Oct. 5, 2008
Story by John Lendman
ST. LOUIS – Energy and climate change prompted a heated discussion between vice presidential nominees Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware) as the candidates took the stage for the first and only debate Thursday night.
Palin was questioned whether she believed global warming could be blamed on human activity; Biden was challenged on his stance on investing in “clean coal.” And both candidates had to defend their records on giving tax breaks to big oil corporations.
The two candidates weren’t the only ones engaging in the clean energy debate on the Washington University campus.
Starting at 5 a.m. Thursday – 15 hours before the debate began – members of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) staffed an information booth on Washington University’s campus quad along with several other special-interest groups.
A few feet away, under dozens of 9-foot-tall cardboard windmills, members from the Energy Action Coalition and the student group Green Action disputed the clean coal coalition’s claims, telling students that America needs to invest in wind and solar power to achieve energy independence.
Devki Desai, an environmental engineering student, handed out flyers and T-shirts to passers-by. Desai said she was frustrated about having to “reeducate students about the coal industry.”
“I grew up in a coal-mining town in Kentucky,” Desai said, “I’ve seen what this industry can do to a community.”
But Brad Jones, the coal coalition’s communications director, said it’s imperative the United States invest more in coal because it produces electricity for more than half the nation.
“Where we differ from [Green Action] is that we aren’t just substituting one energy source for another,” Jones said. “We need a diverse portfolio of all energy resources to meet the demand.”
While the non-partisan Energy Action Coalition and the clean coal coalition challenged students to consider voting for the candidate they think would be more beneficial to the environment, other groups such as the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and Republicans for Environmental Protection, still have questions for both candidates.
“What will definitely be on the minds of voters will be energy independence and America’s future,” said Joshua McNeil, a spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters.
The league has rated Sen. Biden’s environmental record with a score of 83 percent, and Gov. Palin has been praised by Republicans for Environmental Protection for her work as chairwoman of the natural resources committee of the National Governors Association. Still, special-interest groups are pushing for specifics from the candidates.
“We want to know how the next president will get a climate bill enacted into law, how he or she will negotiate an international climate treaty, what their views are on energy policy and whether the U.S. has adequate energy sources,” said Jim DiPeso, the policy director for Republicans for Environmental Protection, which has endorsed McCain/Palin.
The public has seen over the last seven years what an addiction to foreign oil and what an administration that ignores climate change leads to, said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter.
“It leads to record-high gas prices and a failure to do anything to address global warming. We simply can’t afford to go down that road again,” Darin said.
One of the concerns many environmentalists have with Palin is to whom she attributes the cause of climate change and her proposal to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge – both of her stances differ from those of McCain’s. DiPeso said he believes the divergence won’t matter much because, at the end of the day, voters will be looking to the top of the ticket.
“The president is the captain of the ship, and the VP is just the lieutenant,” he said.
Brianna Cotter, communications director of Energy Action Coalition, said she begs to differ, especially when Palin rallies voters on the campaign trail to support drilling.
“Many of the young people that I work with are concerned with this ‘drill baby, drill’ ethic going on right now,” Cotter said. “We need to be talking about how we’re going to be moving away from dirty energy in this country – not how we are going to exploit it.”
Darin said he would like to see all the candidates address how they’re going to curb the effects of climate change.
“I want to know if they prepared to heed the call of America and the world’s scientists to fundamentally change how we use energy to solve global warming,” Darin said. “And if so, what are their plans to do so?”
Cotter considers the issue so important that she plans to attend the two remaining presidential debates to speak with students, driving to Nashville and later to New York in a U-Haul with the 30 9-foot-tall windmill art instillations. She said she wants to disparage the “myth of cleaner coal” both major party tickets are parroting.
The financial crisis taking the stage is just one more reason why the nation needs to drastically change tracks on the environment and energy, Cotter said.
“Because it is our generation that is going to bear the brunt of it.”
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