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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 4.10.08

 

GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE?

Which side of the Democratic fence is more eco-friendly?

Words by Camilla Mortensen - Photography by Todd Cooper

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both drive hybrid SUVs, want to cap emissions and are calling for clean, renewable energy. It's not hard to be more eco-friendly than the Bush administration, but as Oregon's Democratic primary looms close, which candidate for commander-in-chief finds it easier to be green?

GIRL AT CLINTON RALLY BOY AT OBAMA RALLY

Clinton announced a plan to find a cure for breast cancer, citing "environment" as one cause for the disease and the need to look into environmental pollutants as well as genetics as a cause. She cited the death of her mother-in-law from breast cancer as her motivation in the recent episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show where she unveiled her plan to increase research funding by $300 million.

Obama, too, is motivated towards the environment for emotional reasons. His daughter Malia suffers from chronic asthma, and this has led to this oft-quoted environmental statement made to the League of Conservation voters before he entered into his presidential bid: "Environmentalism is not an upper-income issue, it's not a white issue, it's not a black issue, it's not a South or a North or an East or a West issue. It's an issue that all of us have a stake in. And if I can do anything to make sure that not just my daughter but every child in America has green pastures to run in and clean air to breathe and clean water to swim in, then that is something I'm going to work my hardest to make happen."

As it turns out, with only a few exceptions, the candidates come down the wire neck-and-neck on their eco-credentials. The difference between the candidates seems to lie in qualities that are a little harder to pin down. Clinton's experience and past record have drawn voters to the polls and earned her fierce devotion from her supporters. Obama's charismatic speeches draw thousands to his rallies and have inspired young voters as well as older, more jaded constituents to believe in his message of "hope" and "change." When Oregon voters mail in their ballots in May, we'll know for sure. Right now a lot of Eugene's environmentalists are following the lead of the majority of Oregon's superdelegates and aren't publicly picking a candidate, while others are taking a stand.

"Personally, I'm willing to see what Obama has to say," says Western Environmental Law Center attorney Charlie Tebbutt. "I'm willing to take a chance that Obama will be as thoughtful as president as he is as a campaigner."

"My general experience with the first Clinton administration was that as an environmental litigator I had to do a tremendous amount of work getting Clinton to comply with environmental laws," Tebbutt said. "I'm concerned another Clinton administration would not do as the statutes require."

 

global warming

When Hillary Clinton raced through Oregon on Saturday, April 5, volunteers handed out her "Plan to Create a Thriving Green Energy Sector in Oregon and Across America" at rallies in Eugene and Hillsboro. The plan is essentially an update on her existing energy plan, with an Oregon spin.

The plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Clinton (or Hillary as her campaign prefers) said at her recent rally in Eugene that Portland has already reduced its emissions by 1 percent below 1997 levels. The comment elicited cheers from the crowd of 2,500, as did her call for a "declaration of energy independence," which she said should be written out, like the original Declaration of Independence, and then signed by every American.

Obama made his presence felt in Oregon earlier, with a packed crowd of over 9,000 at Mac Court in March. (It turned out to be prescient that he would speak at a basketball venue, what with OSU's recent announcement that it has hired his brother-in-law Craig Robinson as its new head basketball coach.)

Obama has made an identical call to reduce greenhouse gases. His call, like Clinton's, includes the reduction by 2050 and a "cap and trade system" that makes corporations pay for the right to pollute. Both Obama and Clinton have signed on as co-sponsors in the Senate to three cap and trade bills, though according to the environmental news and commentary webpage Grist (www.grist.org),both voted for two bills "that fall well short of the standards" laid out in their own plans.

Those plans aren't necessarily enough, according to some environmentalists in Eugene. "The problem, though, is that neither are focusing on the short term urgency of arresting the growth of emissions by 2010," according to UO law professor Mary Wood. "They are focused on the long-term goal of 2050. That's going to be meaningless if we pass the climate thresholds looming right now before us."

 

fuels & biofuels

Last summer, Obama switched from driving a Hemi-powered Chrysler V-8 to a Ford Escape hybrid SUV. This hybrid has been the vehicle of choice for presidential hopefuls — it's driven by Clinton, John Edwards, Sen. Christopher Dodd and Govs. Mitt Romney and Bill Richardson. Its presidential popularity drove Ford to take out an ad in several Capitol Hill publications declaring the Escape the "Candidates' Choice," with the slogan, "We May Not Know Where All of the Candidates Stand, But We Do Know Where a Lot of Them Sit." Clinton has also been known to ride in a Mercury Mariner hybrid.

