Last week, Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) told workers in St. Paul, Minnesota that he will work to pass a comprehensive energy plan that includes promoting renewable sources, increased offshore drilling and the expansion of nuclear energy programs. According to his website, Coleman believes that:
“America must strive to break our dependence on foreign energy or risk losing our national autonomy. Our continued dependence is, without a doubt, the greatest threat to our economy, our security, and our freedom.”
Challenging Coleman’s seat in the US Senate (best known as “Paul Wellstone’s seat”), former comedian, satirist, author and homegrown Minnesotan, Al Franken, also believes we need to end our dependence on foreign oil:
“By investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, we can make the imported-oil economy a thing of the past and replace it with a renewable-energy economy that benefits Minnesota…”
Both candidates seem dedicated to investing in energy sources other than foreign oil, but they differ on the depth of that dedication — as well as on how to bring current gas prices down. Both candidates favor taking better advantage of alternative fuels, but Franken has stated he will work to extend the R&D tax credit, a measure Coleman has voted against. Additionally, Franken is prepared to work to end tax subisidies for big oil companies which amounts to billions of dollars.
Just last month, Coleman voted in favor of a bill that would have ended these subsidies, but the bill failed to make it to the senate floor for debate. Coleman was joined by only two other senate republicans in voting in favor of ending the subsidies. Like Coleman, Senators Collins (R-ME) and Snowe (R-OR) are up for re-election this November. The vote to move the legislation to debate was defeated 51-43.
Coleman’s present position on ending subsidies for big oil companies is a “flip” from his previous positions in 2006 and 2005. He also voted against taxing windfall profits for big oil twice in 2005. We can only guess how Mr. Franken would have voted in these situations, as well as on the DRIVE legislation co-authored by Sens. Bayh (D-IN), Brownback (R-KS), Lieberman I-NH) and Coleman, but his left leanings are probably a good indication.
In spite of impressive legislation like DRIVE, and votes that distance Coleman from the Bush Administration policies, the Senator still favors increased offshore drilling claiming it will lower gas prices. However, industry experts and the White House concur that increased drilling would not affect gas prices until the year 2030. Incidentally, those who live in the Great Lakes Region might (or might not) be comforted by Coleman’s response to a question regarding drilling for oil in the Great Lakes. Read an interesting piece by Tom Elko of the Minnesota Independent on the issue here.
Other measures Coleman favors to reduce gas prices are “more nuclear production and biofuels.” Franken says better industry regulation, as well as a tax on windfall energy profits, could be more immediate and effective ways to reduce gas prices. Both candidates oppose an immediate gas tax hike, although Franken remains open to this in the future if, and when, gas prices come down. Earlier statements in favor of a possible gas tax increase were in conjunction with relatively low gas prices, compared with today’s approximately $4.00 (and climbing) a gallon.
Since at least as far back as 2006, Al Franken has stated that the United States needs an “Apollo Project” when it comes to renewable energy and ending our dependence on foreign oil. A project of this magnitude would include utilizing resources such as wind power, solar power, biofuels and cellulosics. But, it must also include an investment in conservation. Franken says, “energy efficiency, light rail and increased CAFE standards are all part of that.”
Coleman’s long-term solutions include measures like DRIVE which take advantage of resources, cleaner coal, and an expanded nuclear provision. Franken hasn’t taken nuclear energy off the table, but – like Senator Barack Obama – believes that the problem of storing waste (present and future) must be dealt with first.