Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 13, No. 10, October 29, 2008

Special US Election Issue
Honoured Reader Edition

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Whether the winner is "drill, baby, drill", the McCain war cry for more oil, or Obama’s "Clean Energy Economy", the United States election has the potential to change the world. Gallon Environment Letter wondered how much the candidates’ environmental and sustainability policies are really a change from the past. In this issue we focus exclusively on the US election, summarizing the energy, environment and sustainability components of the Presidential candidates' platforms and briefly reviewing some of the advocates’ views and other relevant issues. Also of interest are the Propositions, those uniquely American citizen-initiated referenda that quite often highlight future government directions at the state and national level.

Just as we were preparing to distribute this issue, the current week’s International Edition of the second largest US news magazine, Newsweek, appeared with a cover story "the Green Rescue - Why Obama, Brown, Sarkozy and other world leaders are pushing a green solution to the economic crisis". Unfortunately the US edition of the same magazine led with a cover story by Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, about the issues facing the next President that made only scant reference to the greening of America, though it did include the rather weak statement "We can offer tax breaks and subsidies as long as they are linked to greater efficiency and 'greenness.' We should devote resources to the development of [energy] alternatives, although resources will be in short supply and developing alternatives will take time." For some reason, Newsweek, a generally slightly liberal publication, felt that its American readers do not need to know that green policies are being adopted almost everywhere else.

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On November 4, US citizens will elect their 44th president, the 47th vice president, as well as federal, state and local legislators. Eleven states and two territories are holding gubernatorial elections. Thirty-three of the 100 senators are running for seats and 440 members of the House of Representatives will be elected. Voters will also decide on propositions which are part of the ballot in a number of states.
Voters indirectly vote for the president by casting their vote for members of the Electoral College who make the ultimate decision on the winning presidential/vice-president pair. Electors are party members who have pledged their vote to a specific candidate. In most cases, the winner of the popular vote receives all the votes of the state. Forty-eight states have a winner takes all rule; Nebraska and Maine allocate the elector votes proportionally. Electors are not required to honour their pledge but have ignored the popular vote only four times (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000) The system makes it very difficult for third parties to gain any foothold. The ballot may list the president/vice-president ticket with or without the elector's name. The Electoral College has 538 votes and the winner will require a majority (270 votes) in a December 15 ballot. The President of the Senate counts the vote out-loud at a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2009. The new President takes office January 20, 2009.

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Avery Palmer, Environmental Reporter for Congressional Quarterly, writes that in addition to economic issues, "The next president will be confronting a staggeringly complex environmental problem: global climate change." Among the challenges are choosing appropriate policies to encourage renewable energy, biofuels and energy efficiency technologies. A controversial issue is federal mandates for alternative fuels. A review of the transportation policy next year as Congress discusses a new highway bill will cause environmentalists to demand a greater share of funds for public transit.* But the biggest challenge will be to set out a long term strategy when the public is worried about high fuel prices. According to David Jenkin, government affairs diretor of the group Republicans for Environmental Protection, “If people really understand the energy dynamic that we face, they understand that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in the long term is really the way to reduce our energy prices.”

Both McCain and Obama have promised a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, "a complete reversal from the Bush Administration." However, pricing greenhouse gas emissions will be politically very difficult to do as critics will say that raising energy prices is the road to economic disaster and a public afraid of higher fuel prices is unlikely to value the benefits achieved a few decades away. When the Senate discussed global warming bills this summer, the Bush Administration raised the spectre of more cost to fill the car tank even though the increase in price would have only been 53 cents a gallon by 2020, a small portion of the increase likely to be caused by higher oil prices. The impact on electricity costs would be higher but could be reduced through energy efficiency and conservation. The only way a mandated federal cap-and-trade plan will make it through Congress is an integration of oil security with climate change policy which achieves economic benefits. However, the regional interests such as coal in the Appalachian and oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico are political drivers which push back against a low-carbon future. Both presidential candidates have clean coal in their platform but there has been little success in carbon capture and storage technologies.

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While Obama and Biden seem to be at least compatible on their positions on energy-environment, John McCain and Sarah Palin differ. A Time magazine article contrasts McCain, one of the first Republicans to accept global warming caused by humans, with Palin. While McCain changed his position to now support offshore oil drilling, he remains opposed to exploration and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His running mate supports opening up the ANWR to oil and gas exploration and isn't inclined to attribute global warming to man-made causes. Even President George W. Bush now says the US has to do something to reduce danger due to human-caused global warming. When the US Department of the Interior declared the polar bear as a threatened species due to climate change, Palin initiated a lawsuit. However, as Governor of Alaska, she signed an order setting up the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet to recommend policies and measures to guide the state on adaptation and mitigation. Alaska is also an observer to the Western Climate Initiative.
McCain is very supportive for free trade.

