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Policies defined in election count down

With a month until America's presidential election, differences in the candidates' views are increasingly apparent. An advisory released in early September by the Sustainable Energy Coalition suggests there are vital differences in their views on energy policy. Candidates views are detailed on budget cutting, nuclear, competition (the repeal of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act) and other questions

With just a month until America's presidential election, differences in the candidates' views are increasingly apparent. Although the two major candidates are relatively middle-of-the-road in political terms, an advisory released in early September by the Sustainable Energy Coalition suggests there are vital differences in their views on energy policy.

According to responses to a survey submitted to the candidates by the Energy America Fund in February, President Bill Clinton and Republican nominee Bob Dole differ completely in ten out of 12 responses to a wide range of questions on renewables, efficiency and the environment. In mid September Clinton, with a double digit lead in the opinion polls, seemed to be re-elected. The presidential election, however, is not until November 5.

If elected, Dole would eliminate the Department of Energy (DOE) while Clinton would not. Dole believes the federal government should be "down-sized" and that the DOE serves little purpose in obtaining energy or environmental benefits that serve the public interest. He notes that DOE and three other cabinet departments spend as much as $74 billion yearly. In contrast, Clinton says he has already ordered substantial enough reductions in the size of DOE -- and by 2000 taxpayers will have been saved more than $10 billion. He cites research and development as one of the DOE's vital functions and says the Republicans' strategy would not save money but just transfer functions to other departments.

On budget cutting

Asked if he supports 25% cuts in DOE renewable and efficiency programmes, Dole said yes. He says that though the programmes are worthy they must bear their share of budget cutting. He notes that funding for renewables and efficiency increased "substantially" by 42% and 27% respectively from fiscal year 1993 to FY 1995. That was on top of a 65% increase in renewables funding during the Bush administration. According to Dole, the $800 million approved by Congress for renewables and energy conservation seems "adequate."

Clinton, for his part, says renewables and efficiency programmes create jobs, help new technologies gain domestic and overseas market share, and reduce gases that cause global climate change and other air pollution -- and that's why he has expanded funding for these programmes. Moreover the benefits for tax dollars invested are significant, both economically and environmentally.

On nuclear

In response to whether they support the building of new nuclear plants, Dole says yes and Clinton avoids a direct answer but says he supports research into more cost-effective nuclear plants. Dole notes the benefits of a diversified supply and says nuclear can be part of that as long as its plants meet health and safety standards and licensing. In fact, he says he supports the right of companies to choose nuclear but concedes that the issue of nuclear waste is a major problem that has not been addressed adequately by the Clinton administration.

Clinton says that nuclear plants are not being built as they are costly and that with conservation and utility deregulation few new plants are needed. But research and development should continue -- although ultimately the market and public rather than the government should choose what fuels and technology they want in the future.

Cutting so-called greenhouse gases is of course a highly contentious issue. Asked if he supports cutting them to 1990 levels by the year 2000, it is little surprise that Clinton responds yes. He recalls that on Earth Day 1993 he was the first US president to commit to that, a swipe at former President Bush's refusal to do the same, despite the high-profile Rio Summit. Dole supports voluntary measures to reach that goal, as did his Republican predecessor Bush.

On competition

The most arcane question asked was whether the candidates supported repeal of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA). Clinton does not, as he says the act was devised to prevent anti-competitive behaviour by utilities. He says it is still an important safeguard for consumers. He adds that significant changes have been made to PUHCA and related laws in recent years, and the impacts of those reforms should be carefully studied before further changes are made. Dole, however, maintains that PUHCA is outdated and provides no benefits to consumers or investors. He notes that the Securities and Exchange Commission has twice recommended repeal of the statute and that he himself has sponsored legislation that would repeal PUHCA with, he says, appropriate safeguards for consumers.

Both candidates are asked if they support proposed cuts of some 35% in the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Not suprisingly, since Clinton vetoed the US Congress' proposed cuts of this level, he responds no. Clinton says such high cuts would endanger public health and safety. Dole says the EPA must bear its share of cuts to achieve a balanced budget. He notes that EPA has almost doubled in size in 20 years to more than 19,000 employees and its budget has grown from $1.6 billion to $3.6 billion and that more EPA staff does not mean a better environment.

Other questions posed to the candidates were: do you support opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration and drilling (Clinton does not whereas Dole does); do you favour upping the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for new cars to 45 mpg and for lights trucks to 35 mpg by the year 2005 (neither candidate does); do you support the proposed 40% cuts in funding low-income home energy assistance and weatherisation (Clinton does not whereas Dole says it should be a matter for the states not the federal government); do you support interim high level nuclear waste storage in Nevada (Clinton does not, while Dole says the matter should be left to the legislative process); and do you support transfer of federal land for the proposed Ward valley, California low level nuclear waste facility (both do).

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