy or gas prices. Eventually, after digging around for a while, I found this:John McCain Will Help Americans Hurting From High Gasoline And Food Costs. Americans need relief right now from high gas prices. John McCain will act immediately to reduce the pain of high gas prices.
That’s not an excerpt of a longer position paper, that’s the entire text of McCain’s position on gas prices. He’ll “act immediately.” How? No one knows. With what kind of policy? It’s a total mystery. (In contrast, Obama has a detailed policy page on oil and energy.)"
A bit later, I ran across a post at AmericaBlog titled "Why doesn't McCain have a national energy strategy?" With gas prices headed through the roof, I thought: hmm, maybe I should check this out. So I did.
It's about two-thirds right that John McCain doesn't have an energy policy. One third: he does not have an issue page devoted to energy policy. If you want to find something, you need to prowl around a lot, and piece together various tiny bits of prose. This might sound like a semantic quibble, but it's not: check out Obama's full energy policy (pdf), note the level of detail and the way in which things hang together, and bear them in mind when I discuss what I found. The contrast is pretty striking.
The one-third wrong part: there's more than what Steve found. The part about lowering gas prices is just as lame as he says: McCain fleshes out his promise to lower gas prices by saying he'll institute the gas holiday (which won't lower them), stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (already happened), and -- well, that's it.
However, McCain does have a Climate Change policy page, which describes his proposal for a cap and trade system. He expands on this in a speech on climate change policy, and adds some useful details: for instance, some permits would be auctioned, and some of the money from those auctions would be directed to "to help build the infrastructure of a post-carbon economy" (which seems to mean research and some infrastructure.) In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, he says that "we need to work together to increase CAFE standards to a level that is practical and achievable for all new vehicles" and that "we need to be at the cutting edge of green technologies", though how we will get there is not explained.
Finally, McCain does have a speech on energy policy from April 2007. When it gets into specifics, it focusses on using technology to conserve energy, biofuels, nuclear energy, and clean coal. It is much less specific than Obama's plan, and also (for my money) less good, but at least it exists. Rumor has it another energy speech will eventually be forthcoming, but it hasn't happened yet, nor is it on his campaign schedule.
But here's the final (Steve Benen is right) third: as I said, McCain's "plan" is not just over a year old; it's a lot less specific than Obama's plan. I count 13 paragraphs that are reasonably detailed; Obama's plan (pdf) is eleven pages long (with pretty small type.) The difference in space means that you just don't get a lot of the details Obama offers on things like utility decoupling and overhauling the process whereby the Department of Energy overhauls its efficiency codes. Where Obama is specific, McCain is very vague.
Moreover, while what there is counts as good by the standards of the Republican Party, that's a pretty low bar. His cap and trade system aims at lower reductions in emissions than Obama's, which means less conservation; and it involves huge giveaways to corporations, giveaways that, as Kevin Drum explains, "is highly regressive; provides windfall profits for big polluters; and would almost certainly end up as a congressional pork barrel that eviscerated the original emission targets bit by bit by bit." David Roberts at Grist:
"This is a classic case of what our president calls the soft bigotry of low expectations. Judged against his fellow Republicans, McCain is a paragon of atmospheric wisdom. Judged against the climate and energy legislation afoot in Congress, he falls short. Judged against the two leading Democratic presidential candidates, he is a pale shadow."
And it's just not clear how committed McCain is to a decent energy policy. On the Campaign For America's Future's energy scorecard, he got 17% last year. (Obama scored 100%.) The League of Conservation Voters scorecard gave McCain a 0 for 2007 (pdf), though that's not because he voted against them; it's because he didn't show up for a single one of the 15 votes they tracked. (Obama, who was also running for President, and was also docked for missing votes, managed to score a 67.) McCain's lifetime average from the LCV, including this year, is 24; Obama's is 86.
Moreover, he has some very odd ideas for someone who claims to be concerned about energy issues. For instance, he wants to privatize Amtrak, which is a pretty strange thing to do if you care about reducing energy consumption, or for that matter about providing alternatives to driving for people who have been hit hard by gas prices. He seems to be confused about whether he supports subsidies for nuclear power
and "clean coal". And as David Roberts notes, it's not at all clear that he even understands what a cap and trade system is.
I think Matt Yglesias is right:
"That's just one piece of the larger, somewhat odd, McCain puzzle on climate change. He's adopted a cap-and-trade proposal, but not really one that's far-reaching enough according to most scientists. And he doesn't flesh out his vision of a low carbon America very much -- there's nothing about increased transit ridership or any other explanation of how emissions will be reduced. Nothing, that is, except a love of nuclear power.
All told, it looks a bit like what you might come up with if you decided you wanted to break with your party on the sexy issue of global warming, but do it in a distinctly conservative way, and then decided that having gamed out the optics you don't need to think any further about the substance."
And since his climate change policy is most of his present energy policy, that's not good news.