The Republicans spent a lot more time answering questions about energy and global warming than the Democrats at the twin debates in New Hampshire this week. It was the most substantive exchange in any debate of the campaign so far, and reflects more of what voters are asking the candidates on the campaign trail. The Democrats primarily responded to one question about how they might reduce gas prices. That gave several candidates the chance to sound off on themes ranging from oil company profits and subsidies, fuel mileage and energy policy in general.
But Republicans were asked meatier questions, and framed their responses -- almost universally -- around the idea that conservation, climate change and alternative energy are national security issues more than they are environmental issues.
Two top-tier Republicans -- former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- sounded like Democrat Bill Richardson in their calls for an Apollo scale program to tackle energy issues. That man on the moon approach has won Richardson praise from environmentalists, but hasn't given him enough traction to rise far in the Democratic field. It's given some Republicans traction on the campaign trail.
Both Democrats and Republicans frame energy policy as a matter of national security, but Republicans are more apt to put the energy independence angle out front and talk about climate change mitigation, if at all, as a secondary concern or as a desirable side benefit.
Ahmadinejad, Putin, Chavez, Romney said, referring to the leaders of Iran, Russia and Venezuela, these people are getting rich off of people buying too much oil. And that's why we have to pursue, as a strategic imperative, energy independence for America. And it takes that Apollo project.
There's a sharper contrast between some Republicans and Democrats on the strategy for reaching energy independence. Several Republicans openly embraced nuclear energy, where the technology and the virtually unending lifespan of its waste are more sensitive issues for many Democratic voters. Republicans are also more apt to call for new oil exploration; at Tuesday's debate, Romney called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Democrats and Republicans also differed on their response to questions about oil company profits. The Republicans speaking on the issue generally took less of an issue with massive profits, but said they wanted that money invested in new refining capacity, nuclear power or additional oil exploration. Democrats were more apt to call for investigations and the repeal of government subsidies.
The first thing we got to do is find out what's happening with these oil and gas companies, because we know they're making record amounts of money, we know that the same people that are refining the oil are selling it at the gas pump, so there's a huge vertical integration in this operation, Democrat John Edwards said. I think there ought to be an investigation of the oil and gas companies by the Justice Department.
The election debate is dominated by Iraq and terrorism, but the electorate is electrified in a new way on environmental issues -- particularly at the intersection of climate, security and conservation. Energy independence can also serve the interests of conservation, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, a Republican candidate, said, particularly if we use nuclear power and other clean forms of energy so that we can in fact make this a clean society that is also safe and secure for the nation.
Analysts watching the evolving political debate about climate change and related issues are encouraged by the rhetoric, more or less disheartened by the media's attention to the issues and still waiting for more substantial proposals.
The thing we're most encouraged about is more candidates have put up comprehensive energy and global warming plans than any other domestic issue at this point, said Navin Nayak, the director of the League of Conservation Voters' The Heat Is On project, which is tracking candidates' stands on energy, climate and related issues.
The candidates are out there talking about this issue more than ever before, he said, and we've seen more and more of them outline concrete plans.
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