A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A False Accusation About Energy

An RNC ad claims Obama has "no new solutions" to the energy problem, when he actually proposes $150 billion worth.


Summary

A new ad from the Republican National Committee claims Barack Obama proposes "no new solutions" for the energy and climate crises. In fact, the Illinois senator has proposed $150 billion in spending over 10 years for biofuels, plug-in hybrids, low-emission coal plants and the rapid commercialization of other new, clean energy technologies. The ad also recycles the misleading claim that Obama has said "no" to nuclear. Obama said he is open to nuclear if it is clean and safe.

And while the ad correctly says that Obama is against lifting the gas tax and against more production "here at home" (read: lifting the federal ban on more offshore oil drilling), neither of those steps is likely to be a "solution" for the problems at hand.

Analysis

The RNC made a $3 million buy for its ad, titled "Balance," which is airing in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It began airing July 5 and is scheduled to run through July 15.

[TET ]

RNC Ad: "Balance"

Announcer: Record gas prices. A climate in crisis. John McCain says solve it now with a balanced plan: Alternative energy, conservation, suspending the gas tax and more production here at home. He’s pushing his own party to face climate change. But Barack Obama? For conservation, but he just says no to lower gas taxes, no to nuclear, no to more production. no new solutions. Barack Obama: Just the party line. The RNC is responsible for the content of this message.[/TET]

“No New Solutions”?

The ad’s most misleading claim is that Obama proposes "no new solutions" to the intertwined climate change and energy crises. In fact, Obama has an entire Web page dedicated to his proposals for the future of energy policy. One is a 10-year, $150 billion spending plan that would go toward clean coal technology; further development of plug-in hybrid cars; and commercialization of wind, solar and other renewable fuels. The RNC and McCain may not like all of Obama’s ideas, just as Obama may not support all of McCain’s, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. While McCain recently proposed The Lexington Project, which includes spending $2 billion annually toward clean coal technology advancement, McCain doesn’t have a plan comparable to Obama’s in scale of spending. In addition, Obama’s spending proposal predates McCain’s Lexington Project by over six months.

No to "Nuclear"?

We’ve been through this. Obama has not said a flat-out "no" to nuclear, as the ad claims. Instead he has said he is in favor of nuclear energy if it is clean and safe, saying in his energy plan that "it is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table." But it’s true McCain is more aggressive in his support of nuclear power, giving it a prominent place in his energy plan, with the goal of creating 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030 and as many as 100 total. Obama’s energy plan contains no such initiative.  

No to "Lower Gas Taxes"?

The ad claims Obama is against lowering the gas tax, which is true enough. However, McCain’s original proposal to eliminate the federal tax for consumers would only have covered a portion of this year – from Memorial Day to Labor Day – and much of that period is already past. Obama and many independent analysts have argued that such a plan would do little to lower costs for average consumers and, if it did, would only lead to higher demand, leading in turn to higher prices down the road.

No to "More Production"?

It’s also true Obama is against lifting the ban on increasing drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, and it’s worth noting that both McCain and Obama oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).  As for the Outer Continental shelf, more drilling could indeed produce more oil, but not right away. The Energy Information Administration says that there are "substantial resources of crude oil" offshore. However, it also notes that both time and money would be required to produce any oil from areas that are currently off-limits. Specifically, it estimates that no production would begin until 2017 and that it would take until 2030 to reach peak production, increasing total domestic production by 3 percent.

And even then, the EIA study says, "Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."

Any notion that drilling could start more quickly than EIA estimates should be weighed against the fact that there is a shortage of drill ships. According to a New York Times article published last month, existing rigs are booked solid for the next five years. While shipyards have begun work on new ships, it will be some time before there are enough to accelerate the pace of offshore exploration, whether or not new areas are opened.

McCain’s "Pushing" on Climate Change

The ad’s right when it says McCain is "pushing his own party to face climate change." His efforts date back to 2000, when he first acknowledged that he was concerned by the "mounting evidence" presented by members of the scientific community. In 2003 he joined with Sen. Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat, to introduce a bill to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

-–by Emi Kolawole

Sources

"Climate Change: McCain Expresses Global Warming Worries." Greenwire, 18 May 2000.

Cohn, Peter. "McCain Sets Three Hearings for First Week of New congress." Congressional Quarterly Daily Monitor, 23 Dec. 2002.

"McCain, Lieberman Introduce Plan to Cut Greenhouse Emissions." The Bulletin’s Frontrunner, 9 Jan. 2003.

Republican Party ad assails Obama on energy. 6 Jul. 2008. The Associated Press, 8 Jul. 2008.

Mouwad, Jad. Economists Weigh McCain’s Gas-Tax Plan. 37 Apr. 2008. The Caucus: The New York Times Politics Blog, 8 Jul. 2008.

Impact of Increased Access to Oil and Natural Gas Resources in the Lower 48 Federal Outer Continental Shelf. The Energy Information Administration, 2007.