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Echoes of 2008 energy discussion in 2016 VP debate: Looking above shoulders or down between legs

October 5th, 2016 · No Comments

Now Governor Jay Inslee served as a surrogate, on energy issues, for then Senator Barack Obama during the 2008 election. In that role, Inslee provided one of the least-heralded (in my mind) but most important ways of looking at the 2008 election:

John McCain thinks that when you look for energy, you look under your feet.

Barack Obama believes you look above the shoulders and between your ears. Jay Inslee

E.g., that John McCain was looking backwards toward extractive 19th century fossil-fuel energy systems (oil, natural gas, coal) while Barack Obama had his mind open toward the 21st century opportunities with solar and wind systems.

Look to the stark contrast between the two candidates.

All we need to do is do find & replace of “John McCain” with “Donald Trump” and “Barack Obama” with “Hillary Clinton” and Jay Inslee’s 2008 comments are even more truly truthful today.

Echoes of ‘look under your feet’ emerged during the VP debate, as Mike Pence repeatedly (five times, in fact) evoked the mythical fossil-foolish talking point “War On Coal” in falsely asserting that Obama Administration regulations and actions, related to coal, are hurting the economy.

Grand Oil Party (

As the AP fact check on last night’s debate mildly put it,


The coal industry is struggling, but the Indiana governor incorrectly blamed its woes solely on new federal regulations, omitting the effects of steep competition from cheap natural gas.

A key element of coal’s decline is, in fact, another fossil fuel — that other fossil fuel, of course, is being promoted by the Trump-Pence ticket and the rest of the Grand Oil Party.

Natural gas is not the only reason for coal’s decline.  Increasingly, other energy systems — whether solar, wind or otherwise — are beating out coal on price considerations. In an unsubsidized bid, Chilean regulators had solar bids that were half the price of coal!  Similar results are occurring with every more frequency in electricity markets around the world.

Of course, there is yet another reason for coal’s inexorable decline: an increasing recognition and agreement that ‘externalities’ should no longer be ‘external’ to energy system decision-making. When it comes to extracting and burning coal, those externalities are — well — enormous, ranging from devastating West Virginia streams to particulates driving up asthma rates to (okay, greatly reduced) acid rain to mercury poisoning our food supply to that pesky little climate change issue that Pence, Trump, and far too many in the GOP are simply closing their eyes to in denial of basic science.  As we start to incorporate these costs, even only partially, coal’s financial competitiveness disappears.  When looking at real costs, burning coal is not just super expensive but simply unaffordable.

Again, in echoing 2008, in 2016 and beyond we need leadership that is looking to seize opportunities and create solutions for real problems by looking forward, not destroyers wearing blinders to real problems in falsely nostalgic appeals to the past — whether on social issues or our energy system.

NOTE: The climate silence in Presidential (and VP) debates continues, with nary a question and only Tim Kaine’s brief reference to it.  Pitiful …

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Tags: 2016 Presidential Election · coal