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After a year of winnowing down questions from 38,000 scientists and citizens, Science Debate 2008 sent 14 covering health, research, the environment and science to the presidential candidates. Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama answered the questions, and their answers can be read here. However, it’s easy for a politician to make promises, so _PopSci investigated both senator’s voting records to see if their history matched up with their promises for the future. Each day for the next two weeks we’ll present an analysis of the candidate’s voting records as compared with their answers to the ScienceDebate2008 questions. You can follow the entire series at popsci.com/election, where you can also sign up for an RSS feed._

Question Three: Energy

Ah, energy. Juice. The ol’ Newton meter. Energy policy sits at the intersection of climate change, national security, the economy, pollution, scientific research and a host of other issues. For the candidates, their position on the US energy policy informs many of their other Science Debate answers, but do those answers match up with their record?

The be all and end all of energy policy is the bill HR 6. HR 6 has been mentioned in the last two installments, but it should be mentioned that the bill discussed in yesterday’s article was the 2007 edition of HR 6. Every year, Congress crafts a new energy bill. This bill is what is referred to as a Christmas tree bill.

Every Senator hangs on their own amendments funding projects in their home state. By the time the bills like that make it to the floor, they often contain amendments that seem to contradict each other. McCain voted against the 2003 HR 6, a bill that funded both nuclear power and new drilling and gave tax breaks to alternative energy developers and oil companies. What does that vote say about McCain? Is he against alternative fuels because he voted against a bill that contains funding for them, or is he a maverick bucking the influence of big oil by voting against a bill that sanctioned more drilling?

According to Rogan Kersh, Associate Professor of Public Service at the New York University Wagner School of Government, the take home message is that first and foremost, Senators Obama and McCain are politicians. The Senate gives its members chances to vote for and against the same issue, that way they can claim to support a program while simultaneously ensuring that it ends.

“Congress very cleverly protects its members by scheduling multiple votes on the same issue,” said Kersh, “Congress is deliberately structured to spare members painful votes that will hurt them with constituents back home. The leadership of both parties colludes with each other to help the members report a position to the broadest possible audience.”

That said, are their any bills that deal directly with the Science Debate 2008 answer? For Kersh, the secret to reading the intentions of the candidates are the bills that the candidates introduced themselves. For Obama, that means his American Fuels Act of 2007 (S 133). This bill highlights an interesting absence in Obama’s Science Debate answer: Ethanol. Obama’s American Fuel Act focuses almost entirely on ethanol, a product he has backed for a long time. Yet despite Obama’s legislative focus on ethanol, the terms ethanol and biofuels don’t appear in any of his Science Debate answers, let alone the answer about energy policy.

For McCain, the centerpiece of his energy policy is the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Acts of 2003, 2005 and 2007. While the 2003 version of the bill only dealt with reducing carbon emissions, the 2005 incarnation of the bill added substantial resources for the development of alternative energy and nuclear power. The bill would have funded the design of new nuclear reactors, supporting McCain’s Science Debate answer promising the construction of new nuclear power plants and research into wind and solar.

On the question of energy, it seems that McCain can back up his Science Debate 2008 answer with a history of supporting wind, solar, and nuclear power. Obama on the other hand showed off his skill as a politician and lawyer through the sin of omission. While his Science Debate answer didn’t explicitly say he would pursue the development of a bio-fuels industry, it did fail to confront his legislative legacy of support for corn-based ethanol.

Tomorrow, we look at science education and find out which candidate can answer President Bush’s famous question: “is our children learning?”

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