The energy project is a patriotic one with a goal of strategic energy independence by 2025. It is "named for the town where Americans asserted their independence once before." Among the platform issues are:

Change how the US powers the transport sector:
Investing in clean, alternative sources of energy
Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.l


The principles of the Climate Policy are listed as:
The issues in the platform are:
Greenhouse gas emission targets and timetables:
2012: Return Emissions To 2005 Levels (18 Percent Above 1990 Levels)
2020: Return Emissions To 1990 Levels (15 Percent Below 2005 Levels)
2030: 22 Percent Below 1990 Levels (34 Percent Below 2005 Levels)
2050: 60 Percent Below 1990 Levels (66 Percent Below 2005 Levels)

A cap-and-trade system that would set limits on greenhouse gas emissions while encouraging the development of low-cost compliance options. A climate cap-and-trade mechanism would set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allow entities to buy and sell rights to emit, similar to the successful acid rain trading program of the early 1990s. The key feature of this mechanism is that it allows the market to decide and encourage the lowest-cost compliance options.

Emissions permits will eventually be auctioned:
Various measures will be used to reduce the economic costs of meeting the emission targets
Promoting energy efficiency:
Speculation in energy. Reform the laws and regulations governing the oil futures market, so that they are just as clear and effective as the rules applied to stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments.
A windfall profits tax has no place in the US energy policy as it will hinder investment in domestic exploration. The windfall tax put on by Jimmy Carter is said to have had little to no useful results.
Development and deployment of advanced technologies. Federal government research funding and infrastructure to support the cap and trade emissions reduction goals and emphasize the commercialization of low-carbon technologies. Government programs will be held more accountable to meet commercialization goals and deadlines.

Leadership for effective international efforts for a global solution to global climate change
Climate change adaptation and mitigation plans
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The Obama-Biden platform Plan for New Energy for America links energy, environment with economic, social and community benefits. The climate change plan has a world view of assisting developing countries and like John McCain's is eventually to be in cooperation with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Obama even mentions post-Kyoto which Canada's governing party failed to do in its recent election platform. However, the US Democratic Party approach to promote American technology as the climate change solution, is understandable but not always appreciated by developing countries who want help to develop their own technologies adapted to their circumstances and also to achieve their own self-reliance so they don't have to pay license and support fees forever to the rich world.

Obama shares an attitude with McCain in wanting to have trade agreements which open up foreign markets to American exports and jobs without much acknowledgement that trade is a partnership in which both sides need to benefit. However, one of the criteria he applies is labour and environmental components for the trade agreements. He wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement so it works for American workers, call on the World Trade Organization to prevent government subsidies to foreign suppliers and non-tariff barriers, extend trade adjustment assistance to service sector workers, end tax deductions for companies claiming costs for moving their operations overseas, seek to award public contracts to companies employing American workers and give tax credits to those who increase the number of American workers relative to those outside the US, maintain US headquarters if it has been in the US, pay decent wages, provide health insurance and support employees formerly in the military.

The energy platform includes:

5 million green collar jobs:
Provide short-term relief to American families facing pain at the pump.
Make the US a leader on climate change:
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The Democratic ticket environment platform includes descriptions of Barack Obama's various initiatives as a Senator. The details such as levels of funding and targets are more often less specific than in the energy platform.

Among the environment commitments are:
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Grist, the daily electronic US-based environmental magazine, posted a chart comparing the candidates including Barack Obama, John McCain, independent candidate Ralph Nader, Green candidate Cynthia McKinney, and Libertarian Bob Barr. The listing is by seven categories:
Additional links are provided to items in each listing, to interviews and fact sheets. The chart shows that while candidates may support certain actions not all have targets and specific plans. For example, McCain is said to support renewables and biofuels but has not offered specific targets for those.

Both McCain and Obama support a cap-and-trade system. McCain favours allowing domestic and international offsets for compliance. His target is 60% below 1990 levels by 2050 while Obama's is 80%. McCain would give credits initially for free phasing in auctions over time while Obama would auction all greenhouse gas emissions from the beginning.

Nader supports a carbon tax with a target of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 and would auction the credits starting at $50 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent.


Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.



The League of Conservation Voters rates members of House of Representatives and the Senate on conservation and energy issues. The latest scorecard was released October 17.

The group claims to be non-partisan and its Dirty Dozen lists legislators from all parties with very low scores (e.g. career lifetime scores of 4%, 7%, 14%, 43%). which LCV thinks could be turfed. The group claims that this list has helped to oust a number of "undefeatable" incumbents in the past. Voters are urged to "turn out the lights" on the Dirty Dozen.

