Today in New Hampshire, Sen. Barack Obama announced a major policy initiative that he said would make the U.S. a global energy leader. His plan echoes those of the other Democratic candidates in the 2008 presidential election, all of whom push for an end to oil subsidies and a move toward alternative energies.
But the plan presents a problem for Obama (D., Ill.) because he voted for the controversial 2005 energy bill. The bill, which gave subsidies to oil firms, was described by Public Citizen as: "The best energy bill the corporations could buy." His support for this legislation -- and funding from energy companies in his campaigns -- calls into question his sincerity.
Energy advocates and candidates argue that U.S. dependence on oil has two negative effects. First, oil creates a security problem. Many nations with large oil reserves, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela, do not necessarily share our goals and interests. Second, a failure to diversify stymies scientific progress. Alternative energy could spur investment and create jobs, allowing America to take the lead in an important sector, as we have lead in information technology. Obama hopes to cure these problems. His plan would introduce a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases. He would invest $150 billion in energy over the next 10 years to make the U.S. a global energy leader. Finally, he wants to increase energy efficiency while reducing dependence on foreign oil.
The plan sounds like the other Democrats' plans. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former energy secretary, introduced a more audacious plan in May that he'll soon publish in book form . New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has often spoken of a need to use energy for job growth, and last week presented a policy address touting a pro-science agenda.
The Energy Lobby
In his address today, Obama attacked those in Washington who he says are against energy reform: "There are some in this race who actually make the argument that the more time you spend immersed in the broken politics of Washington, the more likely you are to change it. I always find this a little amusing. I know that change makes for good campaign rhetoric, but when these same people had the chance to actually make it happen, they didn't lead." Although he's careful not to mention her by name, Obama appears to be maintaining his attack on Clinton for her ties to lobbyists. Obama, however, voted in favor of the much lampooned 2005 energy bill, which energy expert Gal Luft called "the sum of all lobbies." The legislation was an example of the Bush-Cheney policy that Obama himself decries: "I'm in Washington. I see what's going on. I see those powers and principalities have snuck back in there, that they're writing the energy bills and the drug laws." The bill offered huge subsidies -- 80% of the subsidies -- to oil companies like Exxon Mobil ( XOM).
Obama seemingly voted for the bill -- which opponents Clinton, Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd voted against -- to support energy industry players in Illinois. Following passage of the bill, his office put out a press release with the headline "Obama Says Energy Bill Helps Illinois by Doubling Ethanol Use, Investing in Clean Coal." According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama's 2004 Senate campaign received significant funding from the energy industry -- $178,200. Illinois has huge coal reserves and produces corn, which is used to create ethanol. As I've mentioned before , Obama's campaign funding has proved problematic. In fact, his presidential campaign has received substantial funding from a variety of energy companies, chief among them Exelon ( EXC), which has donated close to $190,000 for his campaign already. Other energy firms donating funds include Exxon Mobil, Chevron ( CVX), Forest Oil ( FST), Sempra Energy ( SRE), and Reliant Energy ( RRI). Obama's campaign didn't respond to email requests for clarification on his vote for the 2005 energy bill. Clearly, the U.S. does require leadership to ensure that America becomes the global leader on developing an alternative energy industry. But it isn't clear that Obama is far enough removed from big oil interests.