Tuesday, October 28, 2008

McCain's Energy Plan -- Part III

Part I of the analysis on energy policy – How did we get here?
Part II of the analysis on energy policy – Obama’s plan

And finally, it’s the last time I have to write about a whole bunch of bad policies ideas that would, if implemented, only make things worse. Read McCain’s proposals in his own words here.

We all heard the chorus of Republicans at their convention chanting, “Drill Baby, Drill!” The idea behind this is that drilling offshore and in Alaska will lower our need for foreign oil and at the same time bring down the price of oil (by increasing supply). But let’s clear this up right away—it won’t. While both of those statements are technically true, the impact is extremely small. First, it will take years for that oil to reach consumers and more importantly, oil is traded on worldwide market. That means that oil from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Canada, etc, is bought and sold on the same market. If U.S. production was to increase and every other country was to keep output at their current level (or at least rising with demand) then yes, the price of oil would drop. But not a lot. “Drill baby, drill!” won’t have the impact that people seem to believe it will.

This isn’t to say that drilling offshore (or in Alaska) is a bad idea or bad policy—it isn’t. And McCain does support offshore drilling. However, there are some environmental concerns and of course there is always the risk of a spill or some sort of disaster.

Let me quickly go through the rest of McCain’s energy plan.
-- Unlike Obama, McCain is against ethanol, something that not only I’m in agreement with, but the quicker this country moves away from corn based ethanol the better (for reason’s I’ll chronicle another day).

-- McCain wants to build 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030. Nuclear power is cheap. But plants are very expensive to build, so McCain would probably be offering subsidies and tax credits to companies who build nuclear plants. And then there is the issue of what to do with the nuclear waste. No one wants the waste in their back yard because it’s radioactive thus disposing of the waste has been a problem for years. Burying it usually means it ends up in the water supply. Shooting it into space is very, very expensive and a launch failure would probably be a Chernobyl like disaster. So what it really comes down to is that we haven't really figured out what to do with nuclear waste. Anyway, here is some info on what France does with all their radioactive waste.

-- McCain also favors a cap-in-trade system to lower carbon output. A cap-in-trade system is fairly simple: the government creates credits or permits that allow a certain amount of carbon usage. It then sells those permits on the market to carbon producing companies (or speculators). But many economists prefer a carbon tax, were companies are taxed at a fix rate for the carbon they produce. (again, this would be a good post a few weeks from now).

Finally, McCain didn’t want Obama to be the only one with bad energy ideas. McCain has suggested suspending the tax on fuel. (Personally, I think it should be raised). This is a horrible idea because it would manipulate the price of gas. Supply is not being increased, however suspending the tax would lower the price of gas which would encourage driving, leading to an increase in demand… which only increases the price of gas. All the while, Uncle Sam is receiving less money but the oil companies are pocketing more (since the price of gas has increased). In other words, suspending the fuel tax would increase the price of gas and make Big Oil even richer while making the U.S. government poorer.

McCain’s energy plan isn’t as bad as Obama’s, but it is not as environmentally friendly and is very short sighted. Obama’s plans, for all its faults, does look a bit towards the future. McCain’s ideas aren’t exactly fresh, and while he gets major points for being anti-corn ethanol, there also isn’t a ton to really get behind here.

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