Palin twists remarks on coal by Obama
The McCain campaign is trying to sway coal state voters by selectively quoting from a 10-month-old interview to allege that Obama plans to "bankrupt the coal industry" with his plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin kicked off the last-minute attack Sunday during an appearance in Marietta, Ohio. At about the same time, clips of select portions of Obama's January comments to the San Francisco Chronicle surfaced on conservative blogs and Web sites.
But Obama campaign officials, and Chronicle editors, said the Illinois senator's remarks were taken greatly out of context.
And, the "cap-and-trade" carbon dioxide control plan Obama advocates is one of the generally accepted proposals for trying to deal with climate change - and a plan that Republican John McCain has also embraced.
Joseph Romm, a former Clinton Energy Department official and physicist who writes the Climate Progress blog, conceded "an inartful choice of words by Obama."
"But fundamentally, his remarks reflect an accurate understanding of the impact - indeed, the goal - of serious climate regulations, if we ever get around to them," Romm wrote in a Monday-morning blog post.
During a Jan. 17 interview with the Chronicle's editorial board, an editorial writer noted that Obama co-sponsored a bill to encourage turning coal into liquid fuel for vehicles, an approach energy experts warn would likely create more greenhouse emissions than traditional gasoline. The editorial writer asked Obama how he squared his support for coal with the need to do something about climate change.
Obama responded that the country needs to "figure out how we can use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon," and that he believes a "cap-and-trade" emissions program is the best way to do that.
Such a program would put an overall ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions. Companies would need "allowances" from regulators for every ton of carbon dioxide their facilities pump into the atmosphere. Companies could reduce their emissions to meet the caps. Or they could buy or trade for "allowances" to keep using older facilities.
"That would create a market in which whatever technologies are out there being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market, and the ratcheted down caps that are imposed every year," Obama told Chronicle editors. "So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can, it's just that it would bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."
During her Marietta appearance, Palin said only that Obama had said, "Sure, if the industry wants to build new coal-fired power plants, they can go ahead and try, but they can do it only in a way that will bankrupt the coal industry, and he's comfortable letting that happen."
Palin also alleged that the San Francisco paper, which endorsed Obama, had hidden the coal remarks from its readers and the general public.
"Why is this audio tape just now surfacing?" Palin asked, drawing shouts of "liberal media!" from the crowd at her Marietta rally.
But John Diaz, editor of the Chronicle's editorial pages, said the entire audio and video of Obama's interview has been available online for months at http://www.sfgate.com/ZCDP.
"Obama hardly sounded like a man determined to shut down the industry," Diaz wrote on a newspaper blog. "What the Illinois senator offered was a textured explanation of his determination to encourage cleaner coal technologies."
Palin's attack drew a flurry of responses from Obama supporters, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who called her comments "absolutely ridiculous" and "exactly the kind of deceptive politicking voters are fed up with."
United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts issued a statement saying, "Despite what the McCain campaign and some far right-wing blogs would have Americans believe, Senator Obama has been and remains a tremendous supporter of coal and the future of coal."
Obama campaign officials provided reporters with a collection of responses "for background purposes," but spokesman Dan Leistikow would say on the record only that Obama "has outlined a $150 billion investment in clean coal and other technologies to create jobs and build a new economy."
Transcript of Obama's coal remarks
Here is a transcript of the question and answer regarding coal during Sen. Barack Obama's interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 17, 2008:
Chronicle: Senator, you introduced a bill promoting coal to liquid fuels, and then you said you'd only support them if they emitted fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline. Now, all of the scientific evidence supports to coal being dirtier than pretty much anything else. So how are you going to square your support for coal with the need to fight global warming?
Obama: I've already done it. I voted against the Clear Skies bill, in fact I was the deciding vote, despite the fact that I'm a coal state and that half of my state thought I had thoroughly betrayed them, because I think clean air is critical and global warming is critical.
But this notion of no coal, I think is an illusion. Because the fact of the matter is that right now we are getting a lot of our energy from coal and China is building a coal power plant once a week. So what we have to do is we have to figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon, and how can we sequester that carbon and capture it. If we can't, then, we're going to still be working on alternatives.
Chronicle: Alternatives including coal?
Obama: Let me kind of describe my overall policy. What I have said is that we would put a cap and trade system in place that is as aggressive if not more aggressive than anybody else's out there.
I was the first to call for a 100 percent auction on the cap and trade system, which means that every unit of carbon or greenhouse gas that is emitted would be charged to the polluter.
That would create a market in which whatever technologies are out there being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market, and the ratcheted down caps that are imposed every year.
So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can, it's just that it would bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted.
That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel and other alternative energy approaches. The only thing that I've said with respect to coal, I haven't been some coal booster. I have said that, for us to take coal off the table as an ideological matter, as opposed to saying that if technology allows us to use coal in a clean way we should pursue it, that I think is the right approach.
The same with respect to nuclear. Right now we don't know how to store nuclear waste wisely and we don't know how to deal with some of the safety issues that remain. So it's widely expensive to pursue nuclear energy. But I tell you what, if we could figure out how to store it safely, then I think most of us would say that might be a pretty good deal.
The point is if we set rigorous standards for the allowable emissions, then we can allow the market to determine, and technology and entrepreneurs to pursue what is the best approach to take, as opposed to us saying at the outset, here are the winners that we're picking, and maybe we pick wrong and maybe we pick right.