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Stepping Up To the Plate

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Albuquerque, NM -- When the 2008 presidential campaign season commenced, one open question was whether candidates would deal with global warming and energy in a substantive way.

Of the initial front-runners, only Senator John McCain had an established track record on the issue -- and he has remained almost silent in recent months. John Edwards took the first big steps, coming out with a major commitment to "80 by 50" -- that is, 80 percent CO2 reductions by 2050, and following up with an aggressive policy to ensure that, going forward, all coal is mined safely, burned cleanly and its carbon fully sequestered. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made more modest initial proposals, but have recently endorsed the Boxer-Sanders global warming legislation in the Senate, which also calls for 80 by 50, or 2 percent CO2 reductions a year. And New York City Mayor and possible presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has picked up the issue recently, with a major Earth Day initiative followed by an energy conservation speech in Houston.

But there is one presidential candidate with enormous depth on the issue, and he's just raised the bar on all the rest. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson served as Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration. Today, at the New America Foundation, he delivered his new energy approach. Dave Hamilton, Director of our Energy and Global Warming program, advised me that "his 18-page energy policy is much more aggressive than anything we've seen so far from the candidates. It is also significantly better-elaborated in theory with regard to where we end up."

Here's a sample of Richardson's language:

"I am here to tell you consumers are hurting because U.S. energy markets are not diverse and competitive, and because we have fed our addiction to oil instead of ending it. We are bleeding ourselves to death, buying 300 billion dollars worth of foreign oil every year, and spending another 100 or 150 billion dollars transporting and defending oil around the world."

In his plan, he commits to an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2040, which he gets by increasing the rate at which CO2 emissions decline gradually from 2 percent a year to 3 percent. He also calls for going all the way to a 50-mpg standard for vehicles.

This is the kind of debate that could make the 2008 presidential race worth watching -- let's hope the other candidates catch up!