An Environmental Champions lists seeks to protect vulnerable legislators who have a strong environmental record. Republican Senator Susan Collins was endorsed in 2008 as the only Republican with a Perfect Environmental Voting Record in 2007 who also kept commitment to conservation and clean energy in 2008.

The LCV Lifetime Score for McCain is 24% and Obama 86%. The LCV 2007 Score is 0% for McCain and 67% for Obama although that is somewhat controversial because of the absences due to campaigning. The chart on Global Warming gives LCV's position and the two major presidential candidates. For example, LCV's position is a mandatory cap and 100% auction of pollution permits which is supported by Obama. McCain supports the cap but has no articulated position on auction.

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This is the most significant election in a generation that Americans will vote in, according to Thomas Donohue, President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce but climate change matters little it seems - it is free trade that is the most important issue here.

US Chamber provides a chart of where the candidates stand on key economic issues including environment issues. The US Chamber of Commerce doesn't outright endorse a candidate but Chamber CEO Thomas says to vote for free trade which is clearly John McCain although even McCain is promising to set mandatory targets for greenhouse gas emissions, something to which the Chamber is opposed.

The Chamber lists its priorities including the environment and climate change for 2008. The climate change position includes;
GL notes that it is typical of some industry when opposed to action not to say so but instead to lobby for delay. So opposed to mandatory climate change regulations, the industry achieves delays by a set of criteria which must all be met. Of course, jobs and economy are essential but a green economy might lead to the downfall of some industries while new ones with less environmental impact develop. Essentially the delay means no or little action could be taken. However, in the same priorities document is something the Chamber member industries want  - the free use of nanotechnology. Then the wording is entirely different despite growing scientific concern that there is much that is potentially hazardous and that society and government ought to take a more precautionary approach to nanotechnology. Instead the industry position is to:
GL wonders where is the five point criteria that must all be met on nanotechnology. The Chamber is the world's largest business federation in the world with 3 million business and hundreds of associations and chambers from many other countries as members. With 300 staff and an office near the White House, it is a powerful lobby in Washington. The world is expected to recover from the tsunami of economic crisis caused by quite a few leading masterminds in business and complacent governments but the attitudes and actions of these same groups of powerbrokers is predicted by the best science available to lead to a tsunami of climate change from inaction for which there may be no bailout at an affordable price or without a heavy cost of human lives.

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Some of the same companies which are lobbying against action on climate change are also part of a coalition of ngos and business in the United States Climate Action Partnership USCAP (see US Coal Industry Leader Declares Boycotts as Fair Game GL V12 N7 July 9, 2007) to urge the US government to quickly enact
legislation to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions. This business group isn’t endorsing a presidential candidate either but in an October press release endorsed action on climate change, “Given current economic challenges, USCAP believes a sustainable environment is inextricably linked to a strong economy where increased energy efficiency, new technologies and wise energy infrastructure investments will create economic opportunities. Our environmental goal and economic objectives can best be accomplished through an economy-wide, market-driven approach to climate protection that includes a cap-and-trade program that places specified limits on greenhouse gas emissions. “
GL will review in a future issue the book Earth: The Sequel in which Fred Krupp, President of the US Environmental Defense Fund and EDF writer, Miriam Horn, describe how EDF changed from suing industry to working with them in coalition including the USCAP.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.

Some say that the proposition votes are direct democracy as citizens can propose initiatives while others say the proposals should be vetted by the legislature as so often the ballot proposes tax cuts or new initiatives which divert money from higher priorities.

Some ballot questions are referendum items referred from the state legislature or citizen proposals to overrule state legislation already passed. For example, in Arkansas, a petition can be launched against any measure passed in the General Assembly provided a certain percentage ranging from 6-10% of voters depending on the nature of issue. State constitution changes may require citizen votes. Some propositions are repeated in various states so they are obviously a nationwide effort sometimes by corporate interests, sometimes by other interests. Millions of dollars are spent on some Yes or No campaigns for certain propositions.

Some of the ballot questions are subject to lawsuits. For example, the titles or descriptions are said to be misleading or the stated impacts said to be untrue. California's Proposition 2 on animal welfare is the subject of complaints that money was directed from out-of-state through the United Egg Producers contrary to California law. The Yes supporters of the ballot question also complained that agricultural lobby groups funded the University of California - Davis to produce a study concluding that the Proposition would harm California's farms and raise egg prices.

There are propositions which seem to favour environmental protection and those which do not and for which the environmental implications are unclear.

Examples of environmentally related propositions include:

Arkansas: A water, disposal and pollution abatement facilities financing act to authorize $300 million in bonds

Arizona: conserving Arizona's water and land: a measure to permanently preserve and protect the most important natural areas (580,000 acres) in Arizona; adds requirements for planning of state trust lands and local community involvement in trust lands.

