Candidates discuss the environment

With all that Tech does for the environment—such the Icarus solar house project, eco-friendly napkins and paper towels and, of course, the dozens of recycling bins scattered across campus—it isn’t hard to see that protecting the environment is important to several Tech students. Therefore, the environment is one issue almost guaranteed to make an appearance in the voting choices of the coming presidential election.

Interestingly, though, the matter of picking a pro-environmental reform candidate is almost moot point. Both Obama and McCain have spoken in favor of lessening the U.S.’s impact on the environment and adding more countries to the green movement. In fact, the two candidates’ plans really only differ in the details.

Both candidates’ plans for environmental reform center around a cap-and-trade program. In short, these programs amount to buying and selling the right to emit a certain amount of pollution per year. McCain’s campaign website says, “A cap-and-trade system harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels. Market participants are allotted total permits equal to the cap on greenhouse gas emissions. If they can invent, improve, or acquire a way to reduce their emissions, they can sell their extra permits for cash.” His site forecasts that this plan will reduce emissions to 66 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

Obama’s plan involves a similar program with the major exception that emission permits are auctioned off, rather than distributed to companies. Obama’s site says, “A 100 percent auction ensures that all industries pay for every ton of emissions they release, rather than giving these valuable emission rights away to companies on the basis of their past pollution.” His site also says, “A small portion of the receipts generated by auctioning allowances ($15 billion per year) will be used to support the development of clean energy, invest in energy efficiency improvements and help develop the next generation of biofuels and clean energy vehicles—measures that will help the economy and help meet the emissions reduction targets.” McCain’s plan will eventually adopt a similar system, with permits being auctioned off and part of the proceeds being invested in similar areas. Obama’s site forecasts that this plan will reduce emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

Both candidates’ sites point out that a similar cap-and-trade plan did a great deal to reduce the effects of acid rain in the 1990s. The two candidates’ plans also make extensive use of new, more efficient technologies in the search for new forms of energy. Obama’s site sets current goals of “1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015”, “investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future,” “develop[ing] and deploy[ing] clean coal technology” and “[ensuring that] 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.” One item of particular interest is his plan is to establish a new $7,000 tax credit for Americans who purchase more fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly vehicles.

McCain supports similar measures, though his site gives few details on individual plans. His site says, “To support the cap and trade system, John McCain will promote the innovation, development and deployment of advanced technologies… John McCain will streamline the process for deploying new technologies and require more accountability from government programs to meet commercialization goals and deadlines.”

Of course, it wouldn’t make much sense to reform only the U.S’s environmental policies if the majority of the world retains less environmentally-friendly methods. Both candidates plan on addressing this by making the US a world leader in environmental reform. Obama’s site says, “Obama and Biden will re-engage with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) — the main international forum dedicated to addressing the climate problem. They will also create a Global Energy Forum of the world’s largest emitters to focus exclusively on global energy and environmental issues.”

McCain takes a similar stance. His site says, “John McCain will engage the international community in a coordinated effort by… permitting America to lead In innovation, capture the market on low-carbon energy production, and export to developing countries – including government incentives and partnerships for sales of clean tech to developing countries.” In particular, McCain is focusing on involving and negotiating environmental treaties with large countries such as India and China.

So what does this all mean for environmentally-minded Tech-students? In short: no. While the two candidate’s goals are the same and their methods are relatively similar, their plans do differ enough to allow voters to choose which plan they think will work more effectively.