In terms of where the candidates stand on the green-car issue, Clinton's energy platform says she "would increase fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030," but she wouldn't leave automakers in the lurch. Her plan "would help automakers retool their production facilities through $20 billion in 'Green Vehicle Bonds.'"

Obama's energy platform differs very little: He calls for doubling fuel efficiency standards within 18 years. His plan also provides helping automakers change over to producing greener vehicles by "retooling tax credits and loan guarantees" so that American rather than overseas companies "can build new fuel-efficient cars."

There's also very little difference between the two when it comes to biofuels. Both candidates call for the nation to produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 and 60 billion gallons of biofuels by 2030. Both call for America to become energy independent, but both candidates are against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

 

energy, coal & nuclear power

What about renewable energy? Both candidates call for getting 25 percent of U.S. electricity from renewables by 2025. Obama says as president he would invest $150 billion over 10 years in researching and developing renewables, clean technologies, biofuels and energy efficiency. Clinton's "green energy" plan says she too wants to invest "$150 billion in research, development and deployment of clean energy over the next decade."

Nuclear energy is not one of the areas where the candidates differ, despite the fact that Obama's home state of Illinois has more nuclear plants than any other state in the country. Both Clinton and Obama are against Yucca Mountain as a nuclear storage facility.

At campaign rally in Iowa last December, Obama said that "nuclear energy is not optimal," and said he is "not a nuclear energy proponent." Clinton's energy plan is also lukewarm on nuclear power and says there are better options. Her plan calls for research on improving nuclear safety and reducing costs. Neither candidate is totally against nuclear energy, but both have expressed reservations.

On the issue of "dirty" energy, coal has emerged as a point of dissension — with environmentalists, at any rate. Both candidates support so-called "clean-coal" as well as research into liquid coal as a fuel. They both say that they only support liquid coal if its use reduced carbon pollution by more than 20 percent over conventional gas, according to the League of Conservation Voters, which opposes liquid coal development. Obama said in an October 2007 clean energy speech: "We must find a way to stop coal from polluting our atmosphere without pretending that our nation's most abundant energy source will just go away."

In an interview with West Virginia Public Radio in March, Clinton similarly said that as part of America's energy future, "coal fits in very importantly because obviously, we have a great reserve of coal." This same interview did lead to one difference in the two candidates' eco-credentials: mountaintop mining.

When asked about mountaintop mining, a controversial form of mining which clearcuts forests and uses explosives to remove the tops of mountains, Clinton expressed concern but said, "I think it's a difficult question because of the conflict between the economic and environmental trade-off that you have here." This was not a strong enough answer for East Coast environmentalists, who preferred Obama's response: "We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains."

 

oregon issues

While we do have some environmental problems related to polluted mining sites, blasting the tops off of mountains isn't an issue in the Pacific Northwest (unless it's a volcano). The issue that came to fore between the candidates in Oregon this week is liquid natural gas (LNG) and the proposal to place three LNG terminals in Oregon.

In a Tuesday press conference, Clinton's domestic policy director Catherine Brown told reporters Clinton had a far greater commitment to the LNG issue than Obama. Obama, like Clinton, has signed on as a co-sponsor to Ron Wyden's bill to repeal the section of the 2005 Energy Policy Act that that gave the federal government rather than the state authority for licensing LNG terminals.

Both Clinton and Obama voted for an amendment to the bill that would have let governors veto or attach conditions to decisions on terminal sitings, but the amendment was defeated. Both voted to send the bill to committee for review, and Obama voted for the energy bill as a whole, because, according to his Oregon communications director, "it was the largest investment in renewable and clean energy in history." Clinton voted against the bill. This is one of the few Senate votes in which the candidates voted differently.

Logging is a perennial issue in Oregon, and while it may raise the most questions for Oregon enviro-voters, it's an issue the candidates have weighed in on the least. Oregon Wild is a charitable organization and cannot endorse any candidate, but Doug Heiken, who has worked on environmental issues for year in Oregon, offers his neutral observations. "Clinton is aware of forest issues already," he says. "Clinton went through the Northwest Forest Plan with Bill."

The Northwest Forest Plan along with the Roadless Rule were two Bill Clinton-era directives for Oregon's forests and endangered and threatened species. "Clinton knows the bad things," Heiken says, "like the salvage rider."

The salvage rider, which Bill Clinton signed in 1995, allowed logging in previously protected old-growth forests. For many Oregon environmentalists, Clinton's signing the rider outweighed any previous environmental gains he made as president.