California: Safe, reliable high-speed passenger train bond act. To provide alternatives to driving, to provide good jobs and improve the state's economy while reducing air pollution, global warming greenhouse gases and dependence on imported oil. Issue bonds for a 30 year state cost of $19.4 billion for principal and interest for a train service from Southern California (Los Angeles), the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. The train is for 220 mph service. Some taxpayer groups are opposed saying that the train line would never be built.

Standards for confining animals initiative statute. Beginning in 2015. the State would prohibit with certain exceptions the confinement on a farm of pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal and egg-laying hens which prevent them from turning around freely, from lying down, standing up and fully extending their limbs. Some groups are opposed saying that it would shut down egg producers and others so the food products would come from elsewhere without these standards. Although the ballot questions mentions a number of animal, the main issue is chicken laying eggs, which is a big industry in California.

Renewable Energy Generation Initiative Statute. Requires government owned utilities to generate 20% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2010, currently applied to private utilities, raise to 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2025. Currently a cost cap limits the requirement to times when the cost is no more than 10% above the specified market price for electricity. Opponents say that California already has renewable energy requirements and the legislators should be the ones to decide how to proceed next.

Alternative fuel vehicles and renewable energy bonds, initiative statute: 4 billion in bonds to help consumers and other purchase alternative fuel vehicles and fund research in renewable energy and alternative fuel vehicles. Supporters say this will get polluting diesels off the road and increase grants to California universities for research on cheaper alternatives to gasoline. Critics say it is special interest legislation which will divert funds from schools and critical services during a budget crisis. Some also say that subsidies will be given to owners of vehicles using natural gas which is a fossil fuel and that gas investors paid for signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

Colorado: Severance taxes on the oil and natural gas industry: measure eliminates a state tax credit (87% of the property tax paid), increases the number of oil and gas wells subject to the tax (removal of exemption on small wells) and changes the rate of severance tax which is paid by companies to extract nonrenewable natural resources such as oil and gas, gold, coal and molybdenum. Some of the additional funds are to be directed to a college scholarship program, wildlife habitat, energy efficiency and renewable clean energy , transportation project and small community drinking water and domestic wastewater treatment projects.

Georgia: Forest Preservation through tax reductions. The State's Constitution requires uniform taxation of the same class so a proposal for special assessment and reduced property tax on forest land under 15 year conservation covenants and compensation to local governments requires a ballot question.

Louisiana: more severance taxes from oil and gas companies to the Parishes where oil and gas activities are ongoing. These activities take a toll on local infrastructure. Critics say the funds would go to areas already benefiting economically due to the oil and gas activities and restrict the state funds for general use. About $10 million annually are also proposed for the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation fund. The Basin ((150 miles from north to south and 20 miles across) in south central Louisiana is the largest river swamp in the US with the largest bottomland hardwood forest. Of the 838,000 acres about 400,000 acres are publically owned.

Maine: $3.4 million bond issue to support drinking water programs and wastewater treatment facilities

Missouri: Question requires utility companies to use an increased amount of renewable energy.

Ohio: Clean Ohio Fund: a measure supported by Gov. Ted Strickland and others. It would provide $400 million for environmental conservation, preservation and revitalisation including environmental clean-up.
The Water Compact: Ohio's legislature voted to ratify the agreement along with Ontario and Quebec to reduce the diversion of water from the Great Lakes. The compact will take effect whether or not the voters support the amendment. The question includes property right protection so owners of land have the right to reasonable use of the groundwater underlying the property owner's land as well as use of water in a lake or watercourse located on or flowing though the owner's riparian land. Regulation of such water by the state is allowed. Does not apply to Lake Erie or navigable waters of the state. The property rights issue was put on the ballot because Sen. Tim Grendell, a Cleveland-area Republican, feared that the Great Lakes Compact would put ownership of the water of the Great Lakes Basin including tributaries, wells and groundwater into dispute.

Oklahoma: state constitutional amendment to give everybody in the stat the right to hunt, trap, and take game and fish subject to reasonable regulation. Hunting and fishing are to be the preferred method for managing game and fish.

Rhode Island: Open Space - borrowing of $2.5 million to purchase or permanently protect through purchase of title to, development rights, conservation easements and public recreation easements, greenways and other open space, recreation land, forested lands and agricultural lands
Transportation: Authorize the Rhode Island state government to borrow $87 million for improvements to to the State's highways, roads and bridges, to fund commuter rail and to purchase new buses and/or rehabilitate existing buses in the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority's bus fleet.

Washington: open high-occupancy vehicle lanes to all traffic, traffic light synchronization, fund traffic-flow purposes.

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