Energy independence: The great challenge for Obama, McCain

Other News Materials 20 October 2008 07:45 (UTC +04:00)

Every electoral campaign has its popular catch phrases that remain in our collective memory. In the US presidential campaign one of the catchiest is the Republicans' "drill, baby, drill."

The party of candidate John McCain has turned the phrase into a slogan for the extraction of oil and natural gas within the United States. The country's energy problem is of great importance, and has emerged as one of the great challenges facing the next US president, dpa reported.

The US is very dependent on foreign sources of energy, and 60 per cent of the oil it consumes is imported. According to James Woolsey, energy advisor to McCain and a former head of the CIA, the figure is equivalent to borrowing "over 1 billion dollars a day from the rest of the world to finance oil."

US citizens have been feeling the pain of high fuel costs - just months ago, petrol prices were at more than 4 dollars a gallon (equivalent to about 3.78 litres). A year back the gallon was selling for just over 2 dollars.

It's no surprise then that energy independence is one of the campaign issues that the man on the street can relate to. It is a topic that both Democratic candidate Barack Obama, 47, and McCain, 72, constantly refer to - and not just as an economic issue.

It is also a national security for both candidates: The US does not want to depend on either Venezuela or the Middle East to fuel its estimated 200 million vehicles.

Democrats and Republicans, however, differ on how to create energy independence.

McCain wants domestic production of hydrocarbons to be boosted to reduce imports - in other words, you need to drill.

Democrats do not rule out additional drilling, but they would rather focus on renewable, clean sources of energy that help combat climate change.

At a recent briefing in New York by the two campaigns' energy advisors, Woolsey charged that Obama's programme was not very realistic. Kenneth Berlin - the Democrat's advisor on energy issues - said the only thing McCain talks about is "drill, drill and drill."

Woolsey thinks there is a need for a transition before a complete move to alternative sources of energy such as biofuels. Some dependence on oil is necessary, he said, to avoid conflict with industry and consumers.

It is because of this that Republicans favour drilling at home, although there are disagreements on the location - mainly related to whether or not to include Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Alaska's governor, is a staunch defender of drilling in this area that has huge reserves of oil and natural gas. For now, however, McCain has not favoured drilling in the ANWR, and backs maritime drilling instead.

Obama, on the other hand, wants to spend 150 billion dollars over the next 10 years to help industry develop alternative sources of energy and substantially reduce oil imports - a programme he said that will also foster job growth in the slowing economy.

The Democrats regard such investment as the construction of "a new economic system" that, in addition to creating jobs, will also help slow global warming, advisor Berlin said.

Obama also wants to tax the profits of the country's oil companies - the larger the profit, the greater the tax burden. The aim is to return part of those funds to families, in order to mitigate the cost of energy.

The Republican Party opposes this. Woolsey said those taxes would be "clearly discouraging domestic production and encouraging further imports."

Otherwise both campaigns have similar initiatives, such as promoting the use of hybrid and electric cars and reducing greenhouse gases. McCain aims to reduce emissions to 60 per cent below their 1990 levels by 2050, while Obama is more ambitious and wants the drop to be as large as 80 per cent by 2050.

Both candidates also agree on the use of nuclear power. McCain wants to promote the construction of 45 new plants by 2030. Nuclear plants currently provide 20 per cent of the electricity in the country.

"In this country, insofar as we need power 24/7, nuclear power is a reasonable approach," Woosley said.

According to energy advisor Berlin, green activists may not approve of a growing number of nuclear plants, but they should come around to seeing it as one more option worth having in the face of the growing climate change threat.