ANDREW P. MORRISS: McCain will tap our oil reserves and speed construction of safe nuclear plants


Two cheers – but not three – for John McCain’s energy plan.

Like Obama’s, McCain’s plan is filled with the vague generalities about “energy independence” and reducing carbon emissions. And we need to remember that whichever team wins the election will have to negotiate energy policy with a Democratic-controlled Congress dominated by ideologues like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Nonetheless, the McCain plan has two important virtues.

The first is that the McCain plan focuses on increasing domestic production from all forms of energy.

For our economy to grow and produce more jobs, goods, services and wealth for all Americans, we need reliable energy available at a reasonable price. To get that, we need to provide incentives to energy producers to do more.

McCain’s plan focuses on encouraging energy production, while Obama offers only limited support for boosting domestic production of oil and natural gas. Worse, Obama wants to increase taxes on energy companies, a sure path to reducing domestic energy production and raising costs.

Taking advantage of America’s most abundant energy resources – coal, oil and natural gas – and eliminating road blocks to further development of nuclear power are crucial parts of meeting our future energy needs. Expanding oil and natural gas production by eliminating bans on offshore drilling as McCain proposes would provide access to the equivalent of 30 years of our oil imports from Saudi Arabia and enough natural gas to fuel Americans’ natural gas furnaces for 17 years.

Similarly, McCain’s plan recognizes the vital importance of coal, which we use to produce half our electricity, to America’s energy future. We are frequently called the “Saudi Arabia” of coal because we have 29 percent of world coal reserves. By contrast, the Obama campaign has sent at best conflicting signals on coal. Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden was caught on tape at a rally saying that there would be “no coal plants here in America” while the campaign’s official position is support for subsidies for technology to make coal plants cleaner. McCain’s acknowledgement of coal’s importance is a powerful reason to prefer it to the ambiguity of the Obama position.

McCain also endorses increased nuclear energy production, a subject on which Obama waffles. Nuclear power plants take a long time to build, in part because of inconsistent and time consuming regulatory requirements.

Given the Democratic Party leadership’s longstanding antipathy toward nuclear power, McCain’s commitment to streamline the regulatory process to boost nuclear power is more credible.

The second crucial distinction is that a McCain administration would include Sarah Palin, who has more significant policy experience in energy than any member of a national ticket since Jimmy Carter, once a nuclear engineer.

In Alaska, Palin chaired the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, an important state agency that regulates oil and gas production. She currently chairs the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a coalition of state governments concerned with energy.

As governor Palin stood up to Big Oil and pushed through a significant reform of Alaska’s energy taxes and unsnarled a major pipeline deal blocked by special interest wrangling. Palin’s energy accomplishments would position a McCain administration to deliver on its initiatives.

McCain’s plan is far from perfect, which is why I can manage only two cheers for it. But McCain’s emphasis on providing incentives for increasing domestic production and choice of a running mate who has successfully carried through energy initiatives contrast favorably with the Obama-Biden plan’s vague promises and reliance on government efforts to dictate energy technologies.
Andrew P. Morriss is H. Ross & Helen Workman professor of law and business at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Readers may write to him at UI College of Law, 504 East Pennsylvania Avenue, Champaig

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