Monday, July 31, 2006

Green Issues: Ford Gets It; Opponents Not So Much

As I have pointed out several times before on this blog, the differences between Congressman Ford and his GOP opponents when it comes to environmental issues could not greater.

While Bob Corker, Ed Bryant, and Van Hilleary turn a blind eye to the destruction of our environment, Congressman Ford is a what a leader should be--a good steward of God's creations.

The KnoxNews has compiled a report comparing Congressman Ford's environmental views to that of his GOP counterparts. Their findings are below:

Global warming

Global warming is the top environmental challenge facing the world, according to many advocacy groups. All three GOP hopefuls said during debates this summer that they believe the science isn't settled on global warming, even though most major scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences in a recent report, attribute the increase in global temperatures to human activity.

Bryant and Corker said they weren't convinced. And during a debate in June, Hilleary said, "I heard Al Gore say the other day the debate is over, but I'm not sure I believe him."

Ford, on the other hand, said the only question remaining is what can be done to address climate change.

"We can debate the answer to global warming, but what you can't debate is the science," Ford said.

The candidates tend to focus on developing sources that don't release harmful emissions - including greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide - into the atmosphere, rather than limiting specific compounds at smokestacks and tailpipes.

Bryant credits the Tennessee Valley Authority for installing pollution control devices on its aging fossil fuel plants.

"TVA is doing a great job trying to retrofit its coal burning plants to meet EPA standards," he said.

Corker said he's excited about the development and use of coal gasification, a cleaner method of burning coal for electricity. He also emphasized nuclear power as "a clean, efficient way to produce electricity in our country."

Hilleary said he's not opposed to limiting emissions at the source, "but you have to be careful when the federal government wades into the marketplace."

He, too, advocates nuclear power as an emissions-free energy source.

Ford said alternative fuels must be developed and used. Conservation is a key strategy, he said, but only if it's accompanied by developing technologies like coal gasification that reduce emissions.

"We have to change our habits and get new technologies on line," he said.

Transportation fuels

With gas prices topping $3 a gallon and electric bills rising because of the July heat wave, the candidates are focusing on the country's energy needs. The Republicans see the problem as one of energy independence, while each candidate offers differing long-term solutions.

Bryant contends the solution lies in the development of alternative fuels through a massive "Manhattan Project-style" effort underwritten by the federal government and including oil companies, automobile manufacturers, technology firms and others.

"It would involve a willingness to defer temporarily our efforts to get to Mars and move some of that brainpower and funding into a public-private partnership," he said.

Corker said the Volunteer State is well positioned to play a leading role in the development of alternative fuels. He noted that Tennessee ranks 10th in the country in the production of raw materials for biodiesel and ethanol.

He also said coal gasification showed promise and touted his recruitment to Chattanooga of a firm that is trying to make commercially viable hydrogen fuel cells.

Hilleary said he's opposed to the concept of a Manhattan Project for alternative fuels. Instead, he said, the private sector should take the lead with only a little boost from the federal government.

"For a temporary period of time, we would be justified in giving tax credits to companies to develop alternative fuels until they could become profitable on their own," he said.

Ford backs a temporary elimination of the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, to be paid for by a windfall profit tax on oil companies, for short-term relief from high gas prices. His long-term solution involves raising vehicle mileage standards and increasing the use of hybrid engines.

"In short, it takes leadership to do this," Ford said. "It's abominable that, six years after Sept. 11, we don't have an energy policy."

Power production

The U.S. gets most of its electricity from coal and has an abundant supply, but environmentalists denounce the fuel as dirty and strip-mining as destructive. The candidates all called for the development and use of technologies that burn coal cleaner.

Bryant said he would encourage the nation's utilities to follow TVA's pattern of using a mix of fuel sources.

"We obviously are going to have to go nuclear power," Bryant said. "It's environmentally wonderful. European countries are using it."

Corker champions nuclear power as the solution to providing more electricity while keeping the environmental impact to a minimum.

"It was a tremendous mistake to move away from nuclear," Corker said. "I do think that nuclear is a clean, efficient way to produce electricity in our country."

Hilleary said the U.S. should take advantage of its position as "the OPEC of coal" to meet most of its energy needs while opting for other sources depending on local circumstances.

"We should drill for oil where it makes sense, dig for coal where it makes sense, and built nuclear plants where it makes sense," Hilleary said.

Ford said the federal government should do all it can to encourage more research into the cleaner burning of coal and expanding markets for new energy sources.

"If American ingenuity can figure out how to make chocolate fat free, we can find a way to burn clean coal," Ford said.

Public land sales

Earlier this year, the Bush administration proposed selling National Forest land - including parcels in Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest - to raise money to fund local education and road programs.

Regardless of party, the candidates think that's a bad idea.

Bryant said, "I oppose that - period."

Corker agreed, calling it "a short-term solution that leaves us long term with less natural assets. That's not the first place we should look (to balance the budget). We should cut spending and get revenues under control."

Hilleary said decisions about land use should be based on need, not the budget.

"As an almost complete rule of thumb, the sale of assets to pay for ongoing expenses is not desirable," he said.

Ford said, "I don't like it. When we balanced the budget in the late '90s, we did it in a smart way. We made some tough choices."

The Smokies

Every candidate describes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as the crown jewel of the National Park Service. The park is, however, among the most polluted federal reserves, with haze reducing summertime visibility to a fraction of the distance seen by early settlers.

Members of the Georgia congressional delegation are advocating building a new interstate highway from Savannah, Ga., to Knoxville. The highway would run through the Carolinas and cross into Tennessee just west of the Smokies.

The candidates said they weren't familiar with the proposal, which has to pass through numerous bureaucratic barriers before it could be built, but they discussed how they would approach such a decision if elected.

Bryant noted that freeways can't be dismantled once they're built and said he would demand that any major road near the park be built to exacting standards.

"I don't like the idea of construction in the existing Smokies, in the area around the park, but I'd have to look at that," Bryant said. "There are always two sides to the issue."

Corker said he would like to know more specifics about the road but pledged to "balance economic interests against what it might do to degrade our valuable national park."

Hilleary said he would weigh the environmental impact against the economic benefits of a road that would shorten the distance between a major port and Tennessee.

"As with any decision, it's a question of balance," Hilleary said.

Ford said the road, in addition to affecting the Smokies, could divert traffic from Atlanta to Knoxville, possibly exacerbating the city's air-quality problems.

"I would have to look at the cost and the environmental impact on our end," Ford said.

There you have it in black and white, folks. The choice could not clearer in this race.

While Corker, Bryant, and Hilleary have absolutely no bones about allowing further destruction to our environment, Congressman Ford is in support of fighting global warming, finding alternative fuel sources, promoting conservation, protecting our nation's pristine areas, and preventing further destruction of our atmosphere.

That is the kind of leadership we need in the U.S. Senate.

If I know anything about Tennessee, it's that Tennesseans love their outdoors and the environment. It is something we all treasure for good reason; well, with the exception Corker, Bryant, and Hilleary.

This fall, remember what is at stake. We can't replace this world. This is the only home we have. I am with Congressman in thinking that it is high time we start doing things to BETTER our environment, rather than do it further harm.

Be a good steward; vote Ford!