By Seth Stern August 22, 2008

McCain has done a little for renewable energy

As part of a volley of accusations over competing energy plans, Sen. Barack Obama suggested that Sen. John McCain has opposed efforts to develop alternative sources of fuel.

In an Aug. 5 speech in Ohio, Obama said of McCain, "He voted against renewable sources of energy, against biofuels, against solar power, against wind power, against an energy bill that – while far from perfect – represented the largest investment in renewable sources of energy in the history of this country."

It's true that McCain has voted against measures on the Senate floor that included provisions aimed at encouraging the development and production of alternative energy.

In 2005, for example, McCain voted against a series of amendments to an energy bill that set higher goals for the use of renewable energy. One proposal required refineries to use 8-billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2012 and another required 10 percent of electricity sold by utilities by 2020 be produced by renewable energy. Both passed and were included in the final bill, which McCain voted against.

But the Obama campaign is somewhat selective in the evidence it cites about McCain's position on alternative fuel. While McCain has long voiced his opposition to subsidizing ethanol, he recently softened his position on the biofuel. PolitiFact examined his change in position during the Republican primary.

The Obama campaign also forgets to mention McCain's vote in favor of a 1992 energy law that required some government agencies to begin using vehicles that ran on alternative fuels and authorized more than $500-million in Energy Department research on renewable energy.

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The Obama campaign is trying to portray McCain as a friend of big oil on energy issues, and that hasn't always been the case. As we point out in another item, McCain burnished his "maverick" reputation a bit in 2002 when he and Democratic Sen. John Kerry pushed a plan to raise mileage standards for cars. The effort failed.

The Obama campaign cites McCain's vote against the 2005 energy bill, which was signed into law by President Bush, as evidence of him voting against wind power. McCain did vote against the measure, in part because he thought a federal tax credit for alternative energy production was too generous and not cost-effective.

But his opposition to the legislation was much broader than that. We'll note, too, that former presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton also voted against the bill. Said McCain at the time: "This bill does little to address the immediate energy crisis we face in this country."

For us, though, the issue is the claim made by Obama. He attacks McCain for voting against the 2005 energy bill, which carried federal subsidies for a host of renewable energy programs. And it's true that one of the things McCain said in voting against that bill was that it was too generous in those subsidies.

Still, that energy bill vote doesn't reflect the whole of McCain's record on renewable energy, as Obama's statement makes it sound. There is at least one exception to McCain's record in opposing subsidies for renewable fuels, which leads us to conclude that this Obama claim is Mostly True.

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McCain has done a little for renewable energy

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