Energy policies differ in presidential race

By Kris Bevill | October 06, 2008
Energy has been a hot-button issue throughout the 2008 U.S. presidential race with both sides claiming they know the best way to help the United States through its current energy crisis. While there have been some similarities between the Republican and Democratic parties' solutions, there have also been some glaring differences.

Both sides agree that the government needs to continue to support the advancement of domestically produced energy. Both parties are supportive of second-generation biofuels and the development of technologies necessary to make those types of fuel a reality. That's where the similarities end.

The Republican Party made headlines when it passed a party platform during its convention in St. Paul, Minn., that included a call to end all ethanol mandates, breaking from the current administration's views on ethanol. The Bush administration has been historically pro-ethanol, even playing a role in establishing the current renewable fuels standard that has now been renounced in the party's new platform. The Republican Party's platform vow to "let the free market work" was a return to the party's roots, according to Republican National Committee Chairman Robert "Mike" Duncan. The platform stated it would continue to support the development of cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels, but that coal would play a major role in achieving America's energy independence, as would the increase of domestic oil drilling.

Not all Republicans agreed with the platform. Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Saxy Chambliss, R-Ga., spoke out in defense of ethanol at an agriculturally focused gathering during the conference. Chambliss said he was "disappointed" with the platform, but stressed that it was only a platform and not policy. Thune said the ethanol portion of the republican platform was a "big mistake" and illustrated that Republicans aren't always right. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a long-time advocate of ethanol, said he disagreed with the ethanol mandate portion but said he couldn't argue that they're entirely necessary because ethanol producers continue to meet mandates ahead of schedule. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said he raised his eyebrows when he read the portion of the policy concerning the removal of ethanol mandates. However, he also doesn't believe mandates should remain in place indefinitely. "I believe those incentives ought to stay there until the industry is mature, profits can be made and the infrastructure developed," he said.

From the other side of the Congressional aisle, the democrats passed a party platform during their convention in Denver that commented only briefly on biofuels. According to its platform, the Democratic Party plans to "invest in advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, which will provide American-grown fuel and help free us from the tyranny of oil."

Party platforms are meant to convey the party's stance on various issues. However, they tend to more closely represent the views of each party's presidential nominee rather than the party as a whole. "I don't recall ever once campaigning on a Republican platform that I saw reduced to actual public policy," Schafer said.

Regardless, the issue of energy in this election year has been closely watched by members of the ethanol industry, spurring some organizations to take action when they otherwise would remain neutral. For example, the American Corn Growers Association publicly endorsed democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, based on his support for renewable energy and rural communities. This is only the second time in the association's 20-year history that it has publicly endorsed a presidential candidate.