Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Candidates & Energy: Huckabee

With the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary behind us, and Super Duper Tuesday less than a month away, it seems timely to look at where the major presidential candidates stand on energy and energy-related environmental issues. I'd like to start with a candidate whom I would have relegated to the also-ran category prior to his impressive win in Iowa, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Mr. Huckabee's positions on energy represent an interesting mix that doesn't neatly match the "conservative" label with which he is generally tagged. Some elements are refreshing, while others strike me as naively unrealistic--although not necessarily more than those of other, more prominent politicians. This isn't meant to be a comprehensive examination, nor should it be construed as any kind of endorsement.

Mr. Huckabee's official website,, identifies energy independence as a key issue for his campaign. It proclaims, "We will achieve energy independence by the end of my second term," and lays out a broad agenda that includes conservation, technology, oil exploration, biofuels, renewable electricity, clean coal and nuclear power. It alludes to a "comprehensive plan for energy independence," although it is not clear whether this already exists or would be created early in a Huckabee administration. Without the specifics, we have only the site's rhetoric from which to surmise that the plan would rely heavily on market-based solutions and federal R&D support, rather than mandates. Among other things, he is on record supporting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Governor Huckabee's approach to energy seems generally consistent with the Geo-Green movement that's been percolating for a while in policy circles. He explicitly links energy and the War on Terror, citing the widely-heard "funding both sides" argument. His suggestion that he'd like to "treat Saudi Arabia the same way I treat Sweden" will be popular with voters who see Middle East oil--of which the US actually consumes relatively little--as the root of all evil.

The obverse of the security focus in the Geo-Green framework is environmental policy, and here Mr. Huckabee stands out, along with Senator McCain, as being most aggressive among the Republican candidates on the subject of climate change, which he accepts--though he tends to sidestep the question of its anthropogenic origin. On moral grounds he supports a cap and trade approach to greenhouse gas emissions and places this in a broader context of environmental stewardship. Despite this, I could not find a direct reference to climate change on his campaign's website.

So how does all this strike me? It's hard for me to get past the choice of energy independence as a focal point for his energy policy. Even if this goal were technically possible and desirable--both points are debatable--the idea that it could be done within eight years simply isn't credible. When you consider the legislative, permitting, capital, and engineering & construction elements of such a timeline, it would be quite an accomplishment if the first wave of major facilities envisioned in such a plan--nuclear power and coal liquefaction plants, arctic oil wells--were onstream by the end of his second term in office. Perhaps it's meant metaphorically and not literally, as it seems. I've also never been very comfortable with the "beggar-thy-neighbor" tone of some of the Geo-Green arguments. I see strong synergies between energy security and climate change, but those benefits stand up quite well without being put into an adversarial, anti-Arab context.

On balance, Governor Huckabee's approach to energy fits the climate change/energy security template that has become increasingly mainstream in the last few years and that ought to appeal to independent voters and some Democrats, while emphasizing markets in ways that won't alienate Republicans. There's not a lot of depth evident, however, and if Mr. Huckabee ultimately wants to compete with Democrats who have developed extremely detailed energy proposals, his staff has a lot of work ahead of them.

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