On the other hand, Heiken says, he thinks Hillary Clinton would come into office with "no honeymoon period." Obama, he says, is "not as aware" of forest issues, but if he were elected there would be a better chance of "honeymoon period." This honeymoon is the time in which the president has the best chance of getting bills through Congress.

So which candidate will get the honey-moon? The candidates are in a dead heat when it comes to the environment, but who will be the stronger leader? The candidates are studying up on Oregon issues, and the race is getting contentious. May the greener of the two take the day.

April 29 is the last day to register before the Oregon presidential primary. Go to sos.state.or.us/elections. What do you think of the candidates? Head to blogs.eugeneweekly.com to weigh in.

 

Other Presidential Issues

by Alan Pittman

With the mainstream media largely focused on covering style over substance in the presidential race, EW decided to take the radical, alternative approach of looking at the issues.

Our main story looks at the environmental issues. Quoting from the Democratic candidates' own websites, here's a look at some of the other leading issues. The conclusion? There's some nuance, but they're relatively similar. Hmmm. When the substance is almost the same, maybe it isn't so dumb to go on style to decide whom you most trust to do what they say.

 

IRAQ

Clinton voted to authorize military force against Iraq. She has said she doesn't regret the vote but now would like to withdraw U.S. troops. Clinton would "direct" the military "to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her administration." Her plan includes:

• "Securing stability in Iraq" with focused aid and with "support [for] the appointment of a high level U.N. representative ... to help broker peace."

• A "new intensive diplomatic initiative in the region" to promote "non-interference" in Iraq, an "attempt to mediate among the different sectarian groups in Iraq," and more "reconstruction funding."

• Organizing "a multi-billion dollar international effort ... to address the needs of Iraqi refugees."

• Ordering "specialized units to engage in narrow and targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region."

Obama wasn't in the Senate to vote on Iraq but opposed the invasion in speeches at the time and since. "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months," his campaign says. Obama "will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats" and "will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda." But "Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq."

Obama's Iraq plan also includes:

• By "mak[ing] it clear that we are leaving," Obama says he will "press Iraq's leaders to take responsibility for their future" by "addressing tough questions like federalism and oil revenue-sharing."

• Launch an "aggressive diplomatic effort ... including Iran and Syria" to "secure Iraq's borders; keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq; isolate al Qaeda; support reconciliation among Iraq's sectarian groups; and provide financial support for Iraq's reconstruction."

• "Provide at least $2 billion" in humanitarian aid in Iraq and to Iraqi refugees.

 

HEALTH CARE

Clinton was a leader in her husband's failed effort to expand coverage. Under her current plan:

• Individuals "will be required to get and keep insurance" but can keep their current plan.

• "Employers will be expected to provide health insurance or contribute to the cost of coverage."

• "Tax credits will ensure that working families never have to pay more than a limited percentage of their income for health care." Also, "small businesses will receive a tax credit to continue or begin to offer coverage."

• "Insurance companies can't deny you coverage if you have a pre-existing condition."

• "If you change or lose your job, you keep your health care."

Clinton says that modernization and efficiency will help pay for the plan as well as her proposal to "discontinue portions of the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000."

Obama's plan includes:

• "An income-related federal subsidy to buy into the new public plan or purchase a private health care plan" for "ensuring every American has health coverage."

• Employers not providing for health care "will be required to contribute a percentage of payroll toward the costs of the national plan. Small employers that meet certain revenue thresholds will be exempt."

• "Obama will require that all children have health care coverage."

• "No American will be turned away from any insurance plan because of illness or pre-existing conditions."

• People can "move from job to job without changing or jeopardizing their health care coverage."

• The plan will "reimburse employer health plans for a portion of the catastrophic costs" of claims.

• "Obama will allow Americans to buy their medicines from other developed countries."

• "Obama will also repeal the ban that prevents the government from negotiating with drug companies" to save money.

• Savings from increased technology, prevention, competition, regulation, catastrophic reinsurance, reductions in passed-on uncompensated care and ending the Bush tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 will fund the plan.

 

IMMIGRATION

Clinton would create "a path to earned legal status for those who are here, working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar."

Clinton's plan also includes:

• "Strengthening of our borders" to "stop the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country."

• "Employer verification system that is universal" and "strict penalties for those who exploit undocumented workers."

• "Opposes a guest worker program that exploits workers and creates a supply of cheap labor that undermines the wages of U.S. workers," but "supports an Ag Jobs program, which will keep our agricultural industry vibrant."

Obama "supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."

In addition, Obama's plan includes:

"Additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border."

• "Promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration."

• "Create a system so employers can verify that their employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S." and "cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants."

• "Increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill."