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By Dina Cappiello March 12, 2008

A boost, not an impediment, to clean energy

At a rally in Harrisburg, Pa., on March 11, 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton once again took on Sen. Barack Obama for supporting a 2005 energy bill.

"In 2005, when we had a chance to say no to Dick Cheney and his energy bill, my opponent said yes and voted for it with all of those tax subsidies and giveaways that have been used by the oil companies and others to retard the development of clean, renewable energy," Clinton said. "When it counted, I said no, he said yes."

Clinton, along with 25 other senators, including 19 Democrats, voted against the bill, which generally reflected the Bush administration's priorities. Obama and 73 Senate colleagues, including a total of 25 Democrats, supported the bill.

Obama said the energy bill would help Illinois and promote greater energy independence by doubling ethanol use, spurring investment in hybrid and flexible-fuel vehicles and promoting clean-coal technology. But he said bolder action would have to be taken to rein in high energy costs.

"This bill, while far from a solution, is a first step toward decreasing America's dependence on foreign oil," Obama said at the time.

Clinton has made much of her opposition to the bill in her campaign — for example, characterizing the legislation during a Jan. 15, 2008, Democratic debate in Las Vegas as "a big step backward on the path to clean, renewable energy." Our examination of that claim found it to be false.

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This time, while Clinton rightly points out that the legislation included tax breaks for oil companies — $2.6-billion to be exact — those were largely wiped out by a $3-billion extension of taxes on crude oil to help offset costs associated with oil spills. The bulk of the $14.6-billion in tax incentives included in the legislation actually went to "renewable" sources of energy, to accelerate the development of wind, clean-coal and nuclear power, and hybrid vehicles. (Although there is debate over whether coal and nuclear power should be considered renewable.)

The bill also included a mandate to produce more alternative fuel, requiring 7.5-billion gallons of ethanol — instead of petroleum-derived methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE — to be blended into gasoline by 2012. The industry is on pace to meet that target ahead of schedule, despite Clinton's claims that oil industry tax breaks have been used to retard development of renewable energy.

Responding to a PolitiFact inquiry, the Clinton campaign referred to a speech she made on the Senate floor, citing her opposition to the bill because, in part, it ignored pressing energy challenges, including U.S. dependence on foreign oil. "The bill includes billions in subsidies for mature energy industries, including oil and nuclear," Clinton said in her July 29, 2005, remarks.

However, this reasoning ignores the fact that tax breaks for oil and gas producers encourage domestic production, which helps reduce reliance on foreign oil.

Clinton is right that Obama voted for the bill and she didn't. But because she incorrectly depicts the 2005 energy bill as a setback to renewable energy and a sop to Big Oil, we find her statement to be Barely True.


Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

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A boost, not an impediment, to clean